Relaymedia

Can China’s traditional moral values formulate business ethics?

( [email protected] ) Apr 21, 2008 12:39 PM EDT
[Vancouver, Canada] Will we feel this unease in us whenever we speak about products made in China? Although Chinese products have been known to be good and cheap, large number of faulty products produced in recent years have destroyed this reputation. In order analyze the root of the problem of “Made in China” and to equip Christians to face the challenges in this era and carry the cultural commission, China Ministries International and Vancouver Chinese Christian Short-term Mission Training Centre together hosted the seminar called The Glory and Shame of “Made in China” on Apr. 19.
Rev. Edwin K. Lee hopes that not only the Chinese in mainland China but also the overseas Chinese can possess the inner traits of faith, where change of the society’s culture can begin from one’s life. Gospel Herald

[Vancouver, Canada] Will we feel this unease in us whenever we speak about products made in China? Although Chinese products have been known to be good and cheap, large number of faulty products produced in recent years have destroyed this reputation. In order analyze the root of the problem of “Made in China” and to equip Christians to face the challenges in this era and carry the cultural commission, China Ministries International and Vancouver Chinese Christian Short-term Mission Training Centre together hosted the seminar called The Glory and Shame of “Made in China” on Apr. 19.

Can the Chinese traditional moral values formulate business ethics?

In face of the critical problems of faulty products such as death due to medicine poisoning, toys containing lead, blown tires, whether the buyers in mainland or abroad are affected, their faith towards the quality of the products must have been shaken. Rev. Edwin K. Lee, president of China Ministries International, said that from the word hypocrisy the meaning is revealed as knowing the ideals, but unable to achieve it in reality, yet telling others that it is something that I can do that; the problem of China’s faulty products have fallen into such trap.

Addressing the problem of faulty products, the Chinese government is now placing heavy fines. This method is heavily punishing an offender for an obvious offense in order to deter the rest from doing the same. Rev. Lee said that he has some reserves towards the effectiveness of this method and believes that most important thing is a true self-examination.

The business ethics of market economy

Just how are the resources in our lives distributed to different parts of this world? This is the role that a economic system plays in a large society. The society in which we live in depends upon the principles of the market economy; on the assumption of a fair environment for competition, “market economy” uses the market as a platform for conducting businesses, exchanging needed resources with monetary funds based upon the interactions of supply and demand.

On the premise of being good and cheap, the developmental principles of a market economy is the competition between products, where buyers decide between the alternatives of products, and the manufacturers of products of low quality will be eliminated. In the midst of competition, there must be a kind of rationality, and that is a just and fair rationality between people.

Why don’t we accept insider trading? Because it is unfair and unrighteous for some people to receive inside information, so a typical society’s law prohibit such practice. Rev. Lee said that business ethics is used to guarantee that partnerships are moral and rational, and it is the value used for judging. He pointed out that the four major requisites of business ethics are integrity towards the buyers and of the sellers, fairness of the competition among the same professions, public righteousness while developing and the treatment of the employees, and the continuous creativity in the aspects of quality and quantity that is beyond merely the demand for the products of catchiness.

What is the traditional Chinese spirit of morality?

Furthermore, Rev. Lee introduced that the unique traits of China’s traditional culture has a general commonalities within multi-generations, but it is still mainly dominated by a mixture of Confucians and legalists. The Confucians School of thoughts promotes loyalty and filial piety and people’s relationship should have feelings, interactions of love. This impulsion originates from filial relationships; through experiencing the love of parents, one wishes to promote this love. Besides this, Confucians have hierarchical levels; the relationship between parents and children is vertical and between brothers and sisters is horizontal or of the same level.

Extending “loyalty” and “brotherhood” to the level of the nation, the subordinates of the monarch ruler obeys absolutely, and the citizens are all of the same level, so they requests for equality. Speaking from a business perspective, the problem resides in whether righteousness or gains is more important. Confucian teaches that "The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain”, where the consciences serves as the self-standard of integrity.

Rev. Lee said that in the areas of political affairs, China has never practiced Confucian thoughts. The monarch ruler is the center of everything. All the authority and control of resources fell upon the emperor, and that regulations of unethical behaviors are done through fines. The monarch ruler is the value and the one who defines the values, but is he always correct? That is not the case.

Why did Confucians and legalists combined as one? Confucians uses loyalty and filial piety in their thought structure, which is hierarchical. The ideal in a typical Confucian’s life is to become an official. Because only by becoming an official can you participate in the exercise of power and have an administrative relationship with the monarch ruler. Confucians rely upon the emperor’s power to influence society. Therefore, Confucians and legalists have a relationship of love and hate; Confucians sometimes will criticize the monarch ruler, but the overall thought structure still supports a monarchy.

Can China’s traditional moral system be used to establish the business ethics?

Business ethics brings up the need for fairness. Looking from this perspective, can the existence of the hierarchical structure of Confucians and legalists still allow for fairness? Regarding this point, Rev. Lee thinks that Confucians is motivated by filial relationships, which is based upon different levels of love. Thus, fairness cannot be revealed, and it would be difficult to promote the equality of a virtuous kingdom.

On the other hand, the clear divide in the social hierarchical system and authoritarian rule of the monarchy can only allow for development of macro-control dominant economy. Not only will there not be a fair environment for competition, but it can also create an environment for corruption between officials and merchants. He thinks that you can establish a large business with Confucian thoughts, but there would be a particular trait and that is a dynastic corporation. The other possibility is having a relationship with the government.

Rev. Lee also observed that the past Chinese name brands are often cliché, because China’s traditional culture often revisits historical models, where the best times are in the past and the future should be to restore the past glories. Therefore, in the aspect of business products, creativity is often times not encouraged.

Besides this, there isn’t a guarantee for righteousness and integrity, because the concept of integrity is an ideal and free will, but whether it can be applied is still a question. Rev. Lee pointed out that Chinese culture do not pinpoint the problem of the original sin; man’s characters are flawed. Even for a person who wants to treat others with sincerity, under certain conditions he wouldn’t be able to do it. It is overly idealistic and lacks the ability to make it happen in reality, as if trying to put on an outward appearance to escape from a see-through examination. If using the legalistic method, the cost would be very high, because you don’t know how many people to kill to achieve the deterrence effect.

The meaning of establishing business ethics in China today

If China today wants to be awake, then it must face two problems. Rev. Lee said that the problem on the micro-level is the quality of the Chinese citizens; what is the quality of the Chinese people? Is there an ideal of morality and the ability to stand up for that? The other problem is looking from a macro-level, as a country can China win the respect of the world? He also pointed out that respect is not gained through how much money you have or how loud you can speak, but it comes from the quality of the country.

In conclusion, the problems of the Chinese citizens and China are directly related, because the citizens of the country determine the kind of country it will be, and vice versa. As a Chinese citizen, you must be able to make judgments based upon knowledge, and you need moral courage to speak up for the truth and not cowering in face of any power. There must also be adjustments as a nation. Rev. Lee said that the Christian faith is critical in the creation of business ethics. He hopes that not only the Chinese in mainland China but also the overseas Chinese can possess the inner traits of faith, where change of the society’s culture can begin from one’s life.

[Editor's note: reporter Grace Cheung in Vancouver contributed to this report.]