The Chinese Dream: A New Interpretation

Like most Chinese fathers, Y.P. Chan thought he had his children's education all figured out. After all, Chan was educated not only in traditional Chinese philosophy but had also excelled in the worlds of engineering, business and high-stakes finance. Arriving at the age of sixteen in New York, where he worked for $2.25 an hour in a Chinese restaurant, he continually pushed himself to work over one-hundred-hour weeks, studying on his own, saving money, and eventually earned two Master's degrees from Columbia University (where he met his wife), garnered jobs at IBM, TRW, where he worked on a project with NASA, and Honeywell and finally became the CEO of a publicly-listed company on the American Stock Exchange.

So when he moved to Seattle a few years ago, the razor-sharp, slightly wry, and intellectual entrepreneur (he studies the Chinese classics diligently now, compared to when he was a kid, he admits) visited four of the elite private schools in the area with his wife and two daughters. Using all the experience and analytical skills he had acquired through thirty years of struggle, that had admittedly brought him to the top of the American dream, he - in consultation with his wife - settled on one school as by far the most outstanding. "It checked all the boxes in our pre-select criteria for our daughters' education," he said, talking about the school the way he might have talked about a company he was seeking to acquire. As it turned out, however, his daughter hated it. Both daughters did. Astonishingly, rather than push them as he had pushed himself for so many years, he spent time talking with them at length. Using traditional Taoist philosophy of "letting go," he decided to let them decide where to go to school. He even encouraged one daughter's choice of an entirely non-traditional path.

Chan takes the same approach when evaluating the current predicament Chinese President Xi Jinping faces: overwhelming corruption, pollution, food safety issues, to name a few. Chan, who regularly meets with leading executives and entrepreneurs of Chinese corporations, such as Haier and China Investment Corporation, as well as leading academic and policy makers, does not take for granted what he calls "the new message coming from the Chinese leadership."

When President Xi Jinping quoted Confucius and Laozi, a well-known Taoist philosopher, in his recent speech at APEC, Chan became so excited he flooded his friends with emails and sought to interpret the president's words through the leader's actions.

"The anti-corruption campaign has gone on longer than anyone would ever have expected," he says.

Chan argues that Xi has also consistently promoted officials based on their merit, a practice he describes as the essence of Confucian leadership.

While foreign officials are sometimes skeptical about Xi's intentions and the western media sometimes scorns his strong-arm tactics, Chan sees a spark of hope in the leader's continued use of traditional metaphors.

"Like water that benefits everything it flows past but does not struggle against it," says Chan, referring to a quotation from the Laozi itself, an ancient book of Taoist philosophy cited recently by Xi. Chan contends this policy is part of the "Chinese dream" articulated by the Chinese leader, one in which the U.S. and China can co-exist peacefully.

"We must move beyond the cold war mentality," says Chan.

Chan is not alone in his views. Other prominent Chinese community leaders in the Seattle area share a yearning for a return to values from the past. In the academic world, more and more Chinese are entering the fields of Chinese history and literature so that domains once dominated and defined by westerners will soon be overwhelmed by the Chinese themselves - studying their own heritage, lost for so many years under the mantle of communist repression.

At the very least, perhaps with so many Chinese - including their president - now using the old, once-forbidden phrases, the old idea of harmony and a feeling of healthy pride in Chinese civilization will come flowing back. Perhaps even like water, flowing without struggle, benefitting all.