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Features - Editor, 10 September 2007

Realities of Business Ethics in China (Part 2)



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Realities of Business Ethics in China (Part 1)

How Should Foreigners Deal with Chinese Business Ethics

Guanxi or networking is central to the Chinese way. All Chinese concessions to modernity dissolve when the concept of networking is at stake. All Chinese entities, regardless of size or nature, form a united front in terms of this central cultural value. Foreigners are expected to respect the network, and should strive, through ethical conduct, to become a part of the circle, if harmonious and beneficial transactions are to be built over time.

Overall, outsiders who are new to the China scene must allow for fundamental changes between the business ethics to which they are accustomed and prevailing conventions in this unfamiliar environment. It is better to discuss ethical dilemmas with local associates, allowing solutions to emerge by consensus, rather than by external prescription. Nothing can be more unproductive than to adopt a patronizing attitude, with attempts to prescribe business ethics for your Chinese associates. The latter must be respected, and their inherited values appreciated, so that ethics evolve through broad agreement.

Transitions in the Business Ethics of Communities

Business ethics, like culture, and indeed widely used languages, thrives best when it is open to positive influences from all directions. Confucian thinking has values, which can have salutary effects on business ethics in the western sense of the term. The Chinese way of business emphasizes empathy, and a balance between the conflicting interests of various shareholders. Competitors are considered to be collaborators rather than enemies. The Chinese exist in chaos, juggling many objectives at the same time, but that is not to say that they lack direction. Similarly, Guanxi as a greater priority than one own and immediate interest may seem an anachronism, but will reveal sound commercial advantages on reflection. We would be better off by incorporating some Chinese philosophy in our business ethics, instead of staying rooted only in our own ways!

The world can use Chinese and other branches of Oriental values to develop multiple and diverse perspectives of virtue, thus moving away from a singular and inflexible notion of what is good for the self. Perhaps such transition will lead to more stability between communities, and make for a new and more valuable contribution from the world of business for society at large. This should go some way in reversing the growing feeling on the world stage that the ethics of business, wherever conducted, are suspect. Chinese associates will in any case, appreciate being sounded for their own beliefs in terms of business ethics, rather than to be told by outsiders with attitudes of superiority, about how they should behave and act.

Realities of Business Ethics in China (Part 1)

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