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Reforming Singapore model with Daoism by accepting Oppositions


The People’s Action Party government aims to make Singapore an innovative economy but discourages oppositions in opinions, thinking and behaviors.  Can an innovative economy be done without oppositions?  Assuming PAP is adopting Confucianism and Legalism practices in designing Singapore model, can it succeed by only concentrating on Red Ocean Strategy?

Red Oceans are all the industries in existence today—the known market space. In the red oceans, industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known. Here companies try to outperform their rivals to grab a greater share of product or service demand. As the market space gets crowded, prospects for profits and growth are reduced. Products become commodities or niche, and cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody. Hence, the term red oceans. (Source:

No. In the knowledge economy and post-industrial era, PAP needs to have Blue Ocean Strategy.  Singapore model is long over due and urgently needs to be refined and reformed with inputs from Daoism.  Otherwise, it is back to square one, Red Ocean Strategy. And it will not generate productivity, creativity, innovation and design that Singapore economy requires in the decades to come.  

The Economic Strategies Committee wants Singapore to be an innovative economy and its recommendations look more like the so-called old bottle with new wines. 


We must make skills, innovation ad productivity the basis for sustaining Singapore’s economic growth.  This will also provide for inclusive growth, with a board-base increase in the incomes of our citizens.

We must also be a vibrant and distinctive global city – open and diverse, the best place to grow and reach out to a rising Asia, and a home that provides an outstanding quality of life for our people.

Hence, the Economic Strategies Committee report and Budget 2011 are repeating the same policies to promote and create awareness on innovation, creativity and productivity. The government even goes ahead to set up a design university, Singapore University of Technology and Design.   However, all these are hard ways and infrastructure, like Legalism and Confucianism practices.  In order to breakthrough in creative industry and other high value industry, you need to implant the seeds of negative thinking, opposing opinions, different views, in our education and business. Daoism can help to motivate and stimulate this creative mind.

HIGH-SKILLED PEOPLE are not only working smart but thinking smart.

INNOVATIVE ECONOMY is not building infrastructure but promoting different and alternative ideas.

DISTINCTIVE GLOBAL CITY is not importing foreign talents but nurturing own talents.
The appreciation and understanding of (philosophical) Daoism is lacking or at a very lower level in Singapore. It is understandable as we are not even having a good understanding of Confucianism and so how to talk about Daoism, which is more difficult and complicated in terms of intellectual and creative thinking.  As a population, we don’t even have enough competent Chinese intellectuals to communicate with the Chinese. This is proved by the introduction of the new PAP candidates in the coming election who are not well equip with Chinese knowledge. DPM Wong Kan Seng admitted in the press conference.

To implement or apply Daoism practices, you must accept oppositions.  Otherwise, it will not bear any result.  Why, because Daoism means alternative thinking, opposite views, and against the practices of Confucianism and Legalism (Singapore success model is based on Legalism and perhaps little bit of Confucianism).  But the world is changing and everyone is looking for Chinese market.  In China, the Chinese, with the more than 2000 years of history, is not only learning Confucianism but Daoism and Buddhism (Zen) too.  So, knowing Confucianism is not enough, not to mention our western base education system has not provided a good foundation of Confucianism to students.

Since modern times, with increased international exchanges, the Daodejing has spread widely in the world and has become part of the shared spiritual wealth of all mankind. It has stimulated the interest of and inspired many foreign philosophers, scientists, statesmen, and entrepreneurs. Renowned thinkers, including Bertrand Russell, Martin Heidegger, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, and Joseph Needham, praised the Daodejing. Because of its abundant ideas for nourishing life, the Daodejing has drawn increasing global attention, and under its guidance, many countries have established organizations to promote these universal values that are so vital in contemporary times. (Source: Wikipedia)

Dao De Jing (The book of the Way) also called Laozi is a book by Laozi, the founder of Daoism.  Dao De Jing is the masterpiece for both philosophical and religion Daoism. 

Application and uses of “Emptiness”

Innovation, creativity, and design are making or doing some things out of nothing, i.e. emptiness. This is one of the important contributions that Daoism can bring to Singapore.

In Chapter 11 of Dao De Jing, it shows the application of emptiness.
Put thirty spokes together to one hub, The original empty space makes the use of wheel.
Knead clay into vessels, The original empty space makes the use of vessel.
Shape door and windows for a house/room, The original empty space makes the use of house/room.
So the things that are made are only conditions, What [we] are using is still the original empty space.

Singapore planners like to use mathematics to measure the development and they like to show statistics for their achievements. Daoism does not see it this way.  Laozi wants to explain things in a way that the usefulness of some things is actually supported by the non-usefulness.  You build a house with 4 walls but the walls are meaningless if they cannot make room for people to stay, work or entertain.

For investment, you look for the intrinsic value of your investment.  Warren Buffett can see it but others cannot. You may have better computer and mathematical instruments than Warren Buffett but how come you cannot beat him in investment return.  

Now back to the Blue Ocean Strategy.

Blue oceans, in contrast, denote all the industries not in existence today—the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. In blue oceans, competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set. Blue ocean is an analogy to describe the wider, deeper potential of market space that is not yet explored.

The corner-stone of Blue Ocean Strategy is 'Value Innovation'. A blue ocean is created when a company achieves value innovation that creates value simultaneously for both the buyer and the company. The innovation (in product, service, or delivery) must raise and create value for the market, while simultaneously reducing or eliminating features or services that are less valued by the current or future market.  (Source:

Daoism is against war and against competition as nature will take its pace. Value Innovation is what Daoism is looking into. Because of opposite thinking, Laozi stresses on the application of the original empty space. This empty space should include every possible nothing.  Value Innovation is also quite similar to what Bertrand Russell’s “create and share”.  

Create and share vs. conquer and occupy.  Which is harmony?

Bertrand Russell (Nobel Prize in Literature 1950), visited China in the 1920s and taught philosophy there, was a great admirer of Laozi. He believed human nature has 2 impulsions (or urges). One is occupation and the other is creation.  In today’s term, occupation means you want to be no. 1, you want to expand, and you want to conquer the market. On the other hand, creation means you want to create things so that you can share with others. Daoism believes nature will create things and share with other people. It will then bring harmony (to the world).  This is the requirement of today’s business management. That is how you can sell your products without occupying the market, or selling your soft knowledge without leaving your country.  This is critically important to the future Singapore – the promotion of soft power in a knowledge economy.  

Singapore’s success model is like “conquer and occupy”, the first impulsion that Russell mentioned.  When we expand our market, when we invest in Indonesia and Thailand, we always encounter difficulties perhaps also receive a bad name.  When we enter Suzhou, we tried to be in command in the industrial park development.  These are some examples.  The reality is if you are using “conquer and occupy” tactics like in Singapore, you will get into trouble. However, at the same time, we also do not have the second impulsion or only a little of it - creating value and sharing it with the locals.

Russell used Chapter 10 of Dao De Jing to explain the meaning of “create and share”:

Chapter 10
(The Dao) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces them and does not claim them as its own; it does all, and yet does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not control them. This is what is called 'The mysterious Quality' (of the Dao).
Bearing and nurturing, Creating but not owning, Giving without demanding,
This is harmony.

Doesn’t it look more like the new business model of Google, facebook, twitter, etc. They all have the feature of “create and share”.

There are other interesting references from Dao De Jing that the PAP government can learn from it.

How many times has the PAP government turned the fish?

In Chapter 60, Laozi advised government not to turn the fish while frying it. PAP government in fact has applied it but in a wrong way.

Chapter 60
Governing a nation is like frying small fish.

Former US President Ronald Reagan quoted from the Daodejing in his State of the Union Address: "To govern a great nation requires the same care as to fry a small fish."
SM Goh Chok Tong had once mentioned this.  Not sure, he understands Laozi correctly.
However, Laozi’s saying is not to turn the fish too often but has the PAP government listened to it?  They keep on turning the fish by introducing changes, e.g. changes in number of MPs in the GRC, changes in electoral boundary, changes in NCMPs and NMPs scheme.  These are bad examples of turning a fish and perhaps the bad examples of the application of emptiness by creating new game play to fix the Oppositions.

Governing against the nature will lead to poor getting poorer

Chapter 77
The way of the Teachings is heavenly, It is to supplement the deprived at the expense of the excessive.
The way of the people is different, It is to proffer the excessive at the expense of the deprived.

Laozi warns the ruler and government. In running the country, the ruler must follow the natural development and not to add extra burdens to the people.  The natural way is to use the “have” to compensate the “haven’t”.  However, the human way is the opposite.  And it will lead to the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer.  

Intervention and greedy are bad for development

Chapter 57
I am unoccupied and the people naturally becomes prosperous,
I yearn not and the people naturally becomes serene.

Development comes naturally and intervention will prevent prosperity.  Greediness will stimulate more demands and desires and make people become materialized. 

Measurement of government performance

This is interesting as government can use this as a guideline for their performance.

Chapter 17
The greatest of rulers hardly dwells upon the minds of his subjects,
Lesser than this they forever draw near and laud him with great praise,
Lesser than this the people are held in his frightening awe and fear,
Lesser than this the people revile and curse him.

PAP government should take a self test and evaluation in Chapter 17.  How Singaporeans judge their performance may be reflected in the coming election.

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