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The Three Ambiguities


Every Chinese leader since Chairman Mao has had a slogan (and accompanying campaign of some sort) that was meant to define their rule. President Xi Jinping's slogan is "The Chinese Dream." The organizing principle of his predecessor Hu Jintao's rule was "Harmonious Society."

Before President Hu, there was President Jiang Zemin, and his supposedly enlightened political theory he called "The Three Represents." The problem, of course, was that no one had a clue what it meant!

For those foreigners working in or engaged with China, I would like to propose an organizing framework that may help. It's what I call "The Three Ambiguities:"

  1. Nothing is as it seems (my all-time favorite mantra)
  2. Plans can't keep up with changes (my translation of a common Chinese saying)
  3. If you're not confused, you're not paying attention (inspired by a conversation between Rob Gifford and a fellow bus passenger recorded in Rob's book China Road)

If you keep these in mind you'll probably do just fine!

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio