Thursday, November 10, 2011

Culture Corner: China - Leadership Ideals

Long before the Greeks ever promoted democracy, in fact while humans still needed their appendixes, wore animal skins, and grunted their pronouns, the Chinese were a refined society.  They had universal money, a comprehensive written language, and a system of government that to me seems to have been the most objective ever created (ignoring that whole blood reign thing for a moment). As it juxtaposes itself quite nicely beside the present system, let me tell you about it.
First and foremost, Chinese governments of old were a monarchy. But everyone knows one person cannot control millions; they needs aides, advisors, and administrators just as our present leaders do.

But contrary to our current system, the important political figures of ancient China did not demean themselves by selling their souls to the common man all for a trivial vote, rather there was a discriminatory system to determine who ascended through government, instead.  Was it based on the money a candidate had, property they owned, or businesses bribing—ahem, lobbying—them ?  Was it who seemed to have the populace foremost on their mind when plying for office?  (“No new taxes. I repeat, no new taxes.”)  No, it was having something far better: wisdom.

In looking at the strata of exams which determined who rose higher or lower in Chinese government, it’s obvious to me they were aware one facet measuring a good leader is their brains, not his wallet or ability to appeal to NASCAR watching, professional wrestling loving, pizza gluttons.  “I know, I’ll oppose gay marriage and then they’ll vote for me...”  Something not unlike Plato and Socrates’ philosopher kings, it was thought that only the truly intelligent would rise through this strata of exams, and therefore best be able to look after the well being of the people.  This is obviously in direct opposition to the Western democratic system.  (Imagine if any of our senators or representatives had to get a get a certain score on something so common as an IQ exam.  Would they pass?  (Not the greatest piece of journalism, there are still some very humorous moments of Bill Maher’s Religulous as he interviews an American senator and receives whole new additions to the English language in the process.) Doesn’t this beg the question: are not the intelligent better able to lead people?  Wouldn’t it be better to ensure the wise lead, rather any Joe (or George) with naught but connections and money for a campaign?

It goes without saying that the situation in China was ripe with culture during these times. The eternally subjective provokers of thought: art and philosophy, were held in similar esteem to material pursuits.  Among the emperor’s closest friends were some of the best poets of the respective era, and artisans flourished, including music, pottery, embroidery, theater, at all levels of society. A Liu Fan painting could be identified at fifty feet by the common man and the words of Confucius were quoted by schoolchildren. A person was judged by their calligraphy, ability to play Chinese chess, the er-hu or zither, and write poetry.  The brand of car you own, size of your… high-definition television, or the health of your lawn were not the only key indicators measuring success in the world. What a truly interesting country America would be if the majority held the arts in such esteem!!

Unfortunately, America and now China have given up on intellectual pursuits and are focusing their attention on strictly material gains. (Isn’t it always easier to take the low road...)  Acquiring not just wealth, but as much wealth as possible, are what we reach for now. Philosophy and the arts are practiced by a dwindling few, and our leaders are not setting the bar for intelligence. Certainly we are experiencing a degeneration.

I would offer that buying the latest mobile phone provides temporary satisfaction until a more advanced model comes out and you are left needing again.  But painting a picture or writing a poem are pieces of permanent gratification that can be looked upon over a lifetime without need of an update. This is the same juxtaposition that exists within the situation of our leaders being elected into office by a tribe that floats with the flavor of the month.  Not the blind leading the blind, an intelligent leadership sieved like gold seems better able to make informed decisions - not just knee jerk reactions - that have a better chance of truly benefiting society in the long run. Think about it.

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