Executives ditching karaoke for culture as the spirit moves them

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2007, 12:00am

Rather than carousing at a karaoke bar or golfing with business partners, Wang Xianping would rather make the two-hour drive to Shanghai and study philosophy.

Mr Wang made his money as head of a zip company in Jiangsu province . Like many of the mainland's nouveau riche, he believes acquiring culture will give him greater fulfilment and respectability.

So three times a month the 54-year-old trades his business suit for baggy sportswear to learn the tenets of ancient sages at prestigious Fudan University, as one of the oldest students on campus.

Fudan and other universities, particularly in the big cities, have rushed to set up courses to impart culture to the rich, with tuition costing as much as 50,000 yuan a year.

'I think the courses can help me cultivate my mind and spirit. I'm busy doing business, usually. But when I look back, I still find I'm lacking something, especially in spirit,' Mr Wang said.

He is not alone. Mr Wang has 50 classmates who have chosen to study ancient philosophy rather than management strategy. The average age of the students is 40 and their personal wealth puts them in the mainland's upper-income brackets.

At Fudan, 70 per cent of participants are heads or managers of private firms, 10 per cent government officials, 10 per cent senior executives of multinationals and the remaining 10 per cent a mix - even including army officers, an organiser said.

The high cost is little obstacle. Students consider it a small price to pay to be associated with one of the mainland's most famous schools.

'It's worthwhile as the university has invited respectable professors and the cost is much cheaper than some management courses,' Mr Wang said.

Fudan has doubled such classes to meet soaring demand this year and more than 1,000 people have passed through the programme since it started in 2004.

The university offers a wide range of subjects: Buddhism, the ancient compendium of divination Yi Jing and several schools of philosophy such as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism.

Mr Wang has even found a way to apply his latest studies to his life and management style, embracing the Taoist concept of 'non-action'.

'It means taking no action is big action. When I understood the essence, I felt my heart was filled with happiness,' he said.

One of his classmates said the classes offered a respite from the high-speed world of business.

'Thanks to studying, I now have peace of mind and a slower-paced lifestyle,' said Chen Xiaohong , 42, a department manager for Huatai Insurance in Shanghai.

Despite their avowed aim of learning for the sake of learning, one benefit of the classes for older 'students' has been to expand their network of business contacts.

Participants also frequently miss classes or answer their mobile phones during lectures.

Still, Fudan professor Zhou Zhenhe , who has taught such classes since last year, is proud of his charges. To hold their attention and take into account varying levels of education, he seeks to make the lessons simpler than his usual classes.

'Businessmen shouldn't only work by day and sing karaoke at night. Instead, they ought to acquire various kinds of knowledge to make their lives more meaningful,' he said.



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