Prevailing schools of thought in the PR China and their effects on economic and social acting of humans today

Seminar Paper, 2008

24 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

Illustration directory

1 Introduction

2 Approximation to the cultural term

3 Prevailing schools of thought in the PR China

4 Effects on the present behavior

5 Conclusion


Illustration directory

Illustration 1 - the religious system of functions in Eastern Asia

1 Introduction

One of the most discussed topics of the past years in the economy-related press was the economic and political development of the People's Republic of China. A daily paper without reference to China is hardly conceivable today. Average economic growth rates within the two digit range over the past 30 years, an enormous market with more than 1.3 billion people and economically backward areas woke the pioneer spirit of western gold diggers.

The Chinese population is by far bigger than those of the European Union, the United States, Australia and Canada together. In addition to this it comes that China was up to 30 years ago not only ruled by communism, but also robbed of its thousands of years-old traditions by the maoistic Cultural Revolution. The question is how it was possible that this country could ascend in such a short time to one of the most successful economies in the world.

That a certain cultural value system or ethics is a fundamental basis for the economic acting of a nation was already determined by Adam Smith in his work “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”.1 Max Weber also built up on this realization (see chapter two).

The following work would like to approach this phenomenom from the cultural point of view and follow the question, which cultural bases rule in the Chinese society.

This should be tried by a short representation of the most important schools of thought in China, which cannot happen finally because of the compendiousness of the work. Rather it should be understood as a suggestion for thinking about Chinese culture and its differences.

Also this work will not take culture-theoretical factors as a basis for analysis. Rather it is to be tried to represent the most important differences between the European and the Chinese culture and to sensitize for this. It is not an aim of this resignment to set up regularities of the Chinese character but to refer to possible differences.

2 Approximation to the cultural term

Introductory the question arises, how the term “culture” is to be defined in this context. It is not to be understood by the meaning of “high culture”, thus for example the works of Beethoven or Goethe, but in the cultural-anthropological sense as a quantity of historically grown orientation guidelines, which form the behaviors of humans mostly unconsciously. This culture is affected on one hand by changes in the own society (intra-cultural), on the other hand by the exchange with other cultures (inter-cultural). It concerns thus a slowly-acting changing depth structure, which covers all typical ways of life in a society. Significant for the development of social values are the predominant religious and philosophical preceptions.

For the western cultures the Greek-Roman Antique and the Christianity can be fastened here. During the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century religious values were disenchanted by science and rationality and also the role of the church in the society (secularization) began to become weakened.

If one compares the core statements of the French revolution (for example liberty, equality, fraternity etc.) with the principles of Christianity, it can be stated that despite the small meaning of the church, the values obtained up to then by it, played a further shaping role in the changing, post-christian society. This aspect is not to remain unconsidered in the understanding of a culture.

In the Southeast Asian area different value systems can be demonstrated on which the today's Chinese culture is based. The most important are Confucianism, Yin- Yang thinking ([illustration not visible in this excerpt]), Daoism and Buddhism with which one will deal more exactly in the following.

A fundamental difference to the Judaism/Christianity is that none of these traditions is a comparable religious or epistemological and metaphysical philosophy concept.

Also there does not exist any transcendental deity or a faith conception directed towards afterlife in the Chinese world. In fact an operation orientation straightened to the practical reason is relevant, which is to ensure the accomplishment of life in present. Indeed these explicit basic ideas went down at the latest with the Cultural Revolution; however a similar development is to be determined as in the occident to a post-confuzianism.2

Even if the historical developments on both sides are singular, a similar development can be determined nevertheless with consideration of the aforementioned cultural depth system.

Now the question arises how to approach to the complex problem of the influence of religion and philosophy on everyday human acting. In the following chapter it is to be dealt introductory with four systemic aspects of this, due to the limited framework of this work however only fragmentarily.

It is to be pointed out again explicitly that it always concerns the comparison of the fundaments of different cultures’ rough simplifications, which cannot be sufficient for the complex requirements of the reality. Particularly in contrast to the natural sciences it is critical of regarding simplistic models as too weighty in the context of the social sciences, since these have a direct effect on the social behavior of people.

For this reason the available work leaves out the detailed consideration of these and concentrates on the embodiment of the substantial characteristics of the religious and philosophical schools of thought instead.

2.1 Max Weber

If one argues with the cultural differences between east and west, particularly under the aspects of economy, he will definitely have to deal with Max Weber’s theses of the development of modern capitalism.

Since Weber’s writings about the Protestant ethics and analogical those of the Confucianism were however already written at the beginning of the past century and correspond no longer to the today's state of research, even so they are not wrong thereby, especially because the leading role of Communism in the 20th Century in China was not to be foreseen at this time. Because of this, within the work at hand there should be no closer analysis on Weber’s work.

Weber comes to the result in his writings that no modern capitalism developed in China, since despite large similarities a fundamental difference between the Puritan and the Confucian rationalism exists, which he gets to the point in the following quotation: “The Confucian rationalism means a rational adaptation to the world. The Puritan, Protestant rationalism: rational dmonation of the world.”3

One recognizes in his writings that Weber notices western capitalism as a singularity, thus as something non-normal, which is substantially dependent on, for example cultural and religious circumstances and therefore could have emerged in this form only by the influence of the Calvinism.

2.2 Guilt and shame cultures

The differentiation of cultures in shame- and guilt-oriented finds its origin in the writing of Eric Robertson Dodds from the year 1951 (“The Greeks and the Irrational”)4 and the publication “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture” by Ruth Fulton Benedict from the year 19465.

The basic idea of this thesis is that in contrast to the shame-oriented culture, a calm conscience or a decent character is the highest property in the guilt-oriented one. The concern of humans applies here to the expiation of their guilt. The development of the conscience can be attributed to the Biblical-Christian ethics, which determines the commandments of God as firm benchmarks obligatory on human acting, independent of current external influences. Feeling guilty develops here in terms of a bad conscience from the subject itself.

In contrast to this, human acting in shame-oriented cultures depends on the effect on the public reputation. It is crucial here that it is not important whether a person is actually guilty or innocent, but what the social environment thinks about it. In this case the subject feels shame, if its failure is not discovered by other persons.

One recognizes that the development of a guilt culture presupposes a constantly present dominant factor of higher power, thus primarily can arise in monotheistically affected cultures.

This thesis is discussed controversially until today, particularly, since each guilt culture also contains elements of the shame culture and in reverse. A strict separation is thus not possible. A certain relevance of this thesis is not to dismiss by considering the influences of religious ways of thinking on individual acting, even if by the loss of meaning of the Christian churches in the west a tendentious development is to be determined here towards a shame-oriented culture as well.6

2.3 Western and eastern understanding of free-market economy

A further important distinction in this connection is about economic acting within a cultural area.

In the western world a horizontal market capitalism is to be constituted, which is regulated primarily by anonymous market forces and socially at least been based on a formal equality of the members and the freedom of scope of the individual. The parameters here are the self and the anonymous market.

In other areas of the world the focus is not on the individual, as in the relationship between equal partners, but the “We”, the family, the community. Especially in the large Chinese region it can be pinpointed at the term of guanxi ([illustration not visible in this excerpt]), which will be explained more detailed later. In this connection it is important to mention, that capitalism prevailing in China is aligned rather vertically, developing on relation- based hierarchies, although due to the rather medium-size of Chinese enterprises not as strict as for example in Japan. No anonymous market in the western sense exists nevertheless in this guanxi-capitalism.7

Confidence is the central factor here, which leads back to the system-inherent uncertainty in China. To entrepreneurs business is very expensive in time and resources, since first personal relations have to be built and kept working.8

Besides, this different understanding of free-market economy has relevant effects on for example the influence of politics on the economic processes. In the Asian model it can be steered substantially more free of doubts by politics than in the European model, due to the strong hierarchical characteristics. In far parts this has to do with the selfunderstanding of humans as individuals or parts of a whole something, that finds its expression considerably in the role of religion in the society.


1 cp. SMITH, A.

2 cp. POHL, p. 112 et sqq.

3 cp. WEBER, M., p. 534

4 cp. DODDS, E. R.

5 cp. BENEDICT, R. F:


7 cp. BÖTTCHER, S., p. 35 et sqq.

8 cp. MÄRKT, S., p. 162 et seq.

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Prevailing schools of thought in the PR China and their effects on economic and social acting of humans today
University of Applied Sciences Berlin
International Management
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Prevailing, China, International, Management
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Philipp Kardinahl (Author), 2008, Prevailing schools of thought in the PR China and their effects on economic and social acting of humans today, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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