CPEC: Chinese work ethic and its implication for Pakistan

Published: September 5, 2016


ISLAMABAD: The $1.8-billion Sahiwal Coal Power Project, now part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), employs 3,000 Pakistani personnel and 1,000 Chinese.

The Chinese construction firm deputed at the new Islamabad International Airport has around 200 Pakistanis and 100 Chinese. These ratios are indicative of the mix of human resource pool that CPEC is now generating. These projects have long gestation period, demanding long term commitments of these personnel. Today, I will not talk about the economic aspect of this blend, but will comment on the work ethic, and the possible influence that Chinese workers may have on Pakistani workers, having come from a considerably more developed economy than Pakistan’s.

‘It is in India’s interest to integrate into CPEC’

According to a Gallup survey, China’s staggering economic growth has been fuelled not only by the attempt to replace a socialist “command economy” with one built along market lines, but also by an extraordinary commitment to hard work among the people of the Middle Kingdom.

Harvard theologian Michael Novak has argued that certain Confucian values are similar to those analysed by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904). Such values help explain the extraordinary performance of China’s economy following economic liberalisation. According to the British historian Niall Ferguson, “If you were a wealthy industrialist living in Europe in the late nineteenth century, there was a disproportionate chance that you were a Protestant…. It seemed as if the forms of faith and ways of worship were in some way correlated with people’s economic fortunes.”

Confucianism is often characterised as a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than a religion. In fact, Confucianism was built on ancient religious foundation to establish the social values, institutions, and transcendent ideals of traditional Chinese society. It was what sociologist Robert Bellah called a “civil religion.”

Other countries pull out, China increases investment in Pakistan

What do the Chinese themselves say about their personal values and philosophies? Since 1994, Gallup has asked the people of China which of these six statements comes closest to describing their basic attitude toward life: Work hard and get rich; Study hard and make a name for yourself; Don’t think about money or fame, just live a life that suits your own tastes; Live each day as it comes, cheerfully and without worrying; Resist all evils in the world and live a pure and just life; Never think of yourself, give everything in service to society.

In its last count, the Gallup survey reveals that not surprisingly, the credo “work hard and get rich” is by far the most popular choice, selected by 53% of respondents.

I wonder if such a question is posed to Pakistanis, how most will respond, though I am tempted to select “Live each day as it comes, cheerfully and without worrying”. In my last bus ride on Metro, I became part of a conversation between two young men – one who had graduated from a vocational institute two years ago and was still jobless – the other just got admission in a vocational institute and had spent only a day there. The graduated young man was advising the student to find a reference or seek job opportunity outside Pakistan. When I asked him how he has spent last two years, his answer, without a sense of remorse, was “wandering around.” This is certainly cheerfulness.

A leading Pakistani commentator Khaled Ahmed drew a comparison of work ethic within Pakistan. He writes that there is no doubt that in the west there is a kind of trust in individual transactions that one doesn’t always find in Pakistani society. At least, society offers an uneven manifestation of it. For instance, in Punjab, where the individual is still a “warrior,” it is minimal: people don’t trust the “other” enough to enter into firm commitments (commitment is an important part of trust) and end up not paying for goods bought. On the other hand, in Karachi, where businessmen belong to traditionally trading communities, trust is fundamental to economic success. The Lahore trader is notorious for his “pipeline” payment system; the Karachi trader pays promptly on receipt of goods.

Govt’s tight pockets could hamper CPEC projects

In the recently held CPEC Summit, someone asked the question of cultural implications of CPEC for Pakistan, to which Minister Ahsan Iqbal replied that government is setting up Confucian Centers throughout the country.

In a society, which is overtly religious and ritualistic, yet does not practice honesty and hard work in general, the introduction of values from a Civil Religion should be welcome. However, I hope that Chinese businessmen will not inspire their Pakistani counterparts to get more dependent on the government, which is unfortunately still a hallmark of businesses in both countries. It is also hoped that Chinese will adopt the Confucian full circle, as the old Confucianism also required officials to criticise their rulers and refuse to serve the corrupt.

The writer is founder and executive director of PRIME Institute, an independent economic policy think tank based in Islamabad 

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • ghazal
    Sep 5, 2016 - 8:51AM

    SO, conclusion is “”:::HOPE::””” CONGRATSRecommend

  • pk
    Sep 5, 2016 - 9:10AM

    I hope via CPEC communism takes a firm root in Pakistan & it will become godless country like China. It will benefit India considerably.Recommend

  • salman
    Sep 5, 2016 - 9:28AM

    Very Interesting, well written.Recommend

  • Ali
    Sep 5, 2016 - 10:18AM

    Can’t be generalized. I am from a business working nationally. In our line of business some has to be fired if the payment of any of our suppliers get late by even a single day. same is done with our tier 2 suppliers. We practice trust and long-term strategic relationships.

    Yes we are a Pakistani Firm.Recommend

  • Asim Ali
    Sep 5, 2016 - 10:20AM

    Any initiative to grow the economy, create jobs, and build infrastructure has to come from within. There are enough Pakistanis who can actually contribute towards growing the economy, but there is no encouragement from the power centers to do so. Yesterday they hid behind American aid or World bank loans. Today they are hiding behind the Chinese and tomorrow it will be someone else. Why do they not invite prominent Pakistani intelligentsia from the West and create an environment for them to succeed. A country which cannot clean its own garbage cannot expect anyone else to do this for them. Recommend

  • PakPower
    Sep 5, 2016 - 10:46AM

    I am a Chemical Engineering graduate with a few years of experience under my belt. I am currently working with Huaneng Group personnel on the SCPP for the last year or so. And I completely agree with the author’s assessment in terms of Chinese work ethic. However, the current batch of graduates from all major institutions in Pakistan are far more hardworking than any that I have worked with in the past. They are conceptual and inquisitive – many have been sent on sponsored technical trainings in China. I see a bright future ahead for my country, Insha Allah.Recommend

  • Kamran
    Sep 5, 2016 - 11:37AM

    The main issue with Pakistan is that for the most part people sleep in. Go to any country that has contributed to humanity like US, Canada, UK, Germany, Japan, China, Malaysia and others to see a common thread. People wake up early and get to work by 8 am and at the latest 9 am. Stores close at 9 pm. In Pakistan people can’t even get out of bed and then want to stay up late at night. That is also one of the reasons there is a shortage of electricity with stores being open late. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise said by Benjamin Franklin.Recommend

  • ishrat salim
    Sep 5, 2016 - 4:17PM

    Very true. The day we embrace Chines work ethics, we will become a strong nation, which is most unlikely given the mindset that has developed overtime. Where lying, dishonesty & corruption has become a household name & taken as normal part of social life. While we all are against corruption & lying by the politicians & bureaucrats etc; we ourselves do not practice honesty & truthfulness within our own family. Recommend

    Sep 5, 2016 - 4:32PM

    There will be a social & cultural effect also with Chinese arrival especially marriages. I know a Pakistani man whose wife is from China and both have two children, speaks Urdu, Chinese, English, Punjabi. From Kashgar to Gwadar people will meet which never expect before. CPEC will also helpful in security & integrity of Pakistan with Chinese investment. Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Sep 6, 2016 - 7:33AM

    No wonder a lot of people in Pakistan have their last meal of the day or dinner very late, around 9 pm whereas in many other countries its from 5-7 pm. Then there is the countless tea breaks and general goofing off !Recommend

  • Saqib
    Sep 6, 2016 - 3:54PM

    I very much agree and like this statement from the article: “In a society, which is overtly religious and ritualistic, yet does not practice honesty and hard work in general, the introduction of values from a Civil Religion should be welcome.”Recommend

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