Chin-ning Chu

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 August, 2004, 12:00am

Writers from China's diaspora

Her name appears on the cover of the guru anthology 50 Success Classics, alongside Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela and Sun Tzu. In the Asia Pacific, she outsells Anthony Robbins and Hillary Clinton.

Chin-ning Chu's books are broadly concerned with achievement by almost any means. Her 1991 debut, Asian Mind Game (Scribner), divulges how to negotiate with Asian executives by playing their own do-or-die game. Thick Face, Black Heart (AMC Publishing) reveals 'how to apply deception without sin to win the deal you want'. Do Less, Achieve More (Regan Books) gives the reader the low-down on 'the hidden power of giving in'.

Translated into 17 languages, Chu has readers in more than 60 countries. Her fans apparently includes Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad, former US secretary of state James Baker, and former British leader John Major.

Speaking from her holiday home in Antioch, California, the strategist, who has lived in the US since leaving Shanghai to seek prosperity at 22, sounds mean in the American sense - and mystical. She dismisses her ex-husband as 'very, very boring' and refuses to divulge the identity of her current spouse, saying: 'Keep his name out.' On the other hand, evoking her age, with a lilt in her voice she says, 'as young as less than a second, as old as eternity'.

Her book-in-progress, Wisdom of the Kings, explores the meaning of a circa 5BC work her banker father used to read to her in childhood: Sun Tzu's Art of War. About 200 versions of the translation exist, but the authors don't measure up, she says. Either their only qualification is that they come from a Chinese background - 'If you are Greek, that does not make you a Greek philosopher' - or they are academics who lack 'pragmatic business battle experience'.

Nobody could say that about Chu. She's the president of the Strategic Learning Institute, president of Asian Marketing Consultants and chairwoman of NeuroScience Industries - but is no 'degree collector'.

She dismisses her degree in fashion design as just a lesson in how to shop, and focuses instead on her passion for singing and her lack of formal training in English literature - a plus, in her view. She says if she'd studied the subject, she would feel daunted by the rules. 'I would definitely think, I am not qualified even to write a short story.'

Everything she writes reflects the 'shadow' of the Art of War, which Sun Tzu wrote on a bamboo strip 'as a memo for himself'. Its meaning can be mysterious. A typical statement reads: 'Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent.'

The perplexity drives readers to call the strategist for insights. A US Marine corps colonel once phoned her. At Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, staffers and their bosses flip through the Art of War. The fact that they keep returning to the book without learning its lessons suggest they don't know what they're doing, Chu claims.

Westerners make the mistake of seeing war purely in terms of antagonism and the final body count. The way to win war is not by fighting but strategic thinking with a touch of gentle deception if needed, says Chu.

This approach is appropriate now because we've entered what she calls 'the century of co-operation'. East and west will 'interweave', she predicts. Masculine and feminine energy will 'comprehend each other'. If that sounds New Agey, she concedes that the world will not attain this ideal state easily - there will always be 'rough spots'. Successful Sun Tzu devotees include Michael Jordan and Brazilian soccer team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Chu paints the book's get-ahead strategy as 'the basic principle in the games of football, basketball, baseball, soccer and, of course, life'.

She plans to spend most of what remains of hers in America, which is emphatically her home. 'Although I enjoy going to Asia, America is where I can spread my wings and there's plenty of room for my wings to flap around and to grow ... I want to spread further, until my last breath.'