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Learning from China's 2500 years of business ethics

20 October, 2011

China, the world’s second largest economy, has its own business ethics and doesn’t need western values forced on it, according to a leading international business academic.

New research on the 2500-year-old Confucian philosophy underlying Chinese business ethics claims Western businesses have no reason to expect China to fall in line with Western business ethics, and in fact have as much to learn from China, as they do from us.

Speaking at Beijing’s Central University of Finance and Economics last week, Victoria University Business and Law Executive Dean Professor David Lamond explained the global financial crisis had shown western business ethics were more honoured in the breach and questioned how we could expect China to follow our example.

"In the West we act like we have the best ideas on business ethics and they should be adopted by China, and then events like the global financial crisis happen," Professor Lamond said.

"Our ideas have not even been adopted in the West so why would we think that China could or should adopt them?"

He said Confucian thinking had been informing ethical business practice in China for several millennia, providing a "home grown" solution that could work not only for China but in the West too. 

"We in the West should look to learn from China rather than just think we are the teachers," he said.

He said a follower of Confucian moral philosophy aimed to become a junzi, or a "person of virtue" – an ideal that was still spoken of as the standard of personal integrity in China today. When applied to a business person, this ideal is termed rushang.

"The modern Confucian business person applies the Confucian principles of benevolence (ren), rightness (yi), propriety (li), wisdom (zhi), and trustworthiness (xin) to their business practice," he said.

"At the same time, the rushang respects the rule of law and avoids the limitations of administration by personal power alone (renzhi) and should welcome both feedback and criticism without enacting or supporting retribution on those who provide it."

He said there was growing political and popular support in China for management based on Confucian moral philosophy.

"Far from needing to impose a western framework as solution, China has its own framework to derive solutions to the issues in business ethics it is confronted with, core ideas equally germane to the western context," he said.

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