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Moral Complexity in Leadership: Empathy "The Paper Menagerie," by Ken Liu


The "Moral Complexity in Leadership" series of cases and teaching notes help business instructors harness the power of fiction to prepare students for the moral and ethical dilemmas they will face throughout their careers. Meaningful fiction challenges students intellectually and emotionally; it reveals the inner worlds of human players and enables learning that can be difficult to access through case studies, commentary, or reporting. Through literature, students will wrestle with the kinds of problems they will face as leaders looking to make courageous decisions aligned with their moral codes.

The works in this series represent a wide range of settings, viewpoints, and cultural frameworks; the characters are complex and contradictory, and the systems within which they operate (whether family, organizational, or cultural) influence them in varied ways. They have been taught to executive, full- and part-time MBA student audiences for many years.

The series aims to increase students' understanding of moral frameworks and enhance their skills in facilitating and participating in healthy and productive dialogue about complex and provocative issues.

In this installment of the series, "Empathy," we examine Ken Liu's short story "The Paper Menagerie," in which the biracial son of a Chinese immigrant mother and a White native-born American father internalizes the racist attitudes and comments of those around him and tries to fit in with the majority cultural norms by rejecting his Chinese heritage and his mother--and his subsequent realization of their value. The story highlights issues of dislocation and pressures to conform that can mean a loss of identity; the personal impact of racist attitudes and remarks; and lack of empathy and curiosity about others' points of view and background.




Brooke Vuckovic, Rebecca Talbot

Date Published



Management;General Management

Key Concepts

Business ethics, China, Empathy and compassion, Leadership, Leadership development, Leadership qualities, Moral leadership, Personal ethics, Values-based leadership


Vuckovic, Brooke, and Rebecca Talbot. Moral Complexity in Leadership: Empathy "The Paper Menagerie," by Ken Liu. Case 5-123-003 (KE1256).


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