Reading 1.5: The Propensity of Things (Francois Jullien)

Okay, I’ve taken the feedback: Jullien is not as easily digestible as On China, but any expert on China will tell you that his works are some of the best in the field and his ideas touch on far more that just sinology. In this, the third (and last!) of our Jullien books, we find Jullien’s core argument and foundational work in Eastern versus Western thinking. By this point in the program we should be well versed in Chinese history, philosophy, and perspectives on strategy. With The Propensity of Things, Jullien provides the synthesis necessary to truly make Eastern studies applicable to modern strategy and operations.

Edgar Schein in his landmark work on organizational theory (2004) outlines the hierarchy of culture as comprised of observable artifacts, less codified espoused beliefs, and finally underlying assumptions. Though not overtly following this model, Jullien’s work unpacks each of these three levels of the Chinese perspective against the backdrop of efficacy. Jullien begins with a rigorous dissection and application of the Chinese concept of shi (pronounced “shou” as is “I should read 30 pages a day”, and proceeds to examine the basic metaphysical assumptions underpinning Eastern thought. Jullien contends that, rather than seeing reality as part of a greater plan (moving towards a teleological end state), the Chinese reality is entirely dependent upon the “now” — the present state of affairs and nothing more. Such a perspective creates a number of implications for effective action and also can provide unique ideas to Western thinkers. If Kissinger’s work was the most important practical application text we’ll read this block, The Propensity of Things is certainly the most important theoretical.