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Chinese Familism and Leadership Formation

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image of Mission Studies

The display of the slogan ‘harmony’ in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing seems to signify that China is moving toward a new conception of Communism. However, the pursuit of a harmonious society is not new in Chinese history. It is actually rooted in the complex Chinese tradition, especially that of Confucianism. The idea of ren (benevolence) is often considered as the prime ideology of Confucianism, but through a closer look at Chinese traditions, one will find that Chinese familism is positioned at the core of Chinese culture. The harmony the Confucianist seeks is situated in the unequal relationship in propriety defined by familism which has profound impact on the Chinese leadership formation as shown in the Chinese imperial system. Since Confucianism is deeply rooted not only in Chinese culture but also in the cultures of its neighborhood, understanding leadership formation in the context of Confucianism can be crucial to the effectiveness for mission leaders involved in Asian leadership in the marketplace and in the ecclesial practices. It is my argument that harmony, as expressed in the unequal relationship of Chinese familism, which is the driving force of leadership formation for the Chinese over the last two millennia, can be revitalized through the expression of harmony as defined by Max De Pree in his conception of leadership formation: mutually edifying participation between persons who are stewarding God-given gifts. The first task of this paper is to define Chinese familism. This is followed by a comparative analysis of leadership formation within the Chinese cultural context, in light of the current leadership discoveries emanating from the West. The paper concludes with a presentation of potential ways in which familial ideals might be integrated with De Pree’s leadership principles.

Affiliations: 1: Fuller Theological


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