East and West

Knowledge@Wharton writes:

The [Chinese] securities infrastructure is just one part of the development equation, stressed the Republic of Korea’s Choi. In trying to understand Asia’s position today, one must consider that “the population is the area’s most important resource for economic growth.” East Asia’s 1.6 billion people, more than double the population of North America and Europe combined, are “a highly educated, motivated population, determined to change their lot,” said Choi, noting that East Asia has a distinct culture and character that support economic growth.

Using the example of yin and yang, he contrasted the ways of the East with the ways of the West. In the East, when writing an address on an envelope, one writes the country first, then city, then family name, then first name. In the West it is the opposite. In addition, there are differences in how people count: In the West, a person holds a fist and counts by putting out fingers. In the East, counting is done by first outstretching the fingers and bringing them in, one by one. “My observation,” said Choi, “is that these characteristics are reflected in business practices. It’s the difference between the moderation of the East versus the extremism of the West, long-term planning of the East versus short-term gains in the West, strategic planning in the East versus tactical gains in the West.”

Continuing the comparisons, Choi suggested that the game of chess epitomizes the way the West developed: victory after victory, head-on collision after head-on collision. “The West developed by conquering wide open spaces and wide open seas,” he said. “The East developed in a closed environment, with an un-navigable ocean to the east, the world’s highest mountains to the north, and jungles to the south.” Ironically, said Choi, the West turned an open world into a closed world.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.