Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the relevant sayings and stories of the ancient Chinese sages in relation to the style of Chinese human resource management (HRM). Design/methodology/approach – Related texts generated from the quotations and stories from four Chinese sages, Guanzi, Hanfeizi, Xunzi and Yanzi, were translated and analyzed and their thinking regarding ruling the state and managing the people was discussed in line with the thoughts from the mainstream and modern Western management gurus such as Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker, Mary Parker Follett, Douglas McGregor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Elton Mayo and Jeffrey Pfeffer.
Findings – It was found that there were striking similarities in thoughts and call for actions to address key issues in HRM by both old and contemporary, east and west thinkers across 2,500 years. The main concerns are to select the right leaders and managers and recruit the right people; create attractive organisational culture and environments that promote a participative management approach to encourage, empower and engage employees to achieve desirable outcomes; uphold the people-centred management principles; and focus on designing reward schemes that emphasise service and contribution instead of position and profits.
Originality/value – There is much to be learned from the past to address the present people management issues among modern organisations both inside China and perhaps from other parts of the world. It was as difficult to take seriously the principles-based ruling and management approaches in ancient times as it is today. However, if these principles had been put into practice, the world would have had fewer of the corporate corruption scandals and less of the mischievous behaviour in the state that are manifested in today's society, but more productive population, effective organisations, ethical governments and harmonious environment; hence less global human suffering.
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