Confucianism and Business Ethics

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Yilan Luan Panel 1

The extraordinary economic growth of China has revolutionized the way in which business is practiced and influenced globally. The Confucian roots within Chinese culture play a profound role in society and it is important to understand what affects this has on international business and business conduct.  Panel one of the International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society discussed topics ranging from Confucian entrepreneurship, ethics, democracy and global power hierarchy.

To view the panel slides from each presenter, click on the presentation title or image below. If you are interested in learning more about each presenter, please visit our 2015 Symposium Presenters page. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the Online Discussion Forum!

Please also be sure to check out our interview with former Australian diplomat and author, Reg Little.

Confucian Entrepreneurship
Mr Alan Chan

Reflections on Confucianism and Western Business (Commentary)
Professor Raoul Mortley

Raoul Mortley Presentation
Confucian ethics and the 21st Century Global Business
Dr Reg Little

Reg Little 2

The Chinese Interpretive Context of Democracy
Miss Yilan Luan

Yilan Luan

A Theoretical Analysis on Global Power Hierarchy
Dr Lei Yu

Dr Lei Yu

Confucianism in Modern Chinese Society

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Panel 2

Our next set of panel discussions have arrived! Panel two of the International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society discussed topics ranging from Confucius and women to learning Buddha-Dharma through a Confucian lens. Each presenter spoke for 15 minutes on his/her topic, followed by an open discussion.

To view the panel slides from each presenter, click on the presentation title or image below. If you are interested in learning more about each presenter, please visit our 2015 Symposium Presenters page. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the Online Discussion Forum!

You might also like to check out our interview with one of our presenters – American Buddhist monk and the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Rev Heng Sure. Click here for the full interview.

Confucian Values in a Changing World Cultural Order
Dr Chenshan Tian
Dr Chenshan Tian Presentation

Confucius and Women
Dr Rosita Dellios

Rosita Dellios Presentation

The Chinese Universal Values and the Future Human Civilization
Professor Yi Guo
Professor Yi Guo Presentation

Learning BuddhaDharma in America Through a Confucian Lens
Rev Heng Sure

Rev Heng Sure Presentation

Confucianism, Harmony and Humanity

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Panel 3

The 2015 International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society provided us with thought provoking discussion to last a lifetime. Over the following weeks we would like to introduce the presentations of each Panel Discussion which took place during the symposium. This week we start with discussing the panel on Confucianism, Harmony and Humanity. We invite you to review each presentation and provide your own opinion and thought by participating in our new Online Discussion Forum! This discussion forum serves as an online continuation of the symposium and a place where ideas and new thought can be expressed. After reviewing each presentation you are encouraged to provide your feedback. So, sit back with your favourite cuppa and enjoy some food for thought! We look forward to continuing our discussion!

Browse the Panel Discussion presentations on Confucianism, Harmony and Humanity:

Wu Xiaoming Opening Presentation

There is no One Confucianism
by Wu Xiaoming

James Ferguson Opening Presentation

Confucian Harmony: From Social Inclusion to Cosmopolitanism
by Dr James Ferguson

Haiming Wen Opening Presentation

The Significance of Chinese Thought in the Contemporary World
by Professor Haiming Wen

International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society

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Last week, Bond University was honoured to welcome academic and business professionals from around the globe to our Gold Coast campus to share their expertise and thoughts on the role of Confucianism in modern society. The symposium was successful in identifying opportunities, challenges and new insights on the theme of Confucian thought and contemporary life. Topics stimulated discussion on all facets of modern society including business ethics, the role of language and the various strands of Confucian thought.

The Bond University Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies would like to extend a grand thank you to everyone who attended and helped to make our 2015 International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society a very successful event! We look forward to providing you with more information to come in regards to the 2016 Symposium in Beijing to be hosted by Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Click below to view photos from the Symposium presentations.

Following the Symposium, attendees were given the opportunity to attend a cultural experience at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Hand feeding kangaroos and watching an Aboriginal performance were among the major highlights. The two-day event concluded with 360 degree views and dinner shared among newly made friends and renewed acquaintances at the famous Q1 in Surfers Paradise.


Click below to view photos from the Cultural and Social Experiences.

The Role of Language in Understanding Confucian Thought

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How does the use of Chinese language impact the way in which Confucian thought is understood? For this week’s post we would like to pose three different questions and show how the role of language affects the way in which each is interpreted. It is not the only determinant, but it is important to consider language when considering each concept.


Is Confucianism to blame for a lack of gender equality in the Eastern World?

Gender equality is an issue worldwide and societies must place a high priority on creating gender neutral language in order to see improvements. The Analects may have lacked gender-neutral terminology; however current texts and documents experience the same struggle. The role of women determined by Chinese language is discussed in a video by Global History and Geography 9.  The video discusses how two different Chinese pictographs translate into a word with combined meaning. For example, the character for “women” is combined with the character for “child.” The pictograph image is made up of two parts. When these two characters combine, the definition of the word is “good.” What is good in Chinese is characterized by a pictograph of a woman and a child.

These characters can help us give meaning to ancient Chinese beliefs and an idea of the reasons for different customs. The video points out that these interpretations are not only relevant in China, but also in the Western world (the U.S. in particular). (Click on the images to view the video)

 The traditional role of women in china
the traditional role of women in america

Are you ever guilty of using gender bias language?


Decoding the Language of Profit

What role does language play in the idea that Confucianism prohibits profit making?

Mencius replied, “Your Majesty, why must you speak of profit? Indeed, there is nothing but humanity (ren) and right (yi). May Your Majesty simply speak of humanity and right. Why must you speak of profit?” (1) These words became the bedrock of what is meant by profit in the Chinese language. Profit had become a tainted term.  Yet these words could well have provided a misleading context for understanding the meaning of profit. In the Analects, profit is often confined to two main ideas: the benefit of oneself and economic gain. Should profit be qualified in this way? Is it really defined as economic gain to one person? Confucian thought often applies a negative connotation to profit but fails to describe profit in terms of society’s gain. Yet profit can be used to describe economic and social benefit. With the principle of Yi (righteousness) in place, a business can expand long-term profits while eliminating the destructive consequences of illegal profit seeking and unfair competition (2). At first glance, based on the language that is used, the Analects may give the impression that all profit is unscrupulous. However, upon closer inspection, one may realise that profit is not regarded as immoral if ethics are considered and relationships are mutually benefited.

The Loss of Li

Notice that Li is often translated as ritual. Does that imply that “Li” is no longer applicable to the present day? Li, too, is often misunderstood. It is often translated simply as ritual, however Li is an abstract concept that can be translated and applied in various ways. It is not empty or old fashioned, but represents a reaffirmation of values to that community. As explained by Johnson Chang, Li goes beyond the English word “ritual” to include everything from etiquette, education and morality to a cosmic vision of a balanced world order (3). The concept of Li determines how one is expected to act in a given relationship, common ‘rules of proper behaviour’. In other words, Li can be viewed as a person’s morality. Confucius advocates the necessity of Li as a stepping stone to social harmony (4). The meanings of words play a significant contribution to how we generate ideas and opinions. People may mistakenly translate words into a prescribed meaning and not take into account the various meanings the word embodies. Can you think of other concepts where language plays a large role in your perception of something? Let us know by leaving a comment!


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Celebrating the Confucian Work Ethic

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Who would have imagined Confucius the scholar to have once worked in a granary? Yet it is said that was his first job before becoming a teacher (1).  He was not afraid of hard work or lowly occupations, but celebrated the importance of working to contribute to society. Today marks a national holiday in China and many countries worldwide: Labour Day, also known as “May Day” or “5/1.” This holiday celebrates workers, but more specifically, it celebrates the economic and social achievements of workers. In fact, Confucius celebrated workers through his ranking of “occupations.” He ranked the four principle “occupations” in descending order: The scholar had the highest ranking, followed by the farmer, then the worker and lastly the merchant. The worker was later advanced after the adoption of Marxist thinking (2). Confucius believed that part of contributing back to society when one grows up is their ability to work (3).  A prescribed trait of an ideal Confucian worker is that of hard work, which is considered to be a key value of Confucianism (45). In addition to the value of hard work, the Confucian Work Ethic also consists of other values including loyalty to the organization, thrift, dedication, social harmony, a love of education and wisdom, and a concern for social propriety. These elements all have positive aspects for economic and societal development (4). Parallel to Protestantism in the West, Confucianism has provided a foundation that promotes economic development in Asia (6).

Economic Success produced through Collective Welfare

When one compares the Protestant work ethic with the principles espoused by Confucius, Rarick points out in his article titled, “Confucius on Management: Understanding Chinese Cultural Values and Managerial Practices” that there are more similarities than differences. For example, both work ethics place an emphasis on hard work, employees are expected to achieve a form of self-fulfillment and rather than concentrating on spiritual salvation, people are required to focus on achievement in [this] life. The key difference between the Confucian and Protestant work ethics is that the Protestant work ethic focuses on individual achievement, whereas the Confucian work ethic places a higher value on group achievement and social harmony (4). Confucianism considers economic failure as having widespread societal consequences. This social interconnectedness is a trait of the Confucian work ethic that is not as common in the West. Unlike Protestant ethics which focus predominantly on individualism, Confucian ethics promote the idea that each individual belongs to a greater society and therefore economic prosperity must benefit society as a whole rather than a sole individual. Confucius placed high importance on social and public order, which he believed could be better fostered when the community had a healthy economic base (2). The Confucian work ethic has been a driving force for the economic success stories of Japan, South Korea, People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.  This Labour Day, thousands of working people will gather together with family to celebrate this collective achievement. To view photos from Labour Day celebrations, click here.




Liberating the Confucian Woman

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Gender inequality continues to be a global problem despite improvements in women’s rights. In many cases, opportunities for women are still subject to the commonly described ‘glass-ceiling effect’. (1)

Confucianism has a poor reputation when it comes to gender equality, as it is associated with the subordinate role placed on women. Confucian thought, however, should not solely be blamed for gender inequality in early Chinese societies.  Even prior to Confucius, women in Chinese society assumed a relatively subordinate position to men. Archaeological evidence shows that inequality between men and women was already present during the Neolithic period (2). Roles for women generally did not extend beyond the home and familial affairs.

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Despite accusations of gender bias, Confucian thought may be productive in its often unnoticed applications to gender equality.   Confucianism states that all people have the capacities necessary to flourish as full human beings. Clark and Wang point out in their research article titled, “A Confucian Defence of Gender Equity,” that the Chinese term for “person” (ren) is gender neutral. It resembles a person of highest virtue or humaneness. The morally noble human being (junzi) is not necessarily a man. It can be a woman. Early Confucians specified that women and men are equally equipped to become virtuous human beings.

Another aspect of criticism received by Confucian thought is the use of gender specific pronouns. A gender-neutral pronoun (ex: they, a person, etc.), could be used to create a more gender balanced message across all texts, not just Confucius related. Creating gender neutrality through word choice is an ongoing issue in current texts and documents. Help books even exist in order to assist people in avoiding gender-bias writing (3).

What can be done to create gender neutrality?

Similarly to Confucian texts, other imperial documents need a ‘rectification of names’, as Confucius himself would have advised.  To rectify names in this case would be to use the proper words to fit the standards of a growing, and highly adapting, modern world. The context of male-female relations has changed throughout time and it would be helpful for present-day Confucian scholars to adapt the Analects to represent these changes. Many contemporary Confucian scholars, for example, already translate junzi not as gentleman by as morally noble person or other such gender neural term. This means that becoming a fully realised human need not be associated with a particular gender.

In what other ways do you think gender neutrality can be reached? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!