Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 88, Issue 3, pp 463–476 | Cite as

Is Confucianism Good for Business Ethics in China?



This article examines whether and to what extent Confucianism as a resilient Chinese cultural tradition can be used as a sound basis of business practice and management model for Chinese corporations in the twenty-first century. Using the core elements of Confucianism, the article constructs a notion of a Confucian Firm with its concepts of the moral person (Junzi), core human morality (ren, yi, li) and relationships (guanxi), as well as benign social structure (harmony), articulated in corporate and organizational terms. The basic character of the Confucian Firm is described, and its philosophical and cultural foundation is critically assessed with respect to its moral legitimacy and relevant to today’s China. China’s recent Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) development is a high profile response to global business ethics concerns. Efforts have been made to emulate and develop good business practice fashioned in CSR norms and visions. The so-called “human-based” and “virtue-based” business practices rooted in local cultural heritage have been touted as a Chinese response to this problem. This investigation is particularly relevant in the context of the increasingly prominence of the Chinese corporations (China Inc.) in the wake of the rise of China as a global power. How relevant is Confucianism to the building of a modern Chinese corporation that is willing and able to practice reasonable norms of business ethics? The findings of this discussion, which include the organizational implications of the Confucian familial collectivism, have implications for other Chinese communities (Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore) where Confucian tradition is endorsed and practiced.


Confucianism familial collectivism Confucian Firm Greater China principled ethics virtue ethics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barboza, D.: 2007, ‹China Moves to Refurbish Damaged Global Image,’ New York Times, July 29, 2007, online edition, Accessed 30 July 2007.
  2. Brown, A. R. (ed.): 1996a, Chinese Business Enterprise Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. I (Routledge, London).Google Scholar
  3. Brown, A. R. (ed.): 1996b, Chinese Business Enterprise Critical Perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. II (Routledge, London).Google Scholar
  4. Chan, W. T.: 1963, Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ).Google Scholar
  5. Chan, A.: 2001, China’s Workers Under Assault: The Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing World (M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY).Google Scholar
  6. Chan, G. K. Y.: 2008, ‹The Relevance and Value of Confucianism in Contemporary Business Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 77, 347–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng, C. K.: 1944, ‹Familism: The Foundation of Chinese Social Organization’, Social Forces 23, 50–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chu, G. and Y. Ju: 1993, The Great Wall in Ruins: Communication and Cultural Change in China (State of New York University Press, Albany).Google Scholar
  9. Donaldson, T. and T. Dunfee: 1999, Ties that Bind, A Social Contract Approach to Business Ethics (Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA.).Google Scholar
  10. Dunfee, T. W. and D. E. Warren: 2001, ‹Is Guanxi Ethical? A Normative Analysis of Doing Business in China’, Journal of Business Ethics 32, 191–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dworkin, R.: 1977, Taking Rights Seriously (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.).Google Scholar
  12. Farh, J. L. and B. S. Cheng: 2000, ‹A Cultural Analysis of Paternalistic Leadership in Chinese Organizations’, in J.T. Li, A. S. Tsui, and E. Weldon (eds.), Management and Organizations in the Chinese Context (Macmillan, London), pp. 84–127.Google Scholar
  13. Farh, J. L., A. S. Tsui, K. Xin and B. S. Cheng: 1998, ‹The Influence of Relational Demography and Guanxi: The Chinese Case’, Organization Science 9, 471–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. French, H. W.: 2006, ‹Chinese Success Story Chokes On Its Own Growth’, New York Times, December 19, online edition, Accessed 22 Dec 2006.
  15. Hamilton, G. G.: 1990, ‹Patriarchy, Patrimonialism, and Filial Piety: A Comparison with China and Western Europe’, British Journal of Sociology 41, 77–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hwang, K. K.: 1984, ‹Confucian Ethics and Corporate Organizational forms’, in Commercial Times Business Series Group (ed.), Chinese Management (The Times Cultural Publishing Co, Taipei), pp. 21–55 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  17. Hwang, K. K.: 1988, Confucianism and East Asian Modernization (Chu Liu Book, Taipei) (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  18. Ip, P. K.: 1996, ‹Confucian Familial Collectivism and the Underdevelopment of the Civic Person’, in N. K. Lo, and S. W. Man (eds.), Research and Endeavors in Moral and Civic Education (The Chinese University Press, Hong Kong), pp.39–58.Google Scholar
  19. Ip, P. K.: 2000, ‹Developing Virtuous Corporation with Chinese Characteristics for the Twenty-First Century’, in F.-J. Richter, (ed.), The Dragon Millennium: Chinese Business in the Coming World Economy (Quorum Books, Westport, Connecticut), pp. 183–206.Google Scholar
  20. Ip, P.K.: 2002, Constructing a Social Contract for Corporations (Legein Publication, Zhong He) (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  21. Ip, P. K.: 2004, ‹Confucian Personhood and Bioethics: A Critical Appraisal’, in R. Z. Qiu (ed.), Bioethics: Asian Perspectives, A Quest for Moral Diversity, (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht), pp. 49–56.Google Scholar
  22. Ip, P. K.: 2008a, ‹Corporate Social Responsibility and Crony Capitalism in Taiwan’, Journal of Business Ethics 79, 167–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ip, P. K.: 2009, ‹The Challenge of Developing a Business␣Ethics in China’, Journal of Business Ethics 88, 211–224.Google Scholar
  24. Ju, J.: 2005, The Historical Development of Corporate Ethics in Today’s China (Jiangsu People’s Publication, Naking) (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  25. Kahn, J.: 2003a, ‹Making Trinkets in China, and a Deadly Dust’, New York Times, June 18, online edition, 1038F93BA25755C0A9659C8B63&scp=12&sq=kahn+joseph&st=nyt. Accessed 19 June 2003.
  26. Kahn, J.: 2003b, ‹Chinese Economy’s Underside: Abuse of Migrants’, New York Times, August 26, online edition, 9A01E1D61239F935A1575BC0A9659C8B63&scp=17&sq=kahn+joseph&st=nyt. Accessed 29 Aug 2003.
  27. Kao, C. S.: 1996, ‹‹Personal Trust’ in the Large Businesses in Taiwan: A Traditional Foundation for Contemporary Economic Activities’. In: G. G. Hamilton (Ed.), Asian Business Network. Walter de Gruyter, New York.Google Scholar
  28. Koehn, D.: 2001, ‹Confucian Trustworthiness and the Practice of Business in China’, Business Ethics Quarterly 11, 415–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lam, J. K. C.: 2003, ‹Confucian Business Ethics and the Economy’, Journal of Business Ethics 43, 153–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Li, Z.: 2005, ‹Lack of Corporate Social Responsibility Behind Recent China Accidents’, Accessed 14 Dec 2006.
  31. Li, J. T., A. S. Tsui, and E. Weldon (eds.): 2000, Management and Organizations in the Chinese Context (Macmillan, London).Google Scholar
  32. Liu, M.: 2007, ‹Unsafe at Any Speed: The Downside of China’s Manufacturing Boom: Deadly Goods Wreaking Havoc at Home and Abroad,’ Newsweek, July 16, pp. 14–17.Google Scholar
  33. Lovett, S., L.C. Simmons and R. Kali: 1999, ‹Guanxi versus the Market: Ethics and Efficiency’, Journal of International Business Studies 30(2), 231–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Luo, H.: 2005, China Integrity Report (Cosmopolitan Culture Press, Taipei) (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  35. Luo, Y.: 2007, Guanxi and Business, 2nd edition, (World Scientific, New Jersey).Google Scholar
  36. Mok, V.: 1973, The Organization and Management of Factories in Kwun Tong. Social Research Centre Occasional Paper (Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong).Google Scholar
  37. Redding, S. G.: 1990, The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism (Walter de Gruyter, New York).Google Scholar
  38. Redding, S. G.: 1996, ‹Weak Organizations and Strong Linkages: Managerial Ideology and Chinese Family Business Networks’, in G. G. Hamilton (ed.), Asian Business Network (Walter de Gruyter, New York), pp. 27–42.Google Scholar
  39. Redding, G. and G. L. L. Wong: 1986, ‹The Psychology of Chinese Organizational Behavior,’ in M. H. Bond (ed.), The Psychology of the Chinese People (Oxford University Press, Hong Kong), pp. 267–295.Google Scholar
  40. Romar, E. J.: 2002, ‹Virtue is Good Business: Confucianism as a Practical Business Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 38, 119–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Romar, E. J.: 2004, ‹Globalization, Ethics, and Opportunism: A Confucian View of Business Relationships’, Business Ethics Quarterly 14, 663–678.Google Scholar
  42. Shalaff, J.: 1981, Working Daughters of Hong Kong (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).Google Scholar
  43. Silin, R.: 1976, Leadership and Values (Harvard University Press, Cambridge).Google Scholar
  44. Smith, P. B. and Z. M. Wang: 1996, ‹Chinese Leadership and Organizational Structures’, in M.H. Bond, (ed.), The Handbook of Chinese Psychology (Oxford University Press, Hong Kong), pp. 322–337.Google Scholar
  45. Steidlmeier, P.: 1999, ‹Gift-Giving, Bribery, and Corruption: Ethical Management of Business Relationships in China’, Journal of Business Ethics 20(2), 121–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Su, C. and J. E. Littlefield: 2001, ‹Entering Guanxi: A Business Ethical Dilemma in Mainland China?’, Journal of Business Ethics 33(3), 97–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Su, C., M. J. Sirgy, J. E. Littlefield: 2003, ‹Is Guanxi Orientation Bad, Ethically Speaking? A Study of Chinese Enterprises’, Journal of Business Ethics 44, 303–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wei, J. and B. Yang: 2003, The Crisis of Integrity – Perspective on An Important Social Problem (Chinese Social Sciences Press, Beijing) (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  49. Westwood, R. I.: 1997, ‹Harmony and Patriarchy: The Cultural Basis for ‹Paternalistic Headship’ Among the Overseas Chinese’, Organization Studies 18, 445–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Whitley, R.: 1992, Business Systems in East Asia- Firms, Markets and Societies (Routledge, London).Google Scholar
  51. Wong, S. L.: 1985, ‹The Chinese Family Firm, A Model’, British Journal of Sociology 36, 58–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yang, L. S.: 1957, ‹The Concept of Bao as a Basis for Social Relations in China’, in J. K. Fairbank (ed.), Chinese Thought and Institutions (University of Chicago Press, Chicago), pp. 291–309.Google Scholar
  53. Yang, M. M.: 1994, Gifts, Favors, and Banquets - The Art of Social Relationships in China (Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London).Google Scholar
  54. Yang, K. H., K. K. Huang and C. F. Yang (eds.): 2005, Chinese Indigenous Psychology, Vol. I (Yuan Liao Publisher, Taipei) (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  55. Yardley, J.: 2004, ‹River Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer’, New York Times, September 12, online edition, Accessed 13 Sept 2004.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Institute of PhilosophyNational Central UniversityJhongliTaiwan

Personalised recommendations