The Evolution of Modern Business Ethics in Reform China

The social production and evolution of business ethics normativity in China is unknown to the public, of which in the aspect of business associations sphere is astonishingly non-existent. This research’s novelty lies in the historical genealogy of business ethicists’ work in contemporary China, which turns out to be significant for an adequate understanding of business moral normativity evolution and China’s normative structure transition. By applying moral background theory as theoretical framework and adopting historical research method, the research of Chinese business ethicists’ works suggests that pre-established indigenous ideas about social morality and metaphysical structure have not only persisted, but also have dominantly shaped social moral normativity structure.
Market economy reform since 1978 has brought the development of business ethics and populated ethics discourses to the fore. I firstly introduce the socioeconomic transition and Chinese traditional cultural resources as entire social backdrop and cultural repertoire for the business ethics. By developing an empirical framework based on Abend’s moral background theory, this research tries to depict what moral normativity business ethicists have co-produced and what is in transition in the social normative structure in large. Under this framework, business schools and business associations as two most important public normative spaces in regard to business ethics are empirically examined. The fundamental moral backgrounds that underlie business ethics in contemporary China has been revealed and configured. There are basic convergences between the origins and underpinnings of modern Chinese ethical understanding and its historical and cultural heritage. The influence of the moral culturalism in Chinese civilization epistemology as well as Chinese humanistic relational and spiritual ontology still play a dominant role as the deepest moral background of modern business ethics and its development in China.
This research result shows that Chinese civilization is once again legitimized and justified as indispensable essence to be fostered, promoted and practiced in the public normativity structure. Chinese business ethicists are aware of pursuing ‘Chineseness’ and maintaining cultural awareness in the process of massive learning from the West. The learning and adoption of Western have modified China in many facets but have not yet remade Chinese entirely. In the business morality system, China hasn’t taken Western rationalism or individualistic capitalism as its models in regard to modern societal development. This is a significant shift in moral epistemology and ontology. This research proposes a new interpretation of the history of business ethics in the Reform China.



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