China Centre Tübingen (CCT)

Business Ethics in China: Theory and Practice

Led by CCT Vice-Director Dr. Matthias Niedenführ, this project explores ethical norms as they apply to the world of business in the contemporary PRC. Analysing both theoretical and experiential discourses of business ethics, we examine both the content of such discourses and the ways in which they are applied in practice at both institutional and individual levels. We pay particular attention to the interaction between indigenous concepts, such as the “Confucian entrepreneur,” which endeavours to reconcile traditional Confucian distaste for the merchant class by harnessing the idea of business success to community benefit, and models developed outside China which have been imported and disseminated in recent years.

Combining discourse analysis with extensive qualitative interviews, we probe top-down notions of corporate and professional responsibility, the pedagogical means by which they are promoted and the mechanisms used for defining and enforcing “good” behaviour by both institutional and individual actors. These are compared and contrasted to bottom-up notions and practices of doing business ethically in order to determine the extent to which the two are correlated, in which instances they coincide or conflict, and which (whose) ethics prevail. In this way, we aim to shed light on Chinese business values and practices in such a way as to foster mutual understanding and more productive engagement between foreign and Chinese companies.