The worst of Asian values was on display at the Olympics in London, and I was embarrassed.  Eight female badminton players from China, Korea, and Indonesia tried to lose their games, so they would reserve their energy, have good positions in the next round, avoid matches against other players from their countries, or secure sure wins or medals.  It was painful to watch not because their games did not excite me but because of how "losing to win," a game strategy that, I believe, exists all over Asia, made some question the values of Asians as far as integrity, honesty, honor, and sportsmanship are concerned.

I wrote about this strategy in one of my early blog posts about business anthropology.  I believe it is of Chinese origin.  Sun Tzu wrote about losing a battle but winning a war.  Buddhism has personal sacrifice for spiritual merit.  I don't really wonder why Chinese couples can kill their female babies just so they will have chances to have sons under the child policy of their government.  Having a son is a big celebration in a Chinese family. It is almost like winning a lotto.  Losing a daughter to "win" a son is not shocking in China.

I also believe Chinese traders brought this game strategy with them when they first came to the prehistoric islands of the Philippines and encountered our prehistoric culture. Now, we have a name for it.  We call it "segurista" from the Spanish word, "seguro," which means secure.  "Segurista" can be people who securely engage in any activities-political, economic, personal, social- to gain or win.  It can also be about an act done to secure a gain or win.  It is an insult too.  Its superlative form is "seguristahay", which is very, too, or most "segurista".  If one is called "seguristahay", it means he or she is "kuwarta-bayho" (money-face) or"mukhang-pera" (face-money) in our national language.  Both simply mean greedy.   

When the Spanish colonizers fooled the early Filipinos with their exploitative practice of Christianity, our ancestors would surrender their lands and wealth to secure their spiritual salvation.  I first thought it was the Spanish who brought the culture of "losing to win", but Chinese traders were already established in the prehistoric islands of the Philippines when Ferdinand Magellan and his troops arrived in 1521.

"Losing to win" in my country, nowadays, is common in business, gambling, sports, conflict, politics, and other activities that involve strategy and/or negotiation.  The best example I observed was with my businesswoman aunt.  She would lower the price of rice and lose but not much and would double or triple the loss and add it to the already jacked up prices of vegetables, dried fish, and canned meats.  Her cheap rice attracted customers who wanted to save so they could buy other stuff to partner with rice.  Nobody eats plain rice without anything unless one is really poor.  In this strategy, my aunt would lose less in rice but gain more in other stuff.  To cook vegetables and canned meats, her customers would need spices too that were also overpriced.

These badminton players who dropped their games to secure good positions in the next round seemed new to non-Asians who were shocked.  It was nothing but a deja vu for me.  I grew up in a culture that propagates the notion that being "segurista" is being tactically smart.  

Yes, I'm still embarrassed, so forgive me for my lazy, confused prose.


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Comment by John McCreery on August 3, 2012 at 4:37am

Honor is an important idea. Are you familiar with the literature on honor and shame in Mediterranean cultures? A Google search for "honor and shame culture" will bring up some interesting stuff.

Comment by M Izabel on August 2, 2012 at 7:29pm

Minor correction:

Maginoo/tumao (royals/nobles), maharlika/timawa/ (warriors/freemen), and uripon/alipin (slaves/serfs).  

Another interesting thing here is that "maginoo", these days, means gentleman. If the meaning of maginoo in prehistoric times was the same, I don't think the maginoos and tumaos were not socially and culturally restrained to do ungentlemanly things that would ruin their integrity and honor.

Comment by M Izabel on August 2, 2012 at 4:50pm

Also, John, what I'm trying to expose here is the primacy of honor in any activities-economic, political, social, cultural, personal- in prehistoric Philippines.  

Comment by M Izabel on August 2, 2012 at 4:40pm

Prehistory was my most hated subject, since I could not really ascertain where prehistorians got their "facts".  So bear with my use of Wikipedia.  It has citations anyway.  I wish I had my history books with me.  

There were three classes in the pre-historic Philippines:  maharlika/tumao (royals/nobles), timawa (warriors/freemen), and uripon/alipin (slaves/serfs).  Royals and nobles controlled timawas' economic activities.

You're not spoiling anything.  

Comment by John McCreery on August 2, 2012 at 1:47pm
I don't want to be a spoilsport, but the English translation in the Wikipedia entry suggests that this is an aristocrat being absolved of a debt to his ruler in recognition of loyal service of some kind. Not exactly neighbors complaining about a bit of sharp business practice. It is this sort of thing that makes comparative perspective an important part of ethnographic interpretation. An exotic sounding bit of local terminology can make a mystery of something that is commonplace in other times and places, obscuring the really interesting question, which is why, in this case, what is taken to be a normal part of retailing in some places is taken to be dishonorable in the case at hand. I am sure that if Keith wants to take a moment, he can point us to all sorts of examples on Both sides of the question, e.g., the widespread resentment that both peasants and aristocrats feel toward merchants who are seen as taking unfair advantage because they buy low and sell high or conversely the merchant's observing that one should never do business with kith and kin who don't understand that you need to make a profit.
Comment by M Izabel on August 2, 2012 at 10:25am

Just click the link about the Laguna copper plate that has debt-related inscriptions.

Comment by John McCreery on August 2, 2012 at 10:20am

Archeological evidence of debt forgiveness?  How does that work?

Comment by M Izabel on August 2, 2012 at 10:06am

Maybe I look at my aunt's strategy in a different way.  She might have been influenced by the Chinese traders who lent her money or owned the merchandise she borrowed.  A strategy like hers is considered cheating generally in our community that can make someone lose face.  I have not seen an act using such strategy that is openly done and not seen as cheating.   

It's tough to find a solid pre-historic evidence to support my contention, but what we have mostly can be found in language and literature.  Our folk stories have heroes who are always winners in wrestling, sword fight, bow and arrow, or spear.  The meanings of their names are associated to bravery, courage, and honor.  I have yet to read a story about a hero or heroine who is good in smart strategies or unfair playing.  We have a word for people who are good in strategy or cheating.  "Magulang" is not a nice word. If attached to a person, that person is not honorable.  

Even our expression, "mabuhay", which is equivalent to "aloha" or "namaste", means "long live". It is used as a greeting and as a celebratory expression attached to a winner. Example, Mabuhay si Pacquiao! ( Long live Pacquiao!).  We celebrate winners.  We don't use mabuhay with losers.      

We have an archaeological evidence though to prove that debt forgiveness was already practiced even before the Chinese and Spanish came.  What does that tell me?  If one could forgive debt those days, I don't think cheating to gain wealth or loan sharking was common.  Honor was important in debt or in barter in prehistoric Philippines.

Comment by John McCreery on August 2, 2012 at 8:34am

I wasn't commenting on your aunt's education. I was observing that "loss leader" strategies are common worldwide. The same is true of the military gambit of feigning defeat to lure your enemy into a trap. To me these considerations weaken your arguments from local terminology or local ethnic prejudices. That isn't, however, to say that it destroys them. It would be interesting if there were good historical evidence that these strategies were not employed in the Philippines before the Chinese (or Spanish) brought them there.

I can easily imagine people feeling cheated by "offers" that seduce them into paying a higher price for other items. But to me this doesn't seem all that extraordinary. I can remember my mother and sister-in-law discussing the value of sales and coupons from various supermarkets in the USA, remarking that while you might find a good deal on one type of product at A, you would wind up paying more for product B. I can also remember writing advertising to promote the sale of ink-jet printers—much cheaper than laser printers! (Until, that is, you figured in the added cost of having to frequently replace the ink jet cartridges. 

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is a Latin phrase with a long, long history.


Comment by M Izabel on August 2, 2012 at 4:50am

My aunt had no business degree, and her Chinese husband did not even finish high school.  I did not observe this kind of strategy that sacrifices integrity and honor among indigenous Filipinos I came in contact with in the uplands.  For instance, among the groups that have not yet fully embraced the ways of the Christians and the "lowlanders" back home, a loss is a loss that makes one a loser.  

Even Muslims in the South will kill an entire generation if a child belonging to their group is hurt or insulted.  I don't think sacrificing for a bigger purpose is their thing.  

I think this strategy is mostly economic or business-related, at least in my country, where businesses are dominated by Chinese Filipinos.  


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