IPS Asia-Pacific

The Chinese Way of Life — A Model?

Zhu Yan

Zhu Yan is a news editor at China Central Television's English language channel (CCTV9). His journalistic work in Chinese appears frequently in several major national newspapers and magazines. Mr Zhu is also a photographer. His photos, articles and television reports could be accessed at http://blog.cctv.com/zhuyan.

BEIJING - Does the Chinese approach to life set a good example for the whole world? Yes, argues a well-established German Iranian psychologist, Prof. Nossrat Peseschkian, who made this argument with his theory of Positive Psychotherapy. At the core of this is a framework to analyse personal conflicts in four fields. It can be simplified as follows:

  • Body/senses: A person’s physical condition and the way he/she perceives his/her boy. 
  • Reason/achievement: How is his/her work and career?
  • Tradition/contact: How is his/her relationship with family, friends and social groups etc?
  • Intuition/fantasy/future: Something that goes beyond the immediate reality — philosophies and religions, for example.

The framework is based on research into 18 different cultures and holds the key to understanding the quality of life and solving human conflicts, according to Peseschkian. Well-being, according to Positive Psychotherapy, depends on whether a person is able to allocate his/her energy into the four fields with balance. Put in a metaphor, in order to reach the destination (future), a knight should not only whip the horse (achievement) but also take good care of it (body). In the meanwhile, he should also look for someone who can help him ride again in case the horse throws him (contact).

The Chinese way of living, Peseschkian claims, scores high in all of the four fields. Chinese people enjoy a rich culture of cuisine, but manage to avoid obesity on average (body). The “Made in China” label, which can be found everywhere in the world, is obviously a symbol of industriousness (achievement). Family, friends and networks are highly valued, which is an inalienable part of the personal connection-oriented Chinese culture (contact). Last but not the least, China’s long history and colorful cultural tradition provide an abundant resource for a rich spiritual world (fantasy). In summary, the Chinese lifestyle, emphasising balance and harmony, sets a good example for the world.

How do the Chinese take Peseschkian’s compliments? My friends and colleagues in the press laughed at my article ‘A Harmonious Life from a Cross- Cultural Perspective’, which introduces Peseschkian’s theories. They call it good propaganda because it uses a foreign intellectual to promote the “harmonious society” which appears too often in bold characters in the front pages of most national newspapers in recent years. Some even suggest that this foreigner is catering to Chinese pride in order to sell his psychotherapy in China. I doubt both comments.

However, there has actually been consistent coverage in the Chinese press of opinions on what China should bring to the world. Should the Chinese people be more proud of their country’s development miracle and exert more influence on the world? Or should the Chinese be more humble, as all of the country’s fantastic economic statistics boils down to basically nothing if divided by a population of 1.3 billion people? These kinds of discussions especially call on the public to pay more attention to the younger generation who are being globalised or westernised not only in clothes, but also in their mindsets. Is the Chinese lifestyle going to make a model for the world? The Chinese may already have lost it before Peseschkian can take a better look.

Peseschkian was born in 1933 in Iran and moved to Germany at 21. He set up his first psychotherapy clinic in Wiesbaden near Frankfurt in 1969 upon finishing his doctorate studies. He has managed to expand the Wiesbaden-based International Academy of Positive and Transcultural Psychotherapy, established in 1979, with a network of 40 overseas centres in 22 countries. German President Horst Köhler honoured his accomplishments at the end of 2005 with an Order of Merit.


Peseschkian’s China connection began in 1986, when he made his first trip to Beijing. After nine more visits in the following years and with seven of his 22 books translated into Chinese, Peseschkian fell in love with the country and the people. When I explained to him the doubts expressed by my colleagues, he insisted on his judgment and said that potential could be regarded as capabilities and that the Chinese living style would definitely become a model for the world.

Peseschkian is not alone in promoting Positive Psychotherapy in China. A Swiss couple, Dr Agnes Ghaznavi and Dr Bijan Ghaznavi, who have retired from educational and professional careers in psychological counseling, has integrated this theory into the training courses they conduct across China. The Ghaznavis’ China experience began in 1996. They are now spending more and more time in their Beijing and Zhuhai apartments than in their home in Randa, a small village in the Alpines of Switzerland.
“Peseschkian has idealised China. He does not really understand the Chinese despite so many visits,” says Bijan Ghaznavi, “We have stayed here long enough to point out the serious problems of the Chinese living style, which emphasises too much on achievement.” The Ghaznavis’ training courses in China focus on family therapy. They have collected many cases of marriage failures and confrontation between children and parents over the past decade. They believe that the Chinese people live a very unbalanced lifestyle with obvious defects in relationships and education.

Agnes Ghaznavi added that the Europeans had similar problems after the Second World War — “these are the problems coming out of poverty.” In Agnes’ view, it took Europe centuries from the Age of Enlightenment to change and become modern. The changes were gradual in general, interrupted by revolutions and violence. But China jumped to modernity 30 years ago with sudden changes, which has caused indigestion in almost every aspect of life, emotionally, socially and intellectually. “All of us have to pay the price for our changes or ‘innovations’. Europe has had so many wars, so many revolutions, so much social hardship and injustice. China also is paying for the most rapid changes and ‘innovations’.”

The Ghaznavis’ comments on the Chinese way of living are actually based on Peseschkian’s framework for measuring quality of life. In the Ghaznavis’ analysis, extreme emphasis on achievements has made the Chinese people overlook the spiritual and relationship aspects of life. They attribute the unbalanced living style to livelihood pressure and to the strong desire for economic prosperity.


The Ghaznavis’ insights on modern China highlight the growing pains that the Chinese people are enduring while their industriousness forms the pillar of the nation’s fast-growing economy. Similar comments and analyses in the Chinese press also point to the nation’s mindset in a time when materialism seems to have become the priority in everything, in both public and private spheres of life.

Some Chinese intellectuals worry about growing western influences in the clothes, speech and behaviour of the younger generation. It is not strange that Chinese words constructed in English grammar have become the pet phrases of youngsters and white-collar employees in the big cities. It is also not strange that western festivals are celebrated more than Chinese ones. For example, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get more followers than the traditional holiday to respect the elderly, which falls on the ninth day of the ninth month, according to the lunar calendar.

Is the Chinese way of living going to be a model for the world? The reality is that the western living style is becoming a model in China. Perhaps a short story may help the Chinese people reflect on what is wrong with their lifestyle.

A king who lost his way on a hunting trip spent the night in a farmhouse. The simple farmer did not know the king, but showed great hospitality. When the king returned to his palace, he made the farmer a Prime Minister. The PM administered the kingdom in good order with his talent and wisdom, which made other senior officials jealous. These officials look down upon the farmer- turned-PM and framed him in front of the king thus: “The PM goes a long way into a house every morning and stays there for quite a long time. He must be planning a revolt.” The king followed his PM one day into the house, only to find it empty. The king asked why. The PM said that every morning, he wanted to remind himself where he came from in order to best serve the country and the king.
Those like Peseschkian, who admire China’s economic boom and cultural heritage, have sufficient reason to claim that the Chinese way of life can set a good example for the world. However, this potential may never be realised if it is not cherished and developed. The farmer-turned-PM is a good reminder to everybody to reassess his or her life: ”Am I satisfied with my quality of life?” “What’s missing?” “Where am I from?” “Do others admire my life?” Balance and harmony are undoubtedly ingrained in traditional Chinese culture and much admired in the modern times. Yet if we do not live out these qualities, there would not be the question of whether or not this approach to life could be a model for the world.