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Is Confucianism Good for Business Ethics in China?

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Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

I thank the comments from the audience when the article was read at the 15th IESE International Symposium on Ethics, Business and Society, Barcelona, Spain, May 17, 2008, as well as the comments from reviewers in the pre-selection process. I am also grateful to the comments from the three anonymous reviewers, which helped me clarify some important concepts.

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Correspondence to Po Keung Ip.

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Ip, P.K. Is Confucianism Good for Business Ethics in China?. J Bus Ethics 88, 463–476 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-009-0120-2

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