A Handbook of Confucian/Chopsticks Marketing


Editors : Kim-Shyan Fam, Zhilin Yang, and Mike Hyman
Cover : Paperback
Language : English
Publisher : Asia Business Research Corporation Limited
Publication Date : August 2009
ISBN : 978-0-473-15194-2
Price : NZ$100
NZ$90 (MAG Scholar members)
Payment Option : Banker Cheque / Bank Draft
Payable to : Asia Business Research Corporation Limited
Mailing Address : ABRC Limited, PO Box 5257, Lambton Quay,
Wellington 6145, New Zealand


Kim-Shyan Fam     Brian C. Imrie     Joe Choon Yean Chai

There is an age-old Confucian saying that international marketers ignore at their peril, namely that “People of different persuasions cannot work on a venture together”. Despite the complex political and cultural landscape of China and East Asia, Confucianism has made a comeback in the region. While this ancient philosophy unites an otherwise diverse populace, Western marketers have struggled to understand the influence of this ancient philosophy on global marketing practice. This handbook teases out how Confucian values have influenced marketing in the Greater China region and provides insight into how Confucian and Western perspectives may be melded to create more successful trade.

Confucian teaching is a set of pragmatic rules that govern people’s behaviour and the relationships among people. These rules – which include proper living, respect of authority, desire for harmony, conservatism, contentedness, tolerance of others, order, and stability – have been retained and taught to successive generations by Chinese and East Asian parents. As a result, the Confucian doctrine that mandates honesty within families, businesses, and governments are embedded in Chinese and East Asian minds. Chinese culture also stresses fostering relationships through reciprocity, sentiment, and kinship networks; hence, a Chinese would identify him/herself as a subset of a society whose life centres on a passive acceptance of fate determined by the surrounding community and nature. In contrast, a Westerner would typically identify him/herself as a separate entity whose life centres on self-reliance, equality, and a personally managed mode of living.

Amicable relations are important in many aspects of conducting business, throughout the world and all parts of the supply chain. Be they producers, suppliers, distributors, or consumers, and whether they are local or from afar, all parties in the supply chain play a vital role in ensuring a successful business deal and developing harmonious relationships. Synonymous with the relationship focus of the marketing enterprise is the use of chopsticks. Used by Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese, chopsticks are held between the thumb and fingers, and used either for gathering food from common plates or for scooping rice into the mouth. Individually, a chopstick is a functionless stick; jointly, they perform an essential function. The ascendancy of chopsticks over other eating utensils is clouded by the mists of history. Confucius proclaimed that knives are for warriors but chopsticks are for scholars. Analogous to the intricacy of eating with chopsticks, marketing effectively to East Asian consumers entails identifying and understanding local customs, traditions, values, and consumer behaviour. Success also depends on how well marketers harness networks comprised of government officials, religious bodies, suppliers, distributors, and consumers. A deep appreciation of local cultural values is critical to what we have termed Confucian/Chopsticks Marketing, whereby effective marketing in Eastern Asia requires a comprehensive understanding of Confucianism as a driver of market success.

The Confucian ethic is omnipresent and relevant to every aspect of family life, social gathering, and business activity. To followers of this ethic, the family is the prototype for all organisations; household heads must first show their ability to manage their own family before offering their services to companies. In parallel, many Chinese companies will not promote an employee to a supervisory position until that employee proves he/she is a filial son/daughter. Although social gatherings with siblings, neighbours, friends, and business partners may be informal, unequal interpersonal relationships are anticipated. Each attendee has his or her position and obligations at that gathering, and usually their focus is on politeness, friendliness, sincerity, and preservation of face. During such occasions, the time-honoured traditions of paying homage to elders, giving gifts, and being humble, are cherished.

In business transactions, the Confucian ethic entails compromise and the need for flexibility, which can help harmonise people with their environment. Within the Confucian mindset, natural disasters are attributed to nature fighting against man; hence, celebrating a business deal at such times is considered inauspicious. Because conducting business and celebrating a business success with a person in mourning also is considered unethical, counterparts should be respectful of the mourner and be flexible with deadlines.

We selected ten articles for this handbook to assist marketing managers improve their strategies for winning a share of the dynamic East Asian market. These articles are grouped into three domains: ‘Understanding Chinese Consumers in a Global Market Place’, ‘The Influence of Confucian Values upon Successful Marketing Practice’, and ‘The Influence of Confucian Values on Management Practice’. The initial article, by Bala Ramasamy, Matthew Yeung, and Yizhou Yuan, is entitled “Values, Attitudes and Behaviour of Chinese Consumers towards Corporate Social Responsibility”. This article highlights the unpredictability of Chinese consumers in a globally competitive market environment. The next article, authored by Ina Freeman, entitled “Confucianism – Can Marketing Benefit from Adoption of Confucian Values”, suggests a balanced approach is possible to aid understanding of the East Asian market through a fusion of Western and Confucian values.

The remaining articles take a micro approach to understanding the application of Confucian values to both marketing and management practice. Zhenzhong Ma and Xin Zheng discuss how the Confucian relational concept of guanxi influences market performance in Greater China. The next two advertising-focused articles examine how both Confucian and Western values affect a successful advertising campaign. The article by Nazia Sultana and Rameshwar Rao Nangunoori introduces a Confucian inspired ‘Four Seed Model’ as a guide to developing ethical advertisements. The other article, by Fang Liu, Hong Cheng, and Jianyau Li, summarizes an empirical study of how Western and Confucian values influence Chinese consumers’ responses to advertisements featuring sex appeals.

The micro-marketing articles conclude with two industry-related studies that explore destination choice for the Education and Tourism sectors. The study by Kim-Choy Chung, Kim-Shyan Fam, and David Holdsworth probes the cultural motivation of Chinese South-East Asian students in selecting a tertiary institution. The tourism article by Leah Watkins profiles the Confucian values of Japanese backpackers.

Last, the management-oriented articles are presented. A conceptual article by Liang-Hung Lin and Yu-Ling Ho examines how the management theories of organisational authority, conflict, leadership, and change need to be adapted, utilising Confucian values, to achieve success within Greater China. Next, the article by Boo Ho Voon examines how Confucian values are embedded in delivering service excellence. The handbook concludes with an article by Yan Liu that examines the Confucian ethics in relation to leadership and subordinates in Asian companies.

In total, these ten articles reveal the complexity of understanding Confucianism as it related to marketing. Analogous to eating with chopsticks, effective marketing in East Asia requires a deep understanding of the local culture. To this end, these articles extend that understanding and provide an improved backdrop for consumer-related research and managerial decisions.