Boyé Lafayette De Mente
Traditional Chinese logic is an outgrowth of Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist thinking combined with the reality of staying alive and living as peacefully and as comfortably as China’s historical circumstances would allow.
This means that in addition to doing whatever was necessary to survive in the real world, the Chinese also had to obey the dictates of imperial governments that were often both irrational and anti-human, forcing the people to live by a system of situational ethics.
This circumstance resulted in the Chinese becoming skillful in the use of buhe luoji de (boo-hay loo-oh-jee duh), which I translate as “fuzzy logic”—that is, logic that does not appear to be objective or rational and instead is designed to keep them out of trouble because it is not clear and non-committal.
The coming of the Communist regime in the late 1940s made it even more imperative that the Chinese at large learn how to disguise their real thoughts and become adept at “Communist speak” in order to avoid serious consequences, which included imprisonment, torture and often death.
During the 10-year long so-called Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 (when Mao Zedung attempted to destroy all aspects of traditional culture and capitalistic leanings in China) engaging publicly in clear logical expression [or just looking as if you were a thinking person] brought extreme reprisals from Red Guard students whom Mao had enlisted to carry out his campaign.
After Mao died and Deng Xiaoping became the supreme leader he gave his blessings to the limited use of Western logic in business and in other economic enterprises, putting China on the capitalist road to wealth and power.
Since Deng inaugurated the “get rich is glorious” era in 1976/7, Communist logic has virtually disappeared except in the upper echelons of government, and even there it is evolving into something that is far more rational and pragmatic.
This leaves traditional Chinese logic and modern-day Western logic, which combined has become a powerful force that gives the Chinese many advantages in their dealings with Westerners. Americans in particular tend to be susceptible to this mixture because we are not programmed to deal with non-linear cultures.
In effect, typical Chinese has several “cultural faces” that they wear at different times, depending on the circumstances, that are a combination of Chinese and Western thinking. These “faces” include a family face, a kinship face, an old friend face, a co-worker face, a government official face, a face for dealing with foreigners, and so on.
Learning when and how the phrase buhe luoji de is used and all of the cultural nuances and uses of these various faces is a major challenge for Western businesspeople and diplomats dealing with China.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente.
For a comprehensive discourse on the traditional Chinese mindset, see the author’s book China’s Cultural Code Words (McGraw-Hill), which consists of definitive essays on the cultural nuances and uses of 305 key Chinese words. It is available from Amazon.com and major book retailers. To see a full list of his books, go to: http://www.phoenixbookspublishers.com/.