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After several months of speculation, it was announced publicly that Zhou Yongkang, China’s former chief of security and member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) had been officially placed under investigation on corruption charges. Some $14.5 billion in assets were seized from Zhou’s family members and close associates, reportedly, along with the arrest and questioning of more than 300 of them.
Initially, the country’s anti-corruption drive was met with widespread scepticism both inside and outside China, but with Zhou’s arrest and the mind-boggling sums reported, the worldwide public were somewhat reassured.
However, this campaign has hardly been matched by any major effort to insert anti-corrupt and ethical business practices into any area of business education across mainland Chinese business schools, which is staggering.
That’s not to say that corruption and unethical conduct on an unimaginable scale remain the preserve of government officials. Infringement of intellectual property rights remains a major headache for the majority of the most famous and sought after global brands in China.
Even though Transparency International, the anti-sleaze watchdog, ranks China as slightly less corrupt than its fellow Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, it remains significantly behind more developed market economies of the West in improving business ethics.
The yawning gap in business ethics and social responsibility courses across mainland Chinese business schools becomes even more difficult to fathom when considered alongside the continuing increase in such courses across Western business schools.
In the West, this trend took off almost 20 years ago at almost the precise time that Beijing’s Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management launched China’s first MBA programme.
In fact, more and more Western business schools are developing entire masters programmes in the area of business ethics. London University’s Birkbeck College offers precisely this with a two-year Master of Science degree entitled corporate governance and business ethics. The University of Nottingham’s Business School and Cambridge University’s Judge Business School both promote business ethics and corporate governance courses clearly on their websites.
The dearth of business ethics education in China is immediately apparent with just a cursory glance at the local business education currently on offer.
The School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua has a course on ethics and corporate accountability for first-year MBA students. But — sadly — this is a rare sight.
The anti-corruption fight might be in full swing at central government level but Chinese business schools now need to step up and contribute with a massive injection of anti-corruption courses. They should be implored to develop and deliver similar courses to those offered at most Western business schools and ensure that these courses are made compulsory choices, not sidelined as optional electives. In addition, where feasible, business ethics courses should be overseen, if not taught, by experienced Western business school scholars.
Chinese business culture is, in part at least, a reflection of the country’s business education sector. More business ethics programmes should, therefore, lead to a less corrupt Chinese business culture and society.
The author is a visiting professor at China’s University of International Business and Economics and a senior lecturer at Southampton Solent University’s School of Business in the UK
This article has been amended since initial publication