Convention and Expo Summit 2003
THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EVENT MANAGEMENT:
THE CASE FOR UNDERSTANDING CONFUCIANISM
School of Tourism & Leisure Management
The University of Queensland
Ph (07) 33811027
THE CULTURAL DIMENSIONS OF EVENT MANAGEMENT:
THE CASE FOR UNDERSTANDING CONFUCIANISM
There is much evidence that event management is being recognised as a significant sector of the international
tourism and leisure industries. While event management research is increasingly international, there is a
paucity of research on the cultural dimensions of event management. Considering that event management
activity is commissioned by different cultural groups and events increasingly cross cultural boundaries, it is
imperative that event management professionals broaden their understanding of the philosophical
underpinnings of different cultures.
Since the early 1980s, Confucianism has reappeared as a significant philosophical interest in both the East
and West and there has been widespread recognition of the importance of Confucian philosophy which
scholars have identified as a form of renaissance (Hall & Ames, 1987; Little & Reed, 1989; Tu, 1996).
Confucianism has had a profound influence on many parts of Asia and continues to be an influential force in
Asian education, politics and business (Dirlik, 1995). New interpretations are necessary so that the richness of
the Confucian tradition can be explored within the context of event management.
Bearing in mind that approximately one quarter of the world’s population has a Confucian heritage, that the
Chinese diaspora around the world is notable, that a variety of scholars have predicted a revival in Confucian
thought and that there are significant numbers of Confucian travellers, the clear conclusion that one is drawn
to, is that it may be useful if not indeed necessary, to recognise the key elements of the Confucian value
system when developing, marketing and managing events.
This paper offers an examination of some of the key concepts of Confucianism that underpin Confucian
human relations and interactions and draws some implications for event management in the specific areas
of protocol, and business and social ethics.
KEYWORDS: Confucianism; Event Management
The significance of understanding different cultures is well evidenced by a series of recent Australian
reports. Reports such as Managing Cultural Diversity (1996), Cultural Understandings as the Eighth Key
Competency (1994) and Enterprising Nation: Renewing Australia’s Managers to Meet the Challenges of
the Asia-Pacific Century (1995), served to highlight the importance and significance of cultural
understanding to Australian industry in general. In 1995, a report by the Office of Multicultural Affairs,
Productive Diversity in the Tourism Industry, highlighted some of the issues specially relevant to the
Tourism and Hospitality industries.
These reports demonstrate the significance of cultural understanding for the Australian workforce which
is responding to the challenges of the global society. The cultures of Asia however, are particularly
significant for Australian tourism and hospitality professionals. Australia's determination and need to
become a significant participant in the Asia Pacific region can be traced back to the end of the Second
World War, but it is in recent years that various Australian governments have given Australian-Asian
relationships such pre-eminence. The Asian Pacific region has for some time been seen as the focus of
Australia's economic and social future (Fitzgerald, 1994). While there have been extraordinary advances
in information technology, international communication and the transportation of goods, Australia is
becoming culturally more distant from Britain and Europe. As Print (1998, p.10) observes, “traditional
loyalties and values that have forged the development of our country over the last century are increasingly
being challenged, forcing Australians to rethink what it means to be Australian”.
Economic agreements such as the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC), Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) are providing a new economic
focus for Australian governments and business. Where Australia’s imports and exports were once closely
linked with Britain and Europe, the degree of complementarity in economic activity has led to a clear
direction towards the Asian region (Irwin, 1996, p.3).
Fitzgerald (1994) suggests however, that while there are trade statistics that point to Australia's increasing
involvement with Asia, geographical proximity alone in this age of efficient communications, is a weak
argument for Australia's continued interest in Asian cultures. He rightly points out that the transformation
of Asia must be understood as a global phenomenon rather than a mere regional one. Australia must
respond creatively to Asia not only because of geographical proximity but because the world is changing.
It is important to move beyond the stereotypical views Westerners still hold of Asian cultures and develop
a deeper appreciation of the cultural diversity of the region.
Fitzgerald (1994, p.15) advances his argument: "… it is becoming increasingly difficult to participate in
public life anywhere in the world, let alone to assert the values appropriate to contemporary Australia,
without knowing about what is happening among the states of Asia and why it matters in the broadest
sense". The economic transformations in Asia cannot surely be intelligently grasped as merely regional
events. As Fitzgerald (1994, p.14) explains, "Asia's role in this global village is expanding at a rate to
match its demographic, economic, geographical and historical potential." The Asian nations are
experiencing significant transformations and Australia cannot ignore them, not only because Australia is
geographically close to Asia, but because these are transformations which are significant to the global
environment. If one were to study Asian cultures only because of the possible economic benefits, then the
education system would surely be devalued as a simple servant of mercantile interests.
As Australia situates itself more authentically in the Asian Pacific region of the world and educational,
business and political ties are strengthened with Asia, it is imperative that the aspiring business person and in
particular, event managers broaden their understanding of Asian cultures.
THE CONFUCIAN TRADITION
Confucian philosophy and the tradition that developed from it have had an enormous influence on
Chinese culture and the cultures of various other Asian states (Fitzgerald, 1964; Wan, 1980; Grasso,
Corrin, & Kort, 1997). As the twentieth-first century begins, Confucianism is being reinterpreted by East
Asian states in search of distinctive values that counter the influence of the more unfavourable aspects of
contemporary Western culture (Tan, 1989; Tu, 1995). The contemporary interest in Confucianism
however, is not only taking place in East Asia, but also in the West, where scholars are re-evaluating the
contributions that Confucianism can make to a variety of debates, particularly in global social and cultural
transformations (Little & Reed, 1989; Leung, 1992; Dallmayr, 1993).
The potential of ancient philosophies to contribute to current intellectual debates has often been questioned,
especially by those who hold the view that the solutions to contemporary problems can be found entirely
within the realm of contemporary experience. But as Little and Reed (1989, p.xv) suggest in the
introduction to their study on the “Confucian Renaissance”:
In an age when modern communications enable instantaneous exchange of information
and ever more rapid change of physical location, and talk of a “global village” is
seductively plausible, it is easy to ignore the continuing importance of the myths and
sages which inspired and provided the coherence for the major traditions of civilisation.
Confucius (551-479 BC) is one such sage whose inspiration of centuries ago continues to be debated as
the East and the West face the social, economic and political challenges of the third millennium. He was a
philosopher, scholar and itinerant teacher who gathered a group of acolytes who continued to teach his
wisdom after his death. He was primarily interested in the development of the mind and moral character,
with social harmony through self-cultivation as the ultimate goal. As Confucianism developed into one of
the dominant philosophies of East Asia, Confucius was exalted to the status of a sage, even though he
would have described himself in a more humble way as merely a teacher of moral principles (Wan, 1980).
Confucius proposed that the political and social disorder of the times was due to the decline of the feudal
period which had offered stability and order for so long. He also contended that the dearth of intellectual
activity had undermined society and led to moral degradation (Hu, 1996). Confucius sought to resolve these
problems by embarking on a campaign that emphasised the responsibilities of the individual within society.
Leaders, in particular, had the responsibility to show exemplary behaviour before the community could be
expected to show similar attributes.
As Confucian philosophy developed, it did not become a lofty ideal but maintained a relatively practical
role in the life of the Chinese people. The teachings of Confucius were mainly concerned with the
practical expression of moral conduct, proper social relationships and the principles of good governance.
Confucius showed sustained interest in personal and organisational ethics, the development of virtue, the
importance of education, and the learning and practice of proper behaviour that would lead to social
The Confucian tradition has permeated Chinese culture for twenty-five centuries and there is little
disagreement that the impact of Confucian teachings was profound within China and other countries in the
East Asian region (Milner & Quilty, 1996). It is an interesting point that while other philosophies and
educational positions were adopted, and in some cases eventually rejected in China, Confucianism seems to
have worked itself into the very fabric of Chinese culture. It is reasonable to suggest that the influence of
Confucianism has been so profound that it has characterised Chinese culture (Clark, 1987).
Confucianism spread very early to a number of other East Asian countries, but primarily those which
had literary and cultural links with China, i.e. Korea, Japan, Vietnam and in other political units which
developed later, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (Little & Reed, 1989). All of these
countries adopted Confucian morés to underpin their social institutions to a greater or lesser degree and
while Confucian influence has varied according to the ideological stance of different governments, it
has nonetheless been a constant factor in East Asian cultures. Confucianism has long been honoured
for its blend of secular rationalism and ethical mindfulness and in recent years has been more
favourably assessed as Asian states search for an identity and a set of values which is uniquely theirs,
insulates them from unsavoury aspects of Western culture, but which still allows them to dialogue and
learn from the philosophical, economic and political achievements of the West (Tan, 1985; Tu, 1995,
1996; Dirlik, 1995). Confucianism represents a core value for approximately a quarter of the world's
population and the renewed interest in Confucianism has been so profound that many scholars have
identified the phenomenon as a Confucian renaissance (Hall & Ames, 1987; Little & Reed, 1989; Tu,
KEY TENETS OF CONFUCIANISM
The basis for determining the key Confucian concepts has been gleaned from the primary sources
themselves, in light of the scholarship of a number of writers in the field (eg. Legge, 1960, 1970; Lau,
1979; Wan, 1980; Clark, 1987; Chen, 1993; Shaughnessy, 1997). Confucianism advocated a number of
important values that underpinned human relations and interactions, but its substance was centred on four
unique but inter-related concepts. The first was the central value of goodwill (ren), which identified the
capacity of the human person to extend generosity and compassion to all of humanity. It promoted
reflection on one's allegiances and maintained that the ultimate allegiance was not to one's state, but to the
human community through goodwill. A fundamental aspect of ren was the notion of reciprocity which
was an important principle that underpinned the Confucian understanding of goodwill. The second was
protocol (li), the rules of proper conduct. These were the unwritten laws and regulations that governed
thought and action in society and regulated human behaviour and desire. Goodwill was to be expressed by
observing this universal principle of conduct from which all social and individual rules of behaviour were
derived. The third was filial piety (hsiao) which taught to love one’s family first and then to extend this
love and respect to the rest of society. The state was conceptualised as the larger family so the same
obligations of duty applied to the state as they did to the family. Filial piety was the way in which
goodwill was rooted in practical expression. It cultivated and gave a foundation to the development of
goodwill because the doctrine taught to love one’s family first, and then to extend this love and respect to
the rest of society. The harmonious family was seen as the foundation of the harmonious state. The fourth
was the doctrine of the mean (zhong yong) that taught an appreciation of central virtues that achieved
balance between extremes. If people adhered to the doctrine of the Mean they would achieve the desired
and harmonious balance which was essential for an harmonious society.
Confucianism maintains that adherence to the above tenets would lead to the ideal state of Great
Harmony which would produce balance in thought and daily living, so that extremes such as discipline
and freedom, and community and individualism, were emphasised in such a way that they avoided
contradiction and led to a harmonious social order.
IMPLICATIONS FOR EVENT MANAGEMENT
While Confucianism has been of some interest to Western philosophers, Confucian thought has not been
part of mainstream Western philosophical debates. A further difficulty identified in a review of the
literature is that Confucianism generally has been portrayed in both the East and the West as a
conservative philosophy that promotes order and stability at the expense of creativity, individuality,
equality and social mobility. An exploration of Confucian values contributes to a wider understanding of
East Asian cultures which has intrinsic human value. Its appositeness however, within the context of event
management is clearly evident in the area of protocol, and social and business ethics.
One of the most debated aspects of Confucianism is the tension between order and disorder. Confucius
proposed that in the ideal organisation, everything needed to be ordered for the good of the whole. The task
at hand was to foster the natural order because when the natural order was reflected in systems and processes,
harmony and wholeness would be achieved. The Confucian concept of li, described contemporarily as
“protocol”, had a ritualistic and aesthetic quality, but its most important function was to regulate human
behaviour and desire:
Look not at what is contrary to li; listen not to what is contrary to li; speak not what is
contrary to li; make no movement which is contrary to li (The Analects, 12, 1, Lau
Li made distinctions between people, but it enabled them to live and work in harmony for the common
good. Harmony was achievable because everyone was expected to carry out their duties according to the
appropriate rules of conduct for that group. If everyone accepted their place in society, if well trained and
properly selected officials led them, and they abided by acceptable codes of behaviour, harmony was
If for a single day a man could return to the observance of the rites through overcoming
himself, then the whole empire would consider benevolence to be his (The Analects,
12,1, Lau (trans.), 1979).
The most significant point about this is the acceptance of the notion that people are not born equal in
intellectual nor physical abilities, so they should serve in different capacities which are all necessary for
society. If everybody acts honestly according to one’s capacity, then there should be little tension
between the essential relationships in society. There is evidence in the sources that Confucius saw
adherence to protocol as essential to social harmony (e.g. The Analects, Lau (trans.), 1979, 12,1; 15,33)
but he proposed that the rules were there to serve humanity and not the reverse. A contemporary
interpretation of the sources supports Tu's (1988) argument that Confucian principles are not conservative
ideas intended to sustain existing relationships, but rather as Swindler (1992) also suggests, produce a
fundamentally liberal and egalitarian situation.
These relationships were well structured and sustained because it was a prominent Confucian belief that
mutual understanding between people could occur only when there was agreement to respect and tolerate
individual differences and responsibilities. Confucian philosophy and the tradition of Confucianism
supported a hierarchy that is still evident in social and workplace relationships that have been influenced
by Confucian values. Hu (1996, p.4) explains:
One of the most important functions of li is to arrange the social life of humans on a rational
basis, that is to say, to put people in their due position according to their different characters.
It is clearly important to recognise and understand the Confucian concept of protocol and its requirements for
hierarchical respect in contemporary tourism management and marketing situations that attract Confucian
influenced business people. It is particularly useful when negotiating macro and micro international ventures
with event management professionals who may live in any of the Confucian heritage countries such as China,
Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan; but also for understanding some of the motivations behind political
decisions which may impact favourably or unfavourably on the global environment, and at times internal