In this issue:
Cultural IQ In the News:
A look into South Korean culture
Newsletter Cultural Intelligence: How Chinese
language impacts Chinese Thinking?
Great Read: Daniel Pink’s book –
Fostering Connections, Illuminating Insights A Whole New Mind
A Survey by Atkinson School, York U
Chinese Business Relations Program,
You are invited to participate.
Issue # 5 May 25th, 2009
Former South Korean President Mr.Roh took his
own life at age 62
Story from The Globe and Mail, May 25th, 2009
Mr. Roh, who left office last February, had been under criminal
investigation over allegations that he and his family had accepted
millions of dollars in bribes from a shoe industry magnate, and
indictments were expected in the near future. When he was
questioned by prosecutors last month, Mr. Roh denied any personal
But the 62-year-old self-taught lawyer and former human-rights
activist – who came to office in 2003 promising clean government
after an upset election win – was openly despondent that he had let
down those who had elected him.
“What I have to do now is bow to the nation and apologize,” he wrote in the last posting on his
website. “From now on, the name Roh cannot be a symbol of the values you pursue. I'm no longer
qualified to speak about democracy and justice … You should abandon me.”
In the last lines he wrote before he hurled himself into the ravine under a cliff early Saturday morning,
he said “I am indebted to too many people,” “The pain that will come is unfathomable. The rest of my
life would only burden others.”
A culture which holds killing oneself as acceptable way to escape disgrace
In almost any other country, it would be nearly unthinkable for a former head of state – just 15 months
out of office – to take his own life. Though Mr. Roh came from a humble background, the circles he
traveled in during his five-year term in office were populated with those who leave public life to
comfortable retirements or lucrative consulting gigs.
In fact, it’s no surprise to read the news about celebrities, business leaders in South Korea killing
themselves. The former CEO of Hyundai Group jumped from top of his office building in 2003 after
being investigated on giving money to North Korea for a development of a tourist site in northern part
of the peninsula. There are countless celebrities who chose to kill themselves during the past 12
months. In fact, South Korea has had one of the highest suicide rates amongst developed countries.
Beyond all that’s in the media, for anyone who wishes to ask “Why?” “Why South Koreans?” I did
some research and here are some insights to share.
Value “face saving”, family honor
Some of the dominant and traditional values carried by South Koreans came from Confucianism,
Taoism, originated from ancient China. The supreme value in the face-saving culture lay in the
preservation of honor in the family, the importance of one’s reputation and fame, and a sense of
shame. However one thing unique about South Korean culture is its male dominant masculine culture,
where a man is not expected to share his stress, emotions and difficulties with his family. Mr.Roh
wrote in his last note “Aren’t life and death a part of nature? It’s all fate.”
How Chinese Language impacts the way Chinese think?
The forth in a series of Cultural Intelligence Articles
“Anyone who has an interest in China should try to gain some basic understanding of
Chinese language.” - Helen Zhang
Helen Zhang Haihua, co-author of “Think Like Chinese” believed that the Chinese language
played a crucial role in the way Chinese think and look at the world.
In contrast to western alphabets, which are sound-based, Chinese characters are symbolic and
meaning-based. Most of the characters are pictorial, or at least have a symbolic part that reflects the
meaning. Each character is written in a square shape, usually consisting of a symbolic part (the
meaning) as well as a sound part (relating to pronunciation).
In addition to this, in the spoken form, Mandarin Chinese has four tones, and Cantonese Chinese
dialect has nine tones!
Reading and writing pictorial characters with their various tones means that a Chinese person has a
heavier reliance on the right brain. A scientific test has shown that Chinese use the tone-sensitive
right side of the brain to process the tone tic changes of words (in the first 200 milliseconds) before
their left brain interprets the associated meaning. Most western languages, with only one tone for
each word, are directly processed by the left brain.
Chinese Symbolic Thinking
As many Chinese characters are pictorial, this affects the way Chinese think. Often they view a
situation or business issue in a complete sense – the big picture. Another thing to notice is that
Chinese tend to look at things within “contexts”, i.e. taking into consideration the circumstances when
evaluating a situation, incident or behavior.
Some examples are: Chinese address people with last names first, first names second; Chinese
address time in the sequence of year – month – date – time.
In the following table, Helen Zhang summarizes the three key contrasting aspects between
Chinese Symbolic Thinking and Western Business thinking:
Chinese Symbolic Thinking Western business thinking
1. Conceptual – “Big Picture” approach – sees 1. Analytical, decisions are only made based on
the whole first, then the details; often making logic; “One thing at a time” approach – work up
lateral connections from information. to the whole step-by-step, focusing on details,
often highly organized – for example, making
lists and planning;
2. Listens to how something is being said; 2. Listens to what is being said; uses words to
prefers “mind pictures” to remember things, remember things, keeps records, particular of
doesn’t take notes figures and numbers
3. Has trouble prioritizing, often late, impulsive – 3. Keeps track of time; plans ahead – processes
decisions made based on feelings; process ideas sequentially, step-by-step, making logical
ideas simultaneously. deductions from information.
Visit Cultural IQ website for on-going Cultural Intelligence and international business tips.
Great Read: A Whole New Mind
Why Right-Brainers will rule the Future
Former White House speechwriter Daniel Pink, an informed and insightful
commentator on social, economic and cultural trends, has questioned the
conventional wisdom from which most Americans draw their thinking on the way
the world works.
“We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities
of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture
capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”
Six essential aptitudes, or six senses taught in this book – on which professional success and
personal satisfaction will depend: Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning.
Enjoy a great read!
A Survey – Chinese Business Relations Program at
Atkinson School, York University
The Atkinson Division of Continuing Education at York University is preparing to launch an exciting
new certificate program on Chinese Business Relations, where experts in the field will offer tips on
entering and staying prosperous in one of the largest international markets today. Whether you and
your company are new to doing business overseas or already have experience, this new program
promises to be an enriching opportunity, with guest speakers, international networking, and engaging
classes to give you a fresh point of view.
If you are interested, we invite you to take a brief survey measuring your interest in taking this course.
The survey is available at the following link:
Your input will remain confidential and if you prefer, anonymous. If you are aware of any colleagues
who may also be interested, please feel free to forward the survey.
We thank you in advance for your valuable input!
Division of Continuing Education
Atkinson Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional studies
416-736-2100 ext. 44618
Your comments, feedback, questions are highly appreciated. Send me an email at
Christine Gao, M.Ed, PCC
Cultural IQ, Fostering Connections, Embracing Diversity