View From the Wall

From a “Wolf Culture” to a “Lamb Culture”

Today we are going to consider the current mainstream business culture in China. At the same time, we will also integrate the business spirit of the West to look for a path of renewal for this culture. I will summarize China’s mainstream business culture as the “wolf culture.” This is characterized in the market place by disobedience toward the law, the devouring of customers, a complete lack of honesty and ripping and killing until blood flows. It is characterized in its management by forced implementation, wicked “wolf-like general managers” and the molding of servile workers. The spirit of a company with these qualities is characterized by avaricious hoarding, licentious corruption and an ignorance of (charitable) donations. However, what we will vigorously explain and promote instead is the “lamb culture,” which has its roots in the business spirit of the West.

The “lamb culture” is characterized in the market by observance of the law, putting the customer first, being honest and loving, and cooperation for common interests. It is characterized in its management by an emphasis on servant leadership, by consistency in one’s work and beliefs, and by committing one’s life into one’s work. The spirit of such a company is characterized by a standard of making every effort to earn money, making every effort to save money, and making every effort to give back to society.

Summary of the “Wolf Culture”

Since April of 2004, when a book entitled Wolf Totem (狼图腾) was published, the business culture’s, and even the social culture’s, use of the wolf as its core symbol, totem and tenet has saturated both large and small businesses in China. It has permeated the large and small media outlets in many cities. During this time, various individuals have come to the wolf’s defense, sung its praises and glorified it. First, then, we will take a look at the origin and evolution of the “wolf culture.”

Wolves are carnivorous mammals and by nature are fierce, astute, suspicious and rapacious. They prey upon medium and small-sized animals and prefer to live in packs. Wolves are extremely astute; they often follow the movements of sheep and shepherds to attack at the first opportunity. This is what some identify as the wolf’s so-called specialty at seizing opportunity. Wolves like to eat sheep, and thus wolves and sheep can be considered instinctive enemies. When wolves eat sheep, they are extremely rapacious and barbaric. They kill as many sheep as they are able to in a short span of time and then devour them slowly. In addition, they purposely target lambs and crippled sheep which runs counter to the instinctive nature of looking after the young and the weak. Wolves often attack in packs, cooperating with one another to form a battle regiment. This constitutes the “regiment spirit” of the “wolf culture” that its proponents are so fond of discussing.

From ancient times until today, wolves have given mankind memories of cruelty and ferocity. Ferociousness lacks any hint of gentleness, uses sinister methods and has no extreme that it will not use. The wolf’s nature has betrayed man’s nature and is rebellion against tradition, a counteraction against the Chinese people’s long history of following the law and of the Confucius manner of enduring humiliation to carry out important tasks. It is the overthrow of the five Confucian principles of “gentleness, goodness, reverence, modesty and deference.”[1]

From a certain perspective, behind the wolf’s wicked appearance, the long-oppressed and afflicted Chinese people saw a spirit capable of a mighty rebellion. This kind of life-force ([ ]下) infused fresh blood into the lagging market economy’s farming culture. Everyone apparently thought that in this dog-eat-dog market with foreign enemies without and “hyenas” within, having the wickedness of the “wolf nature” was the very ability needed for survival. Everyone thought that it would increase the possibility of becoming stronger, succeeding strategically and bringing affluence. By virtue of its rebellion against ethics, its vigorous life-force, and its valiant strength, the wolf has become the 21st century’s most stylish totem in China, a nation that claims to have a sense of propriety.

The publisher of Wolf Totem sent a copy of the book to Mr. Zhang Ruimin,[2] known as China’s top CEO. Zhang’s positive appraisal of the book added fuel to the fire and resulted in a flood of people in the business world reading it. With the business world’s promotion of despotic and monarchic businessmen, the publishing world followed the current. Wolf Totem became a hot commodity in both the north and the south, and hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold; some say the number has reached one million. Many other “wolf” books have sprung up, and the concept has grown in strength.

A recent eight-disc DVD set, Wolf-like Managers (狼性[ ]经理) has been playing in airports in Beijing, Xi’an, Shenzhen and other cities. The blood-red cover on the DVD case howls the slogan, “Awaken the Wolf Spirit! Continue in Victory!” On the inside, it says, “In the future, there will only be one kind of businessman who can succeed in the world—the wolf-like manager.”

What exactly does this DVD set promote? Let’s look at its contents. It declares: “In awakening the wolf in Chinese businesses, the greatest task of high-level leaders is to compel employees to evolve; the survival of the fittest, nature’s law of evolution, applies also to the development process of businesses.” This is akin to calling for domestic businesses to return to jungle fighting and is diametrically opposed to today’s most advanced ideas on international business!

We can summarize the characteristics of the wolf culture, with the following five distinguishing characteristics.

  1. It uses any means to reach a goal emphasizing the method and manner while disregarding ethics and honesty.
  2. It employs “cruel competitiveness” expressed as, “You must die so I can live.”
  3. It seizes with all its might, eats avariciously and oppresses savagely so that the person providing the wolf with business is deceived on account of his generosity.
  4. Its compulsory implementation, absolute submission and endless achievement demands deplete the health and morals of the implementation process.
  5. It utilizes a unified domination and devouring that destroys the market and is destructive toward equilibrium, a win-win attitude and sustainable development of the business environment.

Summary of the Lamb Culture

There are no two animals on earth that can be contrasted as brilliantly as the wolf and the lamb. Their relationship is virtually that of eating or being eaten. If the wolf represents ruthlessness, seizure, betrayal, suspicion, rage, a “You die, I live” mentality, viciousness and monopoly, then the lamb represents gentleness, giving, obedience, trust, serenity, an “I die, you live” mentality,” goodness and an “everyone wins” attitude.

Sheep are useful to humans in many ways and their bodies are used completely for our benefit. Lamb meat is deliciously appetizing, humans can drink sheep’s milk, and everyone enjoys eating sheep sweetbread in the morning. Sheepskin and wool can be worn after processing, and sheep hooves and stomachs can be used as wineskins and drinking vessels. There are wool coats, wool blankets, wool hats, toys made of sheep bones that little girls play with and, historically, sheepskin scrolls that allowed mankind to preserve precious literature. Sheep do not have extravagant food demands. They eat green grass and never harm other living things.

Sheep represent meekness and are always able to hear the voice of their shepherd. In the wilderness, where there is no water or grass, flocks of sheep nonetheless are able to follow a shepherd. Sheep have incredible endurance and can press forward under merciless environmental conditions, climbing up and down steep mountain ridges and cliffs. Sheep have a congenial demeanor and yet are full of vigor. Even under attack, they sometimes are extremely unyielding and will not concede.

In 2005, philosopher Huang Yang pointed out that in ancient China, there once existed a special “lamb culture” made up of the law, of goodness, justice and beauty (the characters for the last three all have the character for “sheep” in them). This culture influenced the social life and religious life of its day.[3]

The lamb’s most beautiful purpose is to be sacrificed. When it is a year old, the lamb is strongest because it has not yet borne a yoke, it has no deformities, and it is spotless and without blemish. So, when a lamb is chosen to be sacrificed, it is a beautiful thing! Lambs are used as offerings sacrificed to God—those that meet with the Lord’s pleasure will receive His blessing. It is unheard of that a wolf would be used as a sacrificial offering to a God who is so high and above us.

Every Chinese person knows the word “scapegoat” which is literally “sheep substitute for sin” in Chinese.[4] But few people have understood the logical relationship between “substitute for sin” and “sheep.” Few people have understood the logical relationship between “taking one’s blame” and “sheep.” If one does not have a certain culture and religion to draw on as a resource, the combination of the three characters in “scapesheep” seems illogical. The combination of these three characters is actually a result of biblical culture. In Leviticus, it says that in ancient Judaism the high priest would place his hand on the head of a lamb once a year to symbolize the transfer of responsibility for the entire nation’s sins onto the lamb. He would then send the lamb into the wilderness, calling it the “lamb responsible for sins,” or the “lamb that is the substitute for sins” (the Chinese word for “scapegoat”). The lamb’s cleansing of the people’s sins gained the favor and presence of God.

In Exodus, the Lord struck down the firstborn sons of all Egyptian households for Egypt’s oppression of the Israelites. In order to avoid the death of the Jews’ own firstborn sons, each Jewish household in Egypt killed one lamb at dusk on the 14th day of the Passover month to take the place of the eldest son and used its blood to cover the doorframe of the house as a symbol to avoid death. Every firstborn son of the Egyptians was killed. As a result of the deaths, Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. This is also the origin of the Jewish Passover.

According to the teaching of the New Testament, the true lamb of substitute for sins is Jesus. Jesus is God’s son, who made himself a sacrifice to atone for sin and took the punishment for the sin of mankind. He thereby allowed men to be cleansed of their sins and to have a restored relationship with God. Jesus is the spotless lamb who atones for men’s sins, is completely holy, and is fully God and fully man. Therefore, the lamb has the characteristics of being holy and pure.

In biblical culture, the lamb does not signify weakness and uselessness; rather, it is holy and great and is used to represent Jesus, God’s son. The Gospel of John says, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'”[5] First Peter says, “With the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”[6]

Contrary to our assumptions, lambs are most holy, most glorious and most authoritative. Revelation says, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”[7]

We see how the lamb is honored in the world of Western Christianity. The symbol of the lamb has deeply influenced Western culture and has permeated its business, political and social cultures. Its principles are: consecration (its entire body can be used), sacrifice (it is a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins), assumption of responsibility, “I die and you live” (Jesus’ death was exchanged for the eternal life of God’s chosen people), love, service, a win-win outlook, observance of rules, meekness, goodness, tolerance, forgiveness, democracy, holiness, justice, loving-kindness and glory.

The Lamb Business Culture

The unlimited and unrestrained hoarding of profit is the distinguishing mark of the wolf business culture. Yet among the world’s greatest companies, not one has profit-hoarding as one of its business goals. A discussion group at Columbia University’s School of Business on “The Competition of Multinational Companies” and the world’s top 500 companies found in its research that very seldom did an established company’s core principles have anything to do with commercial profit. The following are some goals from well-known companies:

  • Motorola: maintain a high level of ethics, respect people at all times.
  • Ford: that every person can have a car.
  • IBM: respect the individual’s complete direction to pursue excellence.
  • Wal-Mart: respect the individual, serve the customer and strive for excellence.
  • Mary Kay: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”

These companies’ goals say almost nothing about their own profit. Instead, they emphasize the timeless ethics of humanity and social responsibility.

Mary Kay is enthusiastically involved in social welfare projects. Various Mary Kay foundations have donated millions of dollars to a variety of projects. In China, Mary Kay has established a fund to help unemployed women regain employment; it has donated funds to elementary schools in central and western China and jointly established an anti-domestic violence hotline.

Wal-Mart, which is the world’s largest chain store, has relied on service rather than hoarding to expand its market. Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton, and his wife Helen, are devout Christians, and their faith is what determined the Wal-Mart culture—being conscious of thanksgiving, treating everyone with love and providing the best prices with the best service. In China, Wal-Mart has partnered with the Red Cross to carry out major endowment and charitable activities. It has relied on loving concern and the lamb culture to extend benefits to others and expand its market.

Hunan Mendale Home Textiles Co., Ltd. has biblical principles as the foundation of its business. The core of the company’s culture is to achieve honor by building on the cornerstone of love. The company’s standards of conduct are: 1) preserve moral integrity; 2) treat others well; and 3) love others as yourself. Both in his company and outside it, Mendale advocates on behalf of a culture that has love at its core. In turn, this kind of goodness expands a company’s market and increases its profit. Mendale received the designation of the 2005 National Business Most Advanced in Establishing a Business Culture.

We business people should not be like the wolf which is always thinking about how to devour its competition and enemies, or trap customers by lying. Instead, we always should think in the spirit of the lamb culture about how to rely on what is good, be more loving, bring about more good, make more excellent products and use technology and collective service to win over customers and expand the market.

The lamb culture does not rely on evil methods to prevail, such as overthrowing by force and devouring others. Instead, it relies on virtuous methods to bring about restoration, such as both parties undergoing restoration together, using means such as prayer, self-sacrifice and salvation of the spirit to transform what is evil and call the wicked self to repentance and growth in righteousness. Romans says: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”[8] Overcoming evil with good is using goodness, righteousness, grace and self-sacrifice to triumph over evil, dissolve it, and transform it using justice, morality, and spiritual life. As the Gospel of Luke says: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”[9] Everyone knows that the outcome of repaying evil for evil is the endless continuation of chaotic imbalance, the never-ending cycle of authoritarianism and autocracy. The situation after the successful revolution against the oppressed can be even more barbaric and autocratic than the situation before it.

For those of us in the service business, to move about freely in the market, we should learn from the spirit of the lamb: to sacrifice completely, to serve the customer with love, to contribute, to abide by standards, goodness, forgiveness, loving-kindness and honor.


Yuan Weishi, a philosophy professor at Zhongshan University, once published an extremely influential article in the China Youth Daily. The article said: “During the 1970s, the Chinese people painfully discovered that after experiencing the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, one root cause of all of these was that ‘we had been raised on the wolf’s milk.'” When we think back on how we have been exposed from an early age to the philosophy of “revolution,” or “class struggle,” or “there is endless joy in fighting against heaven, there is endless joy fighting against nature, and there is endless joy in fighting against man,”[10] we realize that we do not know what love is, and that we know even less how to “love our enemies” according to the lamb culture.

Lei Feng once said: “Treat your comrades as warmly as spring, treat your enemies as coldly as winter,” but most people were considered enemies during that time, including Mao Zedong’s two successors, whom he was very close to. Thus, a person was to “treat his enemies as coldly as winter” under most circumstances. He would have to harden his heart, learn how to survive in harsh jungles and become as fierce, cruel and crafty as a wolf; otherwise, there was the possibility that he could be detained, committed to reform through labor or even shot.

What is fortunate is that during the 21st century, the Chinese people who have experienced many disasters and hardships have finally raised the cry to “build a harmonious society”a society that will have love as its root, and one that will no longer contain ruthless attacks, oppression, schemes or snares. However, everyone knows that a harmonious society can have nothing to do with the wolf culture, and that a harmonious society must have the culture of the lamb as its root.

In order to build a harmonious society and be molded by the culture of the lamb, we should begin by renewing our business culture. In facing the past, we should repent. In facing the future, we should seek renewal. We must begin by changing our own lives. We must begin with ourselves, by not offering bribes or taking bribes, by not evading taxes, by not mistreating our employees, by not gambling or engaging in immorality. We must begin with ourselves, by initiating renewal first in our offices, next among high-level management personnel, then to every employee thus generating a business culture of self-change. Finally, we will be able to influence our suppliers, customers, market inspectors and others.

In order to change the wolf nature within us and achieve the transformation from wolf to lamb, we must change from: ruthlessness to gentleness; seizing to giving; betrayal to obedience; suspicion to trust; rage to serenity; a “you die, I live” mentality to an “I die, you live” mentality; wickedness to goodness; and a monopolizing attitude to a win-win attitude.

We ought to speak of the lamb culture in every business and every industry. We should build up the strength of the lamb culture especially in China’s business management training world.

Translated and abridged from the original Chinese article, 2006: Cong Lang Wenhua Dao Yang Wenhua, written by Man De. Translation is by Diana Wang. Used with permission.

Image credit: Ickworth Park (NT) 01-04-2007 by Karen Roe, on Flickr


  1. ^ 温,良,恭,谦, [missing character] and make up one group of Confucian virtues.
  2. ^ Zhang Ruimin has been Board Chairman of the Haier Group since 1999, and served as Chief Executive Officer from 1993 to 2000. Zhang is an Alternate Member of the 16th CPC Central Committee. Source:
  3. ^ Overseas Chinese University Journal, Volume 3 (Philosophy and Social Science Edition), 2005.
  4. ^ In Chinese, scapegoat is 替罪羊, or literally, sheep substitute for sin.
  5. ^ John 1:29
  6. ^ 1 Peter 1:19
  7. ^ Revelation 5:12-13
  8. ^ Romans 12:17a, 21
  9. ^ Luke 6:27-28
  10. ^ Mao Zedong said this at the start of the Cultural Revolution.
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