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 2, 2012 at 4:26am

M. Your aunt's strategy is a familiar one to anyone involved in merchandising. The rice in your example is the "loss leader." It attracts customers who may wind up paying a bit more for other things to cover the merchant's loss on the sale. Another common example is safety razors. Gillette is the usual example for a strategy of "losing money on the razor but making money on the blades."


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