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Thick Black Theory


Explanations > Power > Thick Black Theory

Thick Face | Black Heart | So what?


Thick Black Theory is a philosophical treaties written by Li Zhong Wu in 1911 that describes an approach to the wielding of political power that is based in ruthlessness and hypocrisy. In Thick Face, Black Heart, Chu (1995) developed these principles for the modern world.

Thick Face

Having a thick face means concealment, hiding your thoughts and your intent from the other person.

Manage your information, hoarding what may be useful and only revealing that which is necessary. Use principles such as distraction and deception to prevent other people from guessing what knowledge you hold and what your intent may be.

When we are with others, we betray much of what we are feeling and thinking through our body language. If you can be still, you will suppress much of this. There are around 50 muscles in the face, which is used a great deal in communication, so keeping this unmoving and inscrutable is important for creating a 'thick face'.

Chu (1995) calls the thick face the 'shield', describing it more as being a defense against attacks. When you can calmly ignore criticism and harsh words without getting emotional, then you will be able achieve much more.

Black Heart

Having a black heart means having the determination and ruthlessness needed to make decisions to get the job done, even if others suffer as a result.

The extent to which business should be compassionate is a difficult subject. In many ways, a business built on integrity and trust may succeed, yet in tough times this may well be challenged. Even the nicest of companies have to negotiate for good deals from their suppliers and must sack employees if they do not have the revenue to pay them.

For individuals, values are even more important as social rules are stronger in general society than profit-oriented companies. The question of the extent to which you would ignore or harm others to achieve your goals is a very difficult one.

A black heart may be necessary when taking a longer-term perspective. In the short term, being kind can seem like the right thing to do, but if this results in longer term harm to more people then perhaps the shorter term needs sacrifices.

Chu (1995) eases back from the more ruthless approach, framing the black heart as being more about adaptive determination and relentless persistence.

So what?

Decide who you are and what level of consideration or ruthlessness at which are ready to work.

If you want to use the ruthless thick, black approach, then practice can be very helpful. Watch yourself in the mirror to develop the blank face and still body. Harden your heart to make those tough decisions. If you take such an approach, also be ready for the reaction of others, which may include anger and revilement. The price of ruthlessness can easily be friends.

Chu (1995) proposes a less harsh approach to Wu (1911) but this still can be tough. This method requires good self-knowledge and requires being tough with oneself, including overcoming fear.

See also



Wu, Li Zhong (1911, 2009). Thick Black Theory (translated by Zhao An Xin),

Chu, Chin-Ning (1995). Thick Face, Black Heart: The Asian Path to Thriving, Winning and Succeeding, Nicholas Brearley


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