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New Art Of War: Openness is the Path to Survival

New Art Of War: Openness is the Path to Survival

PARK Jae-Hee

Dec. 24, 2007


Hello, I am Jae-Hee Park on The New Art of War.

The Spring and Autumn Period in ancient China, like much of China’s early history, was a time of uncertainty and disorder. This period of tumult would finally come to an end when the Qin Dynasty rose to unite China for the first time. Although the Qin Dynasty was a comparative latecomer from a mountainous area near today’s Xian, it was able to overcome its weaknesses to seize power.

As latecomers, the Qin Dynasty was more open to reforms. The Qin was especially fortunate to have five shrewd rulers, including the emperor who unified China, Qin Shi Huangdi. Qin’s first five rulers, Duke Mu, Duke Xiao, King Hui, King Zhao and Qin Shi Huangdi, were largely responsible for shaping the China we know today.

Of course, these five rulers were not the only ones responsible for unification. Like any successful organization, the Qin dynasty drew on the support of the most talented subordinates available. Qin’s rulers chose subordinates without consideration of background or age, simply selecting the most talented people.

Under the guidance of five advisors, Baili Xi, Jian Shu, Pi Bao, Liu and Gong, all talented individuals recruited from outside the state, Duke Mu merged nearly 20 dynasties to guide his own state to supremacy in western China. Duke Xiao would then use the advice of his legal theorist Shang Yang, to reform the laws of his state, before launching successful campaigns against Chu and Wei. Qin soon expanded to the large territories in the south of China.

King Hui also appointed Zhang Yi from Wei to expand as far as Ba and Shu, to the western front, and much further to the south. King Zhao appointed Fan Ju, also from Wei, to strengthen central power. This proved to be crucial to achieving unification.

Finally, Qin Shi Huangdi was fortunate enough to have a chief advisor named Li Si, who also happened to be from Chu, to help complete the unification process.

Thus, the reason these five sovereigns were as successful as they were owes itself above all to Qin’s openness to appointing talented individuals regardless of background. Qin’s “open recruitment” principle reaped dividends when Qin rapidly became the most powerful of all Chinese states.

Nevertheless, such openness to talent was met with discontent. Local noble families disagreed with Qin’s policy and demanded the eviction of outside talent from the state. Qin Shi Huangdi even initially agreed with the local aristocrats’ views, believing that such policies might affect the loyalty of the people. Qin Shi believed that outsiders might be tempted to aid the enemy in a time of crisis, leaving the state in peril. Chief adviser Li Si, an outsider himself, then made his famous plea to the emperor, arguing that instead of expelling outsiders, the state should be more liberal and welcoming in order to build a flourishing empire.

This is what he wrote:

“Mount Tai accepts even the smallest fistful of sand. That is what keeps the mountain so high. The yellow river and the sea accept even the tiniest streams. That is what keeps the river and sea so deep. A ruler should accept all people. This is what will keep the ruler’s virtue shining all over the world. Land was not originally given the cardinal points. Likewise, people are not born with different country tags.”

For us, we can learn from the example of the Qin Dynasty to learn how we can conduct business today. As with the Qin, an enterprise set on becoming a global leader should not discriminate against talented individuals based on nationality or background. Openness and diversity within a group or an organization is the wellspring of competitiveness and ambition. Those who close themselves off will be unsuccessful, while those open to all talented people will win in the race for survival.

This has been a lecture on The New Art of War by Jae-Hee Park.

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