In 1995, at a time when China was opening up to Free Enterprise, my colleague, Dr Fan Ying, and I wrote a paper entitled “Chinese Cultural Values and Entrepreneurship” (Kirby and Fan, 1995). We even won a “Best Paper” award for it. We had concluded that although some cultural values are important, generally speaking, “Confucian values are not supportive of entrepreneurship”. However, since then the economy has flourished, with Chinese SME numbers increasing rapidly. By 2003 accounting for some 98% of all its businesses, 60% of its GNP and 40% of its profits and taxes (Anderson et al., 2003). What does this mean then, in terms of the role of traditional cultural values? Does it mean that China has abandoned them, or does it mean we need to adapt our theories of entrepreneurship, based as they are on traditional western contexts? This was the question posed in 1995.
Today, one cultural value abandoned in the search for prosperity and wealth appears to be that of ‘Harmony’. 750 million Chinese have moved out of extreme poverty as a consequence of the country’s economic growth, with 100 million of its population among the top 10% of the world’s wealthiest people. At the same time, the air pollution and damage to the environment that has occurred suggest that the concept of ‘Harmony with nature’ is no longer a prime consideration. Despite efforts to improve air quality, pollution levels in China have reportedly risen; contributing to more than 30 million deaths between 2000 and 2016 in China and Taiwan (Lu, 2020). This is somewhat surprising as ‘Harmony’ is at the core of Chinese traditional culture, long recognised that “all things under the sun will flourish when harmony prevails.” (Xun Zi, 310BC- 235BC). More recently, former President Hu Jintao has recognised that “when the environment is seriously damaged, people’s living conditions will worsen and economic growth will outstrip the supply of resources and energy. Under such circumstances, social harmony is difficult to achieve”.
Given the need for wealth creation and economic development coupled with a concern for the environment and society, harmonious entrepreneurship could be the way forward. Whereas economic entrepreneurship focuses on wealth creation, ecopreneurship on the environment, humane entrepreneurship on people and social entrepreneurship on society, harmonious entrepreneurship recognises the interconnectivity of the ecosystem and harmonises or integrates all four approaches in its attempt to address the sustainability challenge (Kirby and El-Kaffas forthcoming)
Is this the way forward for China?
Anderson, AR. Li, J., and Harrison, R.T. (2003).The increasing role of small business in the Chinese economy. Journal of Small Business Management, 41(3) 310-316
Kirby, D.A. and El-Kaffass, I. (Forthcoming). Harmonious Entrepreneurship: a new approach to the global sustainability challenge. The World Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development.
Kirby, D.A. and Fan, Y. (1995). Chinese Cultural Values and Entrepreneurship: A preliminary consideration. Journal of Enterprising Culture. 3(03), 245-260.
Lu, D. (2020). Air pollution in China may have caused millions of deaths since 2000, New Scientist, 21st September 2020. Available: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2254967-air-pollution-in-china-may-have-caused-millions-of-deaths-since-2000/
Image: Shanghai, China Photoholgic