The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

Visser brings different picture of America to Chinese students

By Sally Jongsma

Traveling to China or Russia or South Africa to teach a week-long course in international business isn’t new for Dr. John Visser. But each time he does it, the experience has a powerful impact on him.

During March, Visser spent a week at Harbin Institute of Technology talking with professors, MBA students, and even undergraduates about why some countries have so much wealth and others so little. In the process, he discussed how values—more specifically, belief systems—affect these issues.

“If you don’t value service, there’s going to be waste on the job. If you don’t value employees, they’re not going to be as productive,” Visser told his class. A country’s economic valuation is based largely on its ability to use capital to serve its future, he says. The opposite is also true: a country that devalues the future, thinking about only the here and now, will not have resources for the future. Visser says he drew many connections between values, production, and integrity and illustrated how these values are ultimately rooted in people’s basic beliefs.

Visser is convinced that Chinese people can and do understand the importance of values in economics. In fact they are often more open to thinking that values and beliefs affect actions than many North Americans are who think they can separate religion and action.

“Even though China is a communist country, its culture is still heavily based on Confucianism, which is basically a system of moral philosophy and practical ethics,” says Visser.

Chinese people are open to thinking about how beliefs affect life because they know their beliefs affect how they see the world.

“Most Chinese believe that righteousness in the heart leads to beauty and character, which leads to harmony in the home, order in the nation, and peace in the world,” says Visser. Their negative reactions to Americans often come from their disgust with the degradation they see in American culture, the two main sources of which are Hollywood and the news media.

“When I was in China scanning television, the only American shows available were Baywatch and World Wrestling Federation,” says Visser. “That’s how they get their picture of Americans.” In contrast, after being exposed to a different picture presented by Visser, one of his students told him, “You made me begin to take a different look at the United States and the belief you have, though I still dislike all those bombing and killing of innocent common folks only by the excuse that they are terrorists or terrorists supporters and dislike the U.S. trade policy toward China.”

And a tour guide told him, “I don’t know anything about Christian; if I knew more maybe I would believe.”

“Too often Chinese, like Muslims, see American culture as directly opposed to what they believe is right,” Visser says. “Americans think they simply don’t like capitalism. It’s much more complex than that.”

He will continue to do what he can to give them another picture—the one out of which he lives and works.