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Confucianism in action: recent developments in Oriental systems methodology.

Keywords systems methodology; methodological pluralism; East and West; cross-cultural learning; comparative systems studies; cultural influences; Oriental socio-cultural settings; Confucianism


In 1986 the editor of a special section of Interfaces on `MS/OR in China' wrote, `like many other aspects of life, the concerns of MS /OR had to be narrowed during the recent tumultuous past.... [T]he practice of MS/OR was restricted to specific technical problems. Methodology may not have advanced but practice was focused ... [T]he practice of MS /OR was considerably more difficult when the problems were ill-defined and far-reaching, and even the tools were apparently suspect' (Bartholdi, 1986a, p. 1).

Since then, more than a decade has passed. What has happened in the East, in the field of MS / OR, or of `systems'? How can we make sense of the recent developments, if there is any development at all? Has cultural tradition(s) played a role in these developments, and if so, what impacts has such a role produced, and how? What is to be done with the traditional cultural heritage in the face of rapid multisphere societal transitions?

This paper tries to provide some observations and reflections as food for thought in the search for answers to these questions.

At the outset, several points should be made clear. First, Oriental systems methodologies (hereafter referred to as OSMs) in this paper denote holistic and operational oriented conceptual constructs and guidelines formulated by Eastern systems researchers for the purpose of improving systems research, systems practice and social-organisational management in the Oriental socio-cultural settings. Some presented developments and features may not be `new' to the Western systems community, others may be not uniquely Oriental; they are, nevertheless, new developments in the Eastern systems community, especially in comparison with previous observations.

Second, I have to admit that the scope of this paper is limited, limited to my personal knowledge, experience and research. This paper presents only relevant developments in the Chinese and Japanese systems communities, and even within this context many substantial and significant developments may well be outside my limited horizon. More precisely, observations and reflections presented in this paper are based on (1) joint research and on-site projects coordinated by the Centre for Systems Studies (Hull, England), the Institute of Systems Science (Beijing, China) and the Konan University (Kobe, Japan), in which I have been involved, (2) the proceedings of two cross-cultural workshops on systems methodologies organised by the above-mentioned three institutes (Midgley and Wilby, 1995; Wilby, 1996), and (3) personal exchanges between myself and the three nations' researchers which took place at Hull, Beijing and Kyoto over the last several years.

Third, I presume that most of the readers of this paper have some knowledge about Western systems methodologies and related works. Therefore this paper will mainly focus on presenting OSMs; rather than introducing or explaining Western methodologies. Should Western methodologies be mentioned or referred to, in most cases, only references are given. Readers who desire to know more about those methodologies and works are encouraged to consult references.

Fourth, in elaborating Eastern traditions, I will draw upon both Eastern and Western writers, for the purpose of enriching understanding, seeking balance, and avoiding self-perpetuation.

Furthermore, this paper will present what has actually happened in OSMs, reporting `real situations', rather than to instruct what is ideal or what should be pursued. Thus, many well-known works in the West, e.g., those of Bateson, Beer, Pask, Maturana, Luhmann, will, regrettably, not be mentioned since they have, to my knowledge, not been touched in the East, at least in a methodological sense.

Finally, should some Western works be commented on, the comments will be reproduced in the terms of the original commentators. For example, some appreciation of Checkland's (1981) Soft Systems Methodology will be reported. But that should be taken as the understanding of the commentators, not necessarily mine. In the same way, OSMs will be presented, as far as possible, in their developers' own words, cited from original publications, although direct quotation marks will usually not be used.

This paper is organised into three major sections. The first section will provide an overview of the background and recent developments of OSMs. The second section will then try to identify some outstanding features in recent OSMs. In the third section, attempts will be made to seek a link between the new development/ features and Confucian tradition(s). The paper will then conclude that to tackle properly the recent transformations in post-Confucian societies, a conscious investigation of, and a critical reflection on, the deeply ingrained cultural traits is indispensable since the impact of the cultural legacy on OSMs is penetrating and profound.



Up to the end of the 1980s, the `systems approach' in the East covered hardly more than engineering techniques and methods, such as optimal mathematical modelling (e.g. Input--Output Analysis), operational research techniques (e.g., PERT), computerised systems (e.g., decision support systems), etc. While systems engineering (SE) and systems dynamics (SD) were well known and popular, they were basically employed as `the technology' for `social engineering'. These technologies were assumed to be suitable for all problems, from missile control to education and population programmes, and to be employed in the same mechanistic manner. Therefore, besides industrial engineering and military engineering, it was said that there were, or should be, also education engineering, ideology engineering, polity engineering, law engineering, and so forth (Gu, 1993; Qian et al., 1978; Xu and Gu, 1983; Xu et al. 1990). SE, OR and MS together were thus viewed and used as the only option for problem-solving in all spheres of human life. In such a situation, real choices did not exist, and hence methodologies as we understand them today were not available or meaningful, conceptually, theoretically, practically.(1)

During the last several years, evidence began to emerge in China and Japan that, within the systems community, systems methodology as a field of study has drawn significant attention. Although with some confusion, the importance and usefulness of diverse systems methodologies was coming to be recognised. At the beginning, methods `outside' the narrow SE were addressed under the title of `soft science' (see, for example, Gu, 1987, 1991; SCSTBST, 1988). Later, along with the introduction of more methods /methodologies from the West, for example Checkland's (1981) SSM, it became possible to perceive distinctions among methodologies: SE and SSM, albeit under the same title ,systems', represent different kinds of rationality, suitable for different kinds of situations respectively (see, for example, Gu, 1987,1994). The idea has gradually become widespread and established that there can and should be a range of heterogeneous methodologies for heterogeneous situations. The world is so rich that it will be neither appropriate nor productive to use the same hammer to hit everything. A breakthrough has therefore been made. Systems researchers in China and Japan have begun, once again, to open their minds, and to turn their eyes towards the West, and at the same time dedicate themselves to developing systems methodologies which are workable in the Oriental socio-cultural settings. Presented in this section are some representative works on OSMs to date.

Oriental Systems Methodologies

The Shinayakana Systems Approach (SSA)(2) Shinayakana has a nuance of Japanese characteristics, and means in English `between soft and hard', or both; a close expression may be `flexible and elastic'. SSA is developed based on an observation that systems methodologies relying on applied mathematics alone cannot lead the way in successfully addressing problems in the realm of social systems and real-life problems.

SSA tries to bring together mathematical logic, intuition, emotion, non-logical creativity and adaptive learning, by offering three key functions for creating Shinayakana decision support systems: the functions of model building in uncertainty, of analysis with uncertain models, and of interpreting uncertain results. These functions are designed to support data analysis, systems structuring, statistical modelling and simulation. Basic modules in the Shinayakana DDS include: a matrix system that describes the most recent integrated knowledge, a knowledge-information system that stores the relevant information, a scenario analysis method to find important issues which includes simulation, optimisation and sensitivity analysis, and a fuzzy-sets theoretical method to find uncertainties to be reduced.

A huge project is currently being undertaken at the Centre of Global Environmental Research at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan, which employs the SSA approach to develop a global environmental framework model.

Meta-Synthetic Engineering (MSE)(3)

MSE, according to its developers, is the only feasible methodology for dealing with open complex giant systems (OCGSs); in each OCGS, there is a large variety of subsystems with hierarchical structures and complex interrelations.

It is argued that modem science and technology have studied the whole objective world, but in an isolationistic manner, resulting in separated disciplines. For dealing with OCGSs, however, a goal should be pursued to collect the great amount of dispersed knowledge from experts in various fields in a whole structure.

Thus MSE seeks to unite the expert group, data, all sorts of information, and computer technology, and to unite the scientific theory of various disciplines as well as human experience and knowledge. It is believed that this makes a system in itself and that successful application of MSE depends on giving full play to the synergetic advantages of the system.

MSE is claimed to have the following characteristics: (1) qualitative and quantitative studies are united in such a way that qualitative comprehension is raised to a quantitative one; (2) scientific theory and empirical knowledge are combined, and pieces of knowledge of the objective world are collected; (3) various scientific disciplines are studied as a group; (4) macroscopic and microscopic studies are united; (5) application of MSE should be supported by a computer system.

It is reported that an application of MSE, a `Synthetic Study of Financial Subsidy, Price and Wage in China's Economic Construction', was successful. It is also concluded that MSE is not only the sole feasible methodology for dealing with OCGSs; its significance is far above the progress and development of science and technology.

General Systems Methodology (GSM)(4)

GSM begins with an argument that for many social-problem-solving, the problems themselves are something which have to be studied and defined, since objectives are often unclear. While engineering-type problems can be termed well-structured hard problems, social problems can be termed ill-structured soft problems. It is also claimed that Hall's Hard Systems Methodology (HSM) concentrates on `how to do a task' in an optimal manner, and that Checkland's Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is concerned with `what to do', focusing on problem-solving exploration.

GSM continues to suggest that problem definition should be further subdivided into three areas: (1) discovering and clarifying problems; (2) forming the initial decision-making problems; and finally (3) determining formal decisionmaking problems.

The developers of GSM, then, see limitations in Checkland's SSM. In their view, SSM does not contain the whole logic-based process of problem-solving since it begins with perceived, perhaps undefined, problems which are expected to be improved. The criticism is raised that SSM obviously lacks the earlier stages of investigation, such as problem-discovering and forming. To overcome this limitation, GSM is presented as an approach which can be utilised to condense fully all kinds of logical problem-solving processes.

GMS is comprised of three related stages and having a particular sub-methodology for each stage. The first stage involves problem-discovering and -- forming, which is need-directed and strategy-oriented. Sub-methodology for this stage is Generalised Systems Analysis (GSA), which in turn consists of five steps: (1) initial state, (2) initial perceiving and discovery of problems, (3) understanding, analysing and defining problems, (4) comparing, arranging and selecting problems, and (5) forming the problems expected to be solved. The outcome of this stage can be ill-structured problems (ISPs) or well-structured problems (WSPs). With ISPs, it is suggested, we go to the second stage, whereas with WSPs we may go directly to the third stage.

The second stage is called the problem-exploring and -demonstrating stage, which is said to be problem-directed and learning-oriented. The objective of this stage is to improve the perceived or discovered problem (obtained from the first stage) by using SSM. Then the third stage is the problem-solving stage, which is said to be goal-directed and optimisation-oriented, in which HSM is employed.

The Wuli-Shili-Renli Methodology (WSR)(5)

WSR attempts to reconstruct, and to build itself upon, the Neo-Confucian concepts of general Li (essence and Reason) and particular his (patterns and regularities) and the Confucian teaching of Ge Wu Qiong Li (investigating things for their utmost lis in different ways).

WSR begins with an assumption that humans take action not in a vacuum but conditioned by a dynamic complexity. This complexity can be viewed as constituted by Wu (objective phenomena), Shi (subjective modelling), and Ren (intersubjective relations). To take proper action, we need to study and to follow regularities or patterns that govern and condition Wu, Shi and Ren. WSR calls these regularities and patterns Wuli, Shili, and Renli respectively.

WSR takes the view that, on the one hand, these lis are always interacting with each other, therefore cannot be isolated from the greater whole they together constitute; on the other hand, various lis are distinguishable and differentiated from one another, therefore none of them should be reduced into the others, in the sense that one kind of li cannot be fully understood or properly tackled in the terms of another. Accordingly, studying and following different lis, we need different kinds of rationality and methods. Thus, WSR intends to surface the uniqueness of different spheres: technical, social, moral. It tries to emphasise the distinction between instrumental techniques and ethical rationality. It attempts to urge systems scientists to be aware of the social and ethical implications of their projects.

For pedagogical purposes, WSR has been presented as a process-oriented methodology which consists of six general process elements, namely, understanding desires, investigating conditions, formulating objectives, creating models, co-ordinating relations, and implementing proposals. A wide range of problem-solving methods are introduced, and principles suggested. It is reported that WSR has been used in such areas as decision support systems development, social-economic development strategy planning, global climate change studies, evaluation of organisation performance and project funding, learning from manmade disasters, etc.

The Meta-Decision-Making Methodology (MDA4M)(6)

Meta-decision-making (MDM) is itself a differentiated kind of decision that decides how to make practical decisions. In this view, decisionmakers have a dual identity: as ego-decision-makers they participate in primary decision activities, working with subordinates, making practical decisions; while at the same time as ego-meta-decision-makers they must also design the decision-making situations. The most difficult task for decision-makers in the MDM process, it is maintained, is to know themselves well and to regulate themselves effectively.

Drawing upon Lao-Tzu's teaching of `being detached from the self', MDMM urges decisionmakers to `jump out' from their role as ego-decision-makers and to act as ego-metadecisionmakers. That is, in decision practice, decision-makers must be aware and critical of their own predisposition and prejudices in relation to specific decisions.

There are two major tasks in MDMM: the first is to select the practical decision style suitable to the concerns and qualifies of participants: those styles can be autocratic, consultative, group sharing, delagative, and so forth. The second task is to design the practical decision process, which in turn may generally be materialised into three sub-phases: an opportunity-identification phase, a solution-development phase, and a solution-selection phase. Criteria suggested for evaluating the quality of MDM include: the quality of practical decisions, the timeliness of practical decisions, and the acceptance and commitment from subordinates.

Improving Existing Methodologies

Efforts under this category can be exemplified by Yang and He's (1996) work on Checkland's SSM. This work is not an attempt to formulate a distinctive methodology; instead, it analyses SSM, surfaces its limitations, and tries to improve it.

In Yang and He's work, soft problems are further classified into two categories: those with clear human purpose called harder soft problems (HSPs) and those with unclear human purpose called real soft problems (RSPs). HSPs are those where Weltanschauungen are involved, and where the transformations and purposes of human activity systems are relatively consistent; whereas RSPs indicate that the human activity system transformations and purposes chosen by different parties are diverse.

Hence, a problem is real soft if not only its objectives but also its purposes are not clear. Furthermore, the reason for unclear purposes is that there exist inconsistent interests. Based on different interests, every party has its own ,situation perception', `relevant system', and `desirable changes'. For tackling RSPs, it is necessary to reveal interest conflicts. After detailed analysis of the core SSM concept, `human activity systems', and the seven SSM stages, Yang and He conclude that SSM is suitable for solving HSPs but not for RSPs since it ignores human interests behind world-views. Therefore SSM if it wants also to deal with RSPs, rather than merely HSPs, should include interests-coordination processes.

Yang and He's proposal for improvement is that, among the seven SSM stages, at least five stages should each incorporate an interests-coordination element. Those added elements are: for the `problem situation expressed' stage, ,revealing interests relations (conflicts)'; for the ,root definitions of relevant systems' stage, `finding out purpose'; for the `conceptual models' stage, `analysing interests'; for the `comparison of conceptual modes and problem situation' stage, `negotiating process of interests coordination'. It is through these added elements, Yang and He claim, that we integrate individual opinions into group opinion and thus gain desirable and feasible changes.

Other Relevant Work

Under this category, we summarise works, although not aiming at developing comprehensive methodologies, relevant to OSMS in ways helpful either for enriching understanding or for providing useful methodological elements.

In a 1995 paper, Che et al. postulate that the idea of objective and value is central to systems methodologies. When solving social problems, a project must therefore include three studies, namely, a positive study examining `what is', a value study surfacing individual preferences, and a standard study addressing what `ought to be'. The positive study observes, measures and describes things, affairs, and their relations. The value study deals with value preferences of relevant parties, and addresses the impacts caused by selected actions. It should also decide whether the system in question is worth striving for, whether the means adopted can be accepted, and whether the results obtained are worthwhile for improving the system. The standard study derives conclusions on particular actions from the abstract universal principle.

In another 1995 paper, Zhu invites systems researchers in the East to broaden their perception of 'systems' beyond instrumental usage. Zhu suggests that `systems' can be used as a map of `things', a way of thinking, and a vehicle for doing human interactions. Zhu asserts that human beings face a wide range of complex problems which consistently interweave with one another in an unforeseeable manner, none of which are solely hard, soft, natural, social, or whatever `pure' kind. Therefore, no single view or method alone is sufficient to handle such a situation. In this sense, we can no longer have such neat, attractive concepts as `the system' or `the only feasible and effective way'. We must learn to be open, not to reduce the pluralist whole into monadological part(s). To realise the competence of systems science as a whole, an essential prerequisite is to recognise in the first place the richness of `systems' and not to accept a particular image by default.

Xi and Lu (1995) push forward a `harmony theory' for reducing the negative effectiveness in socioeconomic systems and thereby guaranteeing stable systems developments. Negative effectiveness is classified into the following levels: elemental, compositional, managemental, spiritual, interactional, and an overall top level. Then, a five-layer optimal mathematical model is formulated, so as to pursue and/or maintain harmony at all five levels. For each layer, respectively, the goals of optimisation are: first, coordination; second, effectiveness; third, unity; fourth adaptability; and finally, overall harmony. What are stressed are not only elements, structures, management and external environment of the system, but also the state and importance of internal environment for the system's operation.


The above observation appears to signal that during the last decades, developments have occurred in the research and practice of OSMs. Within these developments, some efforts are ambitious, attempting to formulate distinctive and comprehensive methodologies; some others are modest, focusing on improving existing `imported' works; still others try to develop concepts and relevant elements for reducing confusion and opening new possibilities. Together, these diverse efforts present an active and substantial trend which we could not see in the Eastern systems community just a few years ago.


In this section, we try to identify some outstanding features in recent developments; outstanding, not in the sense of `excellent' or `ideal', but that these features display some qualities which could not be found or were relatively weak in previous OSMs.

Social-organisational Problem-oriented

One of the most striking common features of the above-mentioned works appears to be their explicit intention to assist `real-life' problem-solving in the social-organisational sphere of human life.

Evidences are plenty: SSA is designed for `addressing problems in the realm of social systems' and for `developing human-centred systems' (Nakamori and Sawaragi, 1995, pp. 65 and 68); the major attention of MSE is focused on ,society as a whole', and its major application domain is China's ongoing reform and opening policy Qian et al., 1995, pp. 74-75); the central concern of GSM is `ill-structured' or `ill-defined' ,social problems' in which `more social and humanistic factors' should be `taken into account' (Li and Zheng, 1995, pp. 50 and 55); WSR is formulated primarily for assisting projects which aim at improving human situations (Zhu, 1997a); Yang and He's (1996) work on SSM, with its core focus on human purposes and interests, is apparently social-human affair oriented; a similar intention is also manifested in Che et al.'s (1995) `basic ideas of systems methodology' and Xi and Lu's (1995) `harmony theory'. Sawaragi, in his opening address as the Chairman at the Second Britain-China-Japan Systems Methodology Workshop (Kyoto, May 1996), stressed that the systems approach should enlarge the scope of its research and practice to make social-human problems its major domain.

Such ideas are of course not `new' in the West, but they are new to the Eastern systems community. Compared with the 10-year-old observation by the Interfaces editor, it seems that the concerns and applications of OSMs are no longer `seriously narrowed'. Ten years ago, intentions to employ systems approaches to solve social-organisational problems were exceptional; and such intentions, if they existed at all, could only be materialised through mechanistic usage of methods and techniques borrowed from natural-engineering sciences. Compared with the `old' situation, it appears that assisting problem-solving in social-human spheres has become a primary intention of OSMs.

Concerning Human Values, Objectives, Interests and Relations

The issue of human values and relations in systems research and practice is, in the West, not `new' either. However, as reported in the 1986 Interfaces special section, human values and relations were basically treated in the East at that time as `outside' `environmental' factors. Should human values and desires be included into ,systems' models, they were generally accepted as given, like other data recorded by machines and equipment, for the purpose of manipulation (Zhu, 1979a).

Compared with the conventional wisdom, what appears outstanding is that, in the recent OSMs, human values and relations are generally viewed more as an `internal' issue, a central part of `the system', and therefore the subject of prior study. This is evident in Che et al.'s (1995) `value study', Gu and Zhu's (1995) `Renli', Yang and He's (1996) `coordinating interest conflicts', Xi and Lu's (1995) `harmony theory' of human's feelings, meaning and attitudes, and Nakamori and Sawaragi's (1995) human `senses, emotions, or wills'. Again, we see from the recent OSMs that the concern and focus have begun to move beyond the boundary of merely `specific technical problems'.

Seeing the `Whole' as Differentiated

If Northrop's (1960) observation is `true' that seeing the world as undifferentiated is a distinctive tradition of `the Eastern thought', then in the field of methodologies this tradition can be linked to a tendency, the tendency of reducing various spheres of human life into one dimensional and then using homogeneous means to handle one-dimensionally perceived situations (Zhu, 1997a). Bartholdi (1986b, pp. 29-30) comments on his experience in China thus: 'Indeed the one weakness of my otherwise exceptional students was their tendency to force problems into a "type", ... [T]hey seemed to lack scepticism about the tools, methods, and applicability of MS/OR'.

It is against this background that a third feature of recent OSMs can be identified, i.e., the emerging consciousness seeing systems as differentiated wholes. It appears that this feature displays itself most obviously in WSR thus:

Wuli, Shili and Renli are always conditioning,

underlying and influencing the whole process of

projects although sometimes this or that li may

appear to be more `crucial', `important', ,urgent', or

`dominant' than others. Therefore, it is a critical

requirement for systems scientists and participants

to be sensitive to, and to deal with, differentiable

yet non-separable Wuli, Shili and Renli with all

their skills, care, imagination and experience. (Gu

and Zhu, 1996, p. 18)

While WSR emphasises the distinctions among different spheres of human life and among dimensions of systems projects, other OSMs apply the differentiation idea into other aspects: Wang's (1995) MDMM differentiates decisionmaking into primary decision-making and meta decision-making; Li and Zheng's (1995) GSM differentiates problem-solving processes into problem-discovering-and-forming, problem-exploring-and-demonstrating, and problem-solving categories; Yang and He's (1996) work on SSM differentiates soft problems into HSPs and RSPs. Together, their works allow an observation of a substantial phenomenon which indicates that the days of a single hammer hitting everything have probably gone, or at least can be numbered.

A Complementary Attitude Towards Methodologies

A related observation can be made that various methodologies are gradually viewed as complementing one another, instead of one replacing the other. A common purpose of the recent work on OSMs is to enrich the methodology pool, rather than to abandon existing approaches. This desire can be seen clearly from GSM thus:

The SSM and the GSM have greatly enriched,

deepened and developed the contents of the SE's

procedural system. ... We can ask, how do we

consider the contribution of SSM and GSM to the

subject SE? ... These questions need addressing

because they impact the extension, application and

further development of Systems Engineering. In contrast

to some academics, the authors consider that the

SSM and the GSM are not aiming to abandon

the original systems methodology, but to

enrich and develop it (Li and Zheng, 1995, p. 55).

Next, the developers generally remain modest and tentative towards their own `products'. WSR, for example, is presented thus:

... [WSR] is subjective because it is based on

our personal understanding of Confucian

teaching as well as contemporary systems

science. It is subjective also because it is built

on our subjective interpretation of limited

experience from previous systems projects....

although WSR is not `the only feasible and

effective way' for systems research and practice,

a trial of it might well be justified (Zhu,

1997a, pp. 30-31).

Furthermore, it may seem redundant to cite one by one the desires of the recent work: bringing together rationality and emotion, logic and intuition, mathematical modelling and subjective knowledge, etc.--a desire which is tolerant and pluralist in nature.

Therefore, although some work in OSMs has not so far been entirely able to escape from the shadow of `the system', `the only feasible alternative' or `the abstract universal principle',(7) the emergence of methodological complementarism, and pluralism appears clearly evident. Given that not long ago the East Asians were constrained within a thousands-of-years-old mind-set of `one brain, one voice', this emergence appears particularly significant.

Learning from the West, Drawing from Own Tradition

On the one hand, all the work presented in this paper displays a strong desire to learn--learn from whatever is perceived useful for enriching and improving OSMs. The developers seem to be well informed about, and always open towards, the latest achievements of their Western counterparts. There is evidence that Western methodologies are read with great enthusiasm and in great detail. This is possible and not surprising, given that nearly all the researchers of the mentioned works have spent a substantial time abroad: Qian obtained his PhD in the USA, Gu in the USSR, Zhu in England, and Yang, Wang, Xi, and perhaps some more others, all have studied in the West as visiting scholars.

On the other hand, an equally strong desire can, too, be found; that is, to build OSMs on their own traditions: Nakamori and Sawaragi's (1995) emphasis on Oriental wisdom, Wang's (1995) elaboration of Lao-Tzu's teaching, and Zhu's (1997a) attempt to reconstruct and draw upon the Neo-Confucian teachings. These attempts indicate that, while being enthusiastic, the recent 'Western learning' is by no means one-sided. In this sense, the age of `the Western moon is more round' may have also gone.

Therefore a fifth outstanding feature can be signified thus, in Sawaragi and Nakamori's words: `the new systems methodology should combine Western and Oriental wisdom' (Nakamori and Sawaragi, 1995, p. 65).

In this regard, WSR can be taken to be a good example for analysis. Seeing the world as constituted by objective phenomena, subjective modelling and intersubjective human relations, stressing the distinction among material, social and moral spheres, arguing for differentiated methods and techniques, pushing forward the principles of openness and participation, formulating process elements for practitioners as operational guidance, presenting itself as merely a `possible way', etc.; from all these core components of WSR, we can clearly see the influences of Ashby (1956), Beer (1979, 1981, 1985), Burrell and Morgan (1979), Checkland (1981), Churchman (1968a, 1968b, 1971, 1979), Flood and Jackson (1991a, 1991b), Gadamer (1960), Habermas (1971, 1981a, 1981b), Kuhn (1970), Linstone (1984), Peirce (1868), Popper (1966), Ulrich (1983), Vickers (1983), etc. However, at the same time, one can hardly miss in WSR the profound functioning of indigenous traditions: the Neo-Confucianists concepts of general Li and particular his; the Confucian teaching of Ge Wu Qiong Li; the meaning of Wuli, Shili and Renli, which are so natural and familiar to the general mass in contemporary China and even in Japan and Korea, as well as in other post-Confucian societies; the sensitivity to the peculiar sociopolitical environment, to the historical mind-set and the recent desires and feelings of the local people, etc.

Actually, WSR can be viewed as a child of cross-cultural systems studies. It began in the early 1980s when Professor Qian Xuesen,(8) being unsatisfied with the one-dimensional, i.e. mechanistic, manner of systems practice which was preoccupied by Wuli, suggested Shili should be brought in. A Chinese American, Professor Li Yaozhi, then proposed paying due attention to Renli. Finally, when Gu and Zhu met with each other in Beijing and in Hull in 1993, exchanging Western and Eastern developments, they were able to consolidate formally WSR with both Western characteristics and Eastern colours (for more on comparative systems studies, see, for example, Zhu, 1996a).


In this section, we will try to probe what has been dictating the developments and shaping the features of recent OSMs. A hypothesis proposed is that one of the functioning forces is the Confucian cultural tradition(s) which has guided the Eastern mind and behaviour for more than two thousand years. Let us now examine the imprints one by one.

Being Open to Learning

Learning and education is a core value in Confucianism (Fung, 1948; Lorriman and Kenjo, 1996; Morishima, 1982; Yoshino, 1968). Confucius (551-479 BC) express his ideal thus: `To hear the Tho in the morning and then die at night, that would be all right' (Analects: 11/9). Leaning is, to Confucius, a primary and life-long requirement, the first step towards the ultimate goal of sageliness within and kingliness without, the reason for a human to be human: `At fifteen I set my heart on learning. At thirty I could stand. At forty I had no doubts. At fifty I knew the Decree of Heaven. At sixty I was already obedient [to this Decree]. At seventy I could follow the desires of my mind without overstepping the boundaries [of what is right]' (Analects: II/4).

To all later schools of Confucianism, no matter how they see human nature, learning is the essential means to realise the self and to rule the society. Mencius (372?-289? BC), the `idealist wing' of Confucianism, seeing human nature as good, asserts that `all men can become Yao and Shun [the two ancient legendary sage-rulers] if only they give full development to their original good nature through learning' (Mencius: VIB/2). Hsun-Tzu (298?-238? BC), the `realist wing', sees human nature as evil; but at the same time he finds `intelligence' in human nature, and asserts that `any man in the street can become a Yu [another ancient legendary sage-ruler] if only he keeps learning with his intelligence to eliminate his evils' (Hsun-Tzu: Ch23).

Sure, we no longer live in the times of Confucius, Mencius, or Hsun-Tzu, nor in the days of the Taika Reform (sixth to seventh century), the Tokugawa Bakufu (1603-1867), or the Iwakura Mission (1871-1873).(9) The value of learning, nevertheless, is still there, deeply rooted in the minds of post-Confucian citizens. It has not died, in spite of political suppression in chaotic ages such as the Gang-of-Four's policy of 'The more knowledge one has, the more reactionist he is'. It survives, once again, despite economic pressures in reform periods such as the illusion of `knowledge is useless for making quick money'. In all sections of post-Confucian societies, socialist or capitalist, rich or poor, from a business tycoon in Hong Kong or Singapore, a political legend in Japan or China, to an illiterate peasant in the most remote undeveloped area, their common dream is for their children to gain a Harvard MBA, an Oxford PhD, or at least be able to read and write, depending on their situation.

Keeping this background in mind, it is not difficult to understand and to make sense of the great enthusiasm, eagerness and dedication of the OSM developers to learn from their Western counterparts. As we have observed in the previous sections, in spite of all accompanying confusion, mistakes, or even distortions, their willingness to learn is obvious.

In my view, it appears not easy to find equal willingness and enthusiasm the other way around; i.e., for the West to learn from their Eastern counterparts. The West seems too busy to be outward-looking. Should they ever look to the East, the motivation is most likely to marketing Western `systems' to the East. Should Oriental `systems' be mentioned, more often than not, those systems will be confined merely to Lao-Tzu, I-Ching, or Buddha, as if the systems movement in the Orient stopped two thousand years ago. This is no harm to the East but unfortunate for the West itself given that the West is confronted increasingly by more and more serious challenges from the East, economically, socially, and culturally.(10)

Being Concerned with Social-Human Affairs

Confucianism is a this-worldly philosophy, of which the major emphasis is focused on human relations in social affairs (Fung, 1948; Needham, 1957). Confucius says, `Not yet understanding life, how can you understand death?' (Analects: XI/11). And Mencius says, `The sage is the acme of human relations' (Mencius: IVA/2). All the pros and cons of Confucianism as we take them today are concerned with social affairs and human relations: the zhengming (Rectification of Names--knowing your position in society), the sangang (Three Cardinal Guides--ruler guides subject, father son, and husband wife), the wulan (Five Basic Social Relationships--relationships between sovereign and subject, father and son, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend), ren (heartedness), yi (righteousness), li (propriety), zhong (conscientiousness), shu (altruism), xing (fidelity), xiao (filial piety), rang (yield), fucong (obedience), etc. So much so that van Wolferen (1989, p. 241) goes thus far to argue that `Confucianist ethics were based on a very sophisticated understanding of human character and the dynamics of society; metaphysics had no place in it'. In Song China at around the twelfth century, Neo-Confucianism did develop a metaphysical dimension by incorporating from Taoism and Buddhism. Yet, again, the ultimate goal of this effort was to give the Confucian social order a metaphysical justification. The Confucian universe is, therefore, always a rational, that is, a moral one, whereas the Confucian social order is always `a natural social order' (Craig, 1965).

This Confucian orientation has driven systems researchers, as long as the political situation allows,(11) to make human affairs their major focus of research attention, of which evidence has been displayed in the last section. Here, I intend to show that, at a deeper level, this Confucian trait has also dictated in OSMs what issues about human affair to raise and the way to handle those issues.

We have indicated that Confucianism is clearly this-world and human-affairs concerned. It appears equally clear that this concern is almost one-sidedly ruler-oriented at the expense of caring for the ruled. Although mutual reciprocity in the sangang and zoulun is mentioned, the message as a whole always focuses on bottomup obedience (Saich, 1981, p. 2; Oh, 1991; p. 49). To the subordinates, Needham observes, `The emphasis ... was always on duties rather than rights, and this again is familiar in modern as well as in traditional Chinese society. There has been little change in that respect' (Needham, 1957, p. 21).

Indeed. In `harmony theory' we read that `a controlling system is established so that leaders can be given full control, systems are thereby ensured to be stable and co-ordinated in operation, in order that total energy [of individuals] can be released', so that `the quality, ideal, and attitudes of the people who are the main components of social systems, adapt to the needs of the development of system' (Xi and Lu, 1995, p. 99). Here, behind the Parsonsian (1950) terminology of `imperative needs', we see the deep imprint of the one-sided Confucian social relation.

When talking about emotion, intuition, experience, knowledge, wisdom, etc., the focus is, more often than not, confined to `leaders' at `various levels' and / or `experts' in `different disciplines'. We can find hardly any room, beyond lip-service, for the `men in the streets', who Mencius and Wang Yangn-dng (1472-1529) believed to have equal potentials to become sages, and who Mao Zedong (1968) believed to be wiser than those in 'high positions'.

It appears that, a move beyond taking human affairs as `facts' for manipulation towards taking those affairs as a subject for prior study is one thing, how to address human affairs, from whose viewpoint, with what emphasis, in what order, and for what purposes, can be quite another.

Being Harmony-oriented

Harmony as an ideal and a goal occupies an overwhelmingly important position in the Eastern mind: it is seen not only as a state to pursue but in the first instance as the essential nature of the universe-Nature, Man, society (Needham, 1957; Watts, 1957). To a sage, according to Confucius, the highest achievement is the harmony among individuals and between human and the universe (Fung, 1948, p. 6). We can find many Confucian teachings on this subject from, for example, I-Ching (Book of Changes) and Chung-Yung (Doctrine of the Mean).

In this regard, we observe without difficulty that all OSMs claim that their major goal is to assist achieving and maintaining harmony within and among organisations, different kinds of human knowledge, etc.

It might not be so easy, however, to reflect on whether the dark side of harmony as a Confucian ideology has at the same time dictated what OSMs focus and suggest, in what manner OSMs are developed, and what kind of establishment OSMs have created.

By `the dark side of the Confucian harmony' I intend to surface the tendency of confining harmony to unity and stability only, unity and stability downplaying autonomy and creativity, unity and stability geared towards a rigorous social hierarchy, unity and stability `realised if each member of the unit was conscientious in the following the requirements of his or her role' (Bond and Hwang, 1986, p. 215; also Lodge and Vogel, 1987).

The preoccupation with social stability in the Confucian doctrine of harmony (Thomas, 1928) is clearly manifested by the Chinese, the Japanese and the Korean concepts for `harmony': ho in Chinese (Fung, 1952/1953, p. 34), wa in Japanese (Morishima, 1982, p. 4) and inhwa in Korean (Lee, 1989, p. 148), although with differences in emphasis, all pertain firstly and always to `people's being in accord with one another and preserving accord within society' (Morishima, 1982, p. 4), the `bright side' of which has repeatedly appreciated by cross-cultural management writers (see, for example, Kahn, 1979; Lodge and Vogel, 1987; MacFarquhar, 1980).

Let us now have a look at what is suggested by OSMs for achieving social harmony. When addressing human values and relations, OSMs, with few exceptions, tend not to provide tangible suggestions, or operational guidelines. Beautiful words in the air, nothing real on the earth: beyond declaration of desires, very little has been said in detail about how to tackle disagreements, controversy, or conflicts. No need to, not able to, not willing to, not dare to, or not allowed to? Alas, is this the practice of the Taoist golden rule `The Tao which can be spoken is not eternal Tho' (Tho Te Ching: I / 1)?!

This conscious silence is quite in contrast to Western approaches. When Western systems methodologies come to tackle diverse or conflicting human values and interests, the accepted golden rule seems to be to promote, encourage, organise and facilitate `open debates' (Jackson, 1987). As the Chinese and the Japanese are well informed about these Western methodologies, the point is, therefore, not the availability in the 'market', but the selectivity of the `customer': the post-Confucian citizens appear reluctant to 'import' these `commodities'. While the Western culture(s) sees admission and surface of differences in positions as an appropriate approach to promote honest confrontation which is in turn believed necessary and good for dealing with human relations. Confucianism simply sees this mode of behaviour as impolite, aggressive, and hence unacceptable (Shenkar and Ronen, 1987, p. 268).

Then, this Confucian ideology also dictates how OSMs are developed. In the West, we witness heated counter-arguments on systems methodologies within the systems community, such as those among Ackoff (1982), Churchman (1982), Checkland (1982) and Jackson (1982, 1983); between Checkland (1981) and M'Pherson (1974); among Jackson (1992, 1993a, 1993b), Schecter (1993), Jones (1993) and Mingers (1992a, 1992b, 1993a, 1993b); among Checkland (1992, 1993), Jackson (1993c) and Flood (1993), etc. The more heated the debate, the more fruitful the outcome. In the Eastern systems community, no such `confrontations' can be seen. What can be observed is one more silence.

Another manifestation of the Confucian harmony orientation can be discerned in the nearly perfect `conformation' towards a single methodology, or a single conceptual framework. When addressing `real-life' problems, everybody talks about `well-defined' and `ill-defined'; when categorising methods, everybody speaks `hard' and `soft'; as if other words and conceptual dimensions are no longer meaningful. Once looking to Western methodologies, everybody bites a bit from SSM: organising it into a bigger scheme, improving its processing stages, etc., as if other social-situation-oriented methodologies, such as those of Ackoff (1981), Churchman (1979), Linstone (1984), Masson and Mitroff (1981), Rosenhead (1989), just to name a few, do not exist. We have much sound here, but only in a single unique tune. We have managed to enjoy a consensus. Everybody focuses on the same topic, follows the same rationale, uses the same language, accepts the same assumption, together creating a strong establishment from which everybody can in turn comfortably get benefit without risks--an ideal state of harmony!

Professor Hayashi observes that the conformative tendency is so deep-rooted in the behaviour in the daily fife of the East that `When Japanese eat as a group in a restaurant, everybody usually orders the same meal. . . . I have seen the head waiter in a French airport restaurant throw up his arms in consternation when every person in a Japanese tour group ordered exactly the same meal' (Hayashi, 1988, p. 81).

What Hayashi read from this conformation is that `This unanimity strengthens group solidarity. ... We value group solidarity, a social contract between intimates--company or community. Choosing the same meal shows a collective identity' (Hayashi, 1988, p. 81). Rather, this author hopes that we have not taken systems methodologies and systems research as meals.

Being Synthesis-minded

Now let us turn to another well-known Confucian temperament: synthetic proclivity. This temperament can be traced back as early as two thousand years ago the I-Ching (Book of Changes: Appendix III): `One Yang and one Yin: this is called the Tao'. Although for Confucianism there are multiple taos for different categories of things and affairs, the emphasis is, however, always that these taos are to be ultimately synthesised into a single Great Tao. Fung summarises this belief thus:

Besides the tao of every class of things, there is

another Tho for all things as a whole. In other

words, besides the specific multiple toas, there

is a general Tao which governs the production

and transformation of all things (Fung, 1948, p. 169).

Needham (1957) and Watts (1957) have made a sharp contrast between the `European dissociation' and this `Chinese unitariness'. According to Needham and Watts, in Europe, on the one side there was the tradition of atomism starting with Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius; on the other side there was the other tradition which laid emphasis on the spiritual reality of the Creator and the angelic host. This dualism mirrored itself in a thousand conflicts: necessity versus freedom, matter versus spirit, sensuality versus asceticism, reason versus instinct, etc. Not until Leibniz, who was interested in Chinese thought, did the European spirit begin to be able to transcend these irreconcilable opposites. Watts thus found lying at the core of the European mind a fundamentally unsolved contradiction. In contrast, the Eastern thought, especially Neo-Confucianism, is, according to Needham, at any rate an organic conception of Nature, a theory of integration, and hence a synthetic mind.(12)

The synthetic world-view has been incorporated into the Confucian way of study, which presents a consistent desire to bring together different forms of knowledge and various schools of thought so as to create a `greater whole'. Two thousand years ago, Hsun-Tzu summarises the Confucian openness towards the integration of `the hundred schools of thoughts' thus:

These different views are single aspects of the

Tao. The essence of the Tao is constant and

includes all changes. It cannot be grasped by a

single comer. Those with perverted knowledge

who see only a single aspect of the Tao

will not be able to comprehend its totality. . . .

Confucius was human-hearted and wise and

was not blind. Therefore he comprehended the

Tao and was sufficient to be ranked with the

early rulers. (Hsun-Tzu: Ch21)

This synthetic tendency manifests itself so obviously in recent OSMs that one cannot easily miss it. We found explicit desires and formulations driven to bring together rational logic and sensational intuition, `scientific theory' and ,empirical experience', `quantitative' and `qualitative', 'hard' and `soft', `Western rationality' and `Eastern wisdom', human and computer, positive, value and standard studies, economic, political and ideological systems engineering(s), Wuli, Shili and Renh, primary decision-making and meta decision-making, etc. Few forget to include `synthesis' as a conceptual and operational principle; some make it the keyword of their titles. With all perhaps unavoidable confusion and carelessness, this enthusiasm will most likely continue to play a significant role in OSMs since it is fairly compatible with the official ideology and the political orientation towards social stability in post-Confucian societies.

Being Practicality-driven

Another Confucian temperamental characteristic is realistic practicality. Confucius says: `The Tho is not far from Man' (Chung-Yung: XHI). Indeed, Confucian teachings are based more on `practical' subjects and concerns in `this world', rather than `abstract' affairs and standards in `the other world' (Fung, 1948).

Yang, summarising findings from empirical studies conducted by both Western and Eastern psychology researchers during the period from the 1940s to the 1980s, gives evidence that the Chinese have been characterised as valuing highly common-sense and utilitarian ways of thinking; they tend to be mainly concerned with concrete subjects and practical applications *in the immediate surroundings. Therefore, what is applicable for here-and-now goals is important; what that `what' implies and its possible impacts remain always secondary considerations, if they are considered at all. Yet, it is postulated, compared with the Japanese, the Chinese mentality is not `flexible' and `pragmatic' enough, it is still `transcendental' (Ishida, 1983, p. 6).

Thus we have the Japanese wakon yosai (Japanese spirit with Western ability) and the Chinese zhongxueweiti-xixueweiyong (Chinese substances and Western functions), and more recently the influential baimao heimao lun (White cat, black cat, that who catches mice is a good cat). While Hofstede (1991) calls this Virtue without Truth, Yang (1986) calls it practical realism, Hellersberg (1953) calls it Chinese realism, and Sue and Kirk (1972) call it the Confucian practical outlook. Hoftede's observation is representative: in post-Confucian societies, `What is true or who is right is less important than what works and how the efforts of individuals with different thinking patterns can be co-ordinated towards a common goal' (Hofstede, 1991, p. 172).

Let us return to OSMS. Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the realistic practicality (pragmatism?) can be found from the work on Checkland's SSM. We have seen that everyone tries to take a bit of SSM, importing it, decomposing it, inserting it into this or that place wherever seems workable, applying it in whatever social situations, etc. The reason for all these dedicated efforts is simple: SSM is `soft' and `soft' is good for social problem-solving. Yet under this heated dedication, there appears a lack of cool, careful and critical study of the `softness': What social and cultural traditions do SSM require for its operation? What political and institutional implications may it dictate? Will SSM feel comfortable in societies where open debate is viewed as unacceptable behaviour that damages harmony, stability, order, consensus, common commitments and `good' relations? What skills and conditions should be acquired in order to apply SSM `the powerful tool'? etc. Furthermore, before we claim that SSM `begins with the perceived (maybe undefined) problems' and therefore `obviously lacks the earlier stages of investigation, such as problem discovering and problem forming', or when we conclude that `in SSM the Weltanschannugen of various roles are relatively consistent, the purposes of human activity systems are rather clear and the relevant systems are easy to be found', have we ever thought about whether these charges are `true' to SSM? Have, or haven't we misunderstood, distorted and hijacked SSM with our good-will? After all, do these questions belong to `the other world', not to `this world'?

Seeing Differences in Sameness

Now, given the Confucian harmony and synthesis orientation which always emphasises wholeness and common ground, how about the argument for differentiation in recent OSMs, especially in WSR, which puts differentiation as its core concept? Is this not out of tune with Confucianism? Is it not merely a `foreign commodity' imported from the West without indigenous roots? Is it possible to find any Confucian imprints in the differentiation argument?

Surely the emphasis on wholeness and sameness is a major distinctive trait of Eastern thought (Northrop, 1960), especially when compared with its Western counterparts in which `what is defined and distinct is regarded as more real than what is indefined or indistinct', and in which `the parts of a thing are more real than its whole, and differences between the parts are more real than their sameness as parts of a whole' (Bahm, 1988, p. 41).

However, it could be naive simply to conclude, based on such a comparison, that the whole `Eastern thought' rejects or is insensitive to differences. It is Bahm's (1988) same research that shows that, unlike Indian Buddhism, one of the Eastern thoughts, which `interprets sunya, the void, as completely void of distinctions, etc., including the distinction between sunya and suchness, that is, between that which is void of distinctions and that which includes all distinctions', in another Eastern thought, the Chinese thought, `accepting both whole and parts and their distinctness and indistinctness as apprehended, has come to idealise a "both-and" logic' (Bahm, 1988, p. 43).

Admittedly, Bahm's observation on what he names `Chinese thought' is mainly focusing on Taoism. However, there is evidence that the teaching of differences and differentiation is also a remarkable part of Confucian teaching. Fung makes a distinction between the Tao in Lao-Tzu and the taos in the Appendices of I-Ching (Book of Changes), which is commonly believed to be the writing of Confucian scholars, thus:

The Tao of Taoism is the unitary first `that' from

which all things in the universe come to be. The

tao of the `Appendices', on the contrary, are

multiple, and are the principles which govern each

separate category of things in the universe. (Fung,

1948, p. 284; emphasis mine)

In Chung-Yung (Doctrine of the Mean), the distinction between two concepts, tong (identity) and ho (harmony), signifies the Confucian idea about sameness and differences very well. Tong means uniformity or sameness, which is incompatible with differences. Ho means harmony, which results when differences are appreciated and brought together to form complementary oppositional relations. In Kuo-Yu (Statements of Nations), we read, `If there is only one sound, it is not worth listening to. A thing entirely the same lacks decorativeness. If there is only one taste, there is no satisfaction. And if things are made of one material, there is not solidity'. Again, `Ho results in the production of things, but tong does not. When the one equalises the other there comes what is called harmony, so that then there can be a luxurious growth in which new things are produced. But if identity is added to identity, all that is new is finished' (cf. Fung, 1952, p. 34).

More relevant to OSMs, in the Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism, general Li and particular lis became central concepts. These two concepts were also well established in Japan when Tokugawa (1542-1616) made Neo-Confucianism, especially the work of Chu-Hsi (1130-1200), the official ideology for the samurai class and for the whole society. Thus, in Cheng Yi (1033-1107), for example, we read that lis for different things are different; that for a thing to exist, first there must be certain li of it; that for each kind of thing, there is a distinct li which makes it what it is; that as new things appear, new lis are realised; that, therefore, li is at the same time general and particular (Fung, 1948, Ch24 and Ch25). Cheng Yi actually postulated that to study different lis different ways should be followed (Zhu, 1997a).

Admittedly, compared with the emphasis on social harmony, `common good' and consensus, the differentiation component appears underdeveloped. Nevertheless, I would maintain, the idea and teaching of differences and differentiation in Nature, in society and in methods have at the same time been a continuous and substantial component of the Confucian doctrine since Confucius's time. The kernel is there, and its imprint on OSMs is `real'.


The basic tasks set for this paper are: (1) to investigate whether there are new developments in OSMs; if yes, (2) to identify distinctive features in the new developments; then if those features can be surfaced, (3) to probe what has dictated those developments and shaped those features.

It is not the intention of this paper to make judgements or choices on which feature(s) is/ are good or bad, which Confucian trait(s) is/are useful or outdated, etc. Rather, it is desired to raise issues and questions for further consideration and research, to leave as many judgements and choices as possible to systems researchers, especially to those in the East.

Judgements and choices, however, have to be made, sooner rather than later, since the situation has changed and continues to change. As the Appendices of I-Ching (Book of Changes) emphasise, all things and affairs in the universe are ever in a process of transition. This is certainly true for the recent post-Confucian societies.(13) Further, as cautioned by Jones, the social ills currently experienced by the West may have a universal dimension: they might be `a test which has scarcely begun to confront the Confucian world' (Jones, 1994, p. 23).

It appears naive to believe that Confucian tradition(s) will remain unchanged along with the changes and transformations. What is relevant is not whether to change, but what to change and how. Therefore it is a serious question how Confucian tradition(s) will be rechannelled so as to cope with the transformations and the `scarcely begun test'. In my view, this is also `true' for OSMs.

Perhaps a first step towards making judgements, choices and changes is to reflect on what has shaped our mentality and behaviour in the past and in the present. Here, a conscious attitude and an open mind are crucial. In the field of systems methodology research, the attempt made in this paper can be seen as a preliminary stimulus for further work in this direction.

(1) It should be noticed that the term `Systems Engineering' in China has come to cover and represent broadly what, in the West, people generally call `Systems Sciences'. There are both epistemological and historical reasons for this. In the early 1980s, Systems Engineering was introduced mainly by Professor Qian Xuesen into China, and since then has been widely utilised. `Qian has considered it as a universal scientific methodology for all kinds of systems (1982), arguing that different subject branches of SE may be formed in different areas, such as engineering, military, society economy, policy and so forth. Consequently today Chinese people are used to referring to all forms of complicated problem solving as Systems Engineering' (Li and Zheng, 1995, p. 50).

(2) Sawaragi and Nakamori (1991, 1992, 1993); Nakamori and Sawaragi (1995, 1996).

(3) Qian et al. (1991); Dai and Wang (1995).

(4) Li and Zheng (1995).

(5) Gu and Zhu (1995, 1996, 1997a, 1997b); Gu and Tang (1995); Tang and Gu (1996); Zhu (1995, 1996a, 1996b, 1996c, 1996d, 1996e, 1996f, 1997a, 1997b).

(6) Wang (1995).

(7) It is not always clear whether the usage of a and the is a conscious choice or due to the original authors' weakness in English. Therefore this author would suggest that the original publications should be read with great care, sensitivity and sympathy

(8) In this paper, names of Chinese and Japanese are presented according to their own system: family names first and given names following. Further, for the convenience of Western readers, the names of contemporary Chinese authors are in the form of China's official hanyupinying transliteration, while ancient names are given in their familiar Roman-Latin forms.

(9) The Taika Reform, Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Iwakura Mission are singled out here since they illustrate the Japanese value of learning very well.

During the Taika Reform, its spiritual leader, Prince Taishi Shotoku (574-622) opened the door of Japan to learning, sending students and missions to the Tang China, systematically importing, digesting and amending Chinese culture (e.g., a wide range of Confucian virtues) and Chinese institutions (e.g., the administrative and civil servant examination system), in order to enlighten his country. As a result, Taishi successfully instituted the Twelve-Cap-Rank System in 603 and promulgated a Seventeen-Article Constitution in 604, which served as a core social/ legislative foundation for Japan up to the Tokugawa era (Morishima, 1982, Ch2).

Regarding Tokugawa, an official Japanese history book describes him thus: `He conquered the nation on horse-back, but being an enlightened and wise man, realised early that the land could not be governed from a horse. He has always respected and believed in the way of the sages. He wisely decided that in order to govern the land and follow the path proper to man, he must pursue the path of learning. Therefore, from the beginning he encourgaged learning' (cf. Vogel, 1987; p. 142).

As to the Iwakura Mission, it was the first major Japanese mission abroad in the Meiji period, including nearly 100 senior officials from all major departments of government who travelled for more than 18 months in America and Europe, systematically studying and transplanting Western technologies, laws, institutions, education systems, etc., which made the foundation of the modern Japan (Soviak, 1971).

(10) For example, at the time of this paper being written, Japan and China rank in terms of GDP only below the USA, and it is estimated that, with a continuation of present trends, China will have become the world's largest economy by the year 2005 (Child, 1996, p. x).

(11) Political situations appear to be a sensitive and realistic issue in systems research, as in other fields of study and in the life of people, in East Asia. For evidence, one need only recall the situation of the 'Great Cultural Revolution' in China not long ago, during which discussion about human values and interests, other than those officially defined, was forbidden.

(12) The symbol of Tho can serve as an example to illustrate the synthetic Eastern mind. The circle of the symbol represents a synthesis of the two oppositional forces: yang and yin, which are indicated by the black and white sides. The small dots in each side symbolise that each force, yang and yin, always already possesses the seed of its opposite; therefore the continuous complementary functioning of the oppositional yang and yin, which is symbolised by the double-curving interface, is not imposed from outside but is a spontaneous movement natural to the inner nature of yang and yin oppositions (Bahm, 1988; Garratt, 1981; Xu and Li, 1989).

(13) Evidence of change is everywhere. In China, by 1992, the industrial output contributed by state-owned enterprises had dropped to below half of the total: 48% (Child, 1996, p. 15); and by 1995, further to 46% (World Bank, 1995), making an end to the 40-year domination of the state-owned sector in economic life. In Japan, the breakdown happened in the political sphere: the Liberal Democratic Party lost the majority in the 23 July 1989 Upper House election (Whitehill, 1991, p. 33). In Singapore, the prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, has recently spoken of `worrying signs that our traditional values are weakening' (The Economist, 1996, p. 87). Taiwan is now experiencing its `democratisation', while Hong Kong is counting the days to being handed over to China. Most recently, the Korean government has been involved in a `culture clash' with its labour force (The Economist, 1997, p. 63).


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Zhichang Zhu, Correspondence to: Zhichang Zhu, Lincoln School of Management, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS, UK
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Date:Mar 1, 1998
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