An investigative study of Confucian humanism in the ...?An Investigative Study of Confucian Humanism...
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An Investigative Study of Confucian Humanism in the
Development and Maintenance of Korean Business Groups
Calvin Chong Kun Lee
Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Business Administration.
Faculty of Business and Enterprise Swinburne University of Technology
Foreword This thesis has been prepared for submission in December 2008 to fulfil the requirements
of the degree of Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) at Swinburne University of
Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
The study is trans-temporal and cross-disciplinary, and crosses cultural and linguistic
boundaries of the East Asian nations of Korea, Japan and Greater China, and deploys
tri-lingual vocabulary and concepts.
Names of figures, places and events already popularised in the English language have
been kept as in common use. Others have followed the international conventions of
Romanisation as below:
For Korean, the McCune-Reischauer system1 has been used. In the quotation of other
works the conventions used by original sources have been maintained, unless changes
were considered imperative.
For Japanese, the Hepburn system2 has been used together with modification made to it
by Kenkyushas new Japanese-English Dictionary, 3rd edition. In the quotation of other
works, the conventions used by the original sources have been honoured, unless changes
were considered necessary to maintain integrity of the texts.
For Chinese, the Wade-Giles system3 has been used and pinyin equivalents are shown
where deemed necessary. In the quotation of other works, the conventions used by
original sources have been used, unless changes were considered desirable.
1 McCune-Reischauer system: http://mccune-reischauer.org, examined 20 August 2008. 2 Hepburn system: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/japanese.pdf, examined 20 August 2008. 3 Wade-Giles system, http://www.loc.gov/catdir/pinyin/romcover.html, examined 20 August 2008.
This study on Confucianism and Korean business groups is designed to examine
Confucianism as a belief system and way of life in Korea in history and today, and how
it influenced the birth and evolution of business groups.
This thesis contains no material which has been submitted for examination in any other
Confucianism is seen as a contiguous culture amongst the industrialised East Asian
nations, namely, Korea, Japan and Greater China. The study explores how common or
similar intellectual and cultural grounding influences for societal and economic ethics.
The study also examines Confucian humanism and its ethical implications for business
groups in Korea. Comparative examinations are also made, where possible and
necessary, with the conglomerates of other East Asian nations, in particular those of
The main research question lies in two hypothesised questions:
(I) Does the foundation a ethics of Korean business groups derive from
Confucianism and do their operating principles still remain anchored at the
(ii) Does Confucian humanism remain central to Korean business groups as the
principal determinant of their global strategies and the underpinning of corporate
Three elements of research strategy were deployed, namely (1) literature review, (2)
focus group discussions and (3) documentation corroborations.
The literature reviewed been selected mostly from the scholarly works of Korea and
other Confucian East Asian countries, and also from those of non-Asian international
Narrative data were obtained from the focus group discussions. Discussants were from
the five functional groups on the level of senior managers of as many leading business
groups. Discussants were selected from those with substantial interest in, or
understanding of Confucianism. Those five occupational sectors represented are: 1)
strategic management group, 2) global network management group, 3) research and
development, 4) labour and union relations, and 5) investor relations and
Documentation was referenced as complementary to narrations and also as
corroboration of what the focus groups expressed through unstructured discussions.
Documentary sources were corporate internal documents public use, government or
official publications, and media-based databases.
The study explores the origin of Confucianism and proceeds to examine how the
Confucian philosophical tradition gave naissance to Confucian humanism as a living
tradition. From Confucian humanism, the thesis proceeds to examine Confucian
governance (ching shih) that remained the central theme of Confucian public service
since the adoption of orthodox Confucianism as the state ideology of China and Korea,
and governance of senior management of business groups in modern corporate
While the Confucian ideal of the sagely sovereigns persists as an enduring
governance model, complementary and alternative political views of more egalitarian
inclinations, such as that of Mencius, also take up a good part of the governance theme.
The role of Confucian lifelong self-cultivation and education has been examined as the
foundation of character-building and the reservoir of human capital for societal and
corporate roles vis--vis knowledge-based industries, where business groups in Korea
As regards the modern context of Confucian governance, its interactions and
accommodation of the modern democratic institution of global governance have been
examined beyond its fertile demo-centric Confucian social ethos and egalitarian strand
of Confucian tradition.
The study highlights the fact that the Confucian tradition of humanity that Confucius
and his disciples formulated in the Classical age has endured through the ages to
modernity. The Confucian cosmology of the human to nature nexus and the
Confucian spirituality of cosmic immanence in the self provide clues to the multi-
layered structure of Confucian consciousness of self, selves and the greater self,
namely society or the Heaven itself.
The Neo-Confucian school of mind and heart learning reinforced the inquiry into
selves in connection with nature and the universe. Religious tolerance and the
adaptability of Confucianism have stood out as important qualities in the globalization
of East Asian values and ethos, including those of Korean. The secularism and
spirituality of Confucianism benefited from the peaceful co-existence amongst the three
great philosophical traditions of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, blessed as they
are with very little inter-religious conflict throughout history.
The thesis, as an inquiry into Confucian humanism as a living tradition of extraordinary
resilience as applied to the nascence and evolution of business groups, concludes by
answering the main research question as expressed in its two associated hypotheses.
Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword (with Romanisation Conventions) i Abstract ii Table of Contents v Acknowledgements ix Declaration x List of Tables, Diagrams and Figures xi
Chapter One: Introduction 1.1 INTRODUCTION 1
1.1.1 Industrialised Confucian East-Asia and Korea 1 1.1.2 Aims 2 1.1.3 Rationale 2
1.2 ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF CONFUCIANISM AND ITS HUMNANISM AS THE FOUNDATION ETHICS OF KOREAN CONGLOMERATES
1.3 RESEARCH STRATEGY 6 1.3.1 Research Elements 6
1.4 ROADMAP OF THESIS AND TIMELINE 8 1.4.1 Roadmap 8 1.4.2 Timeline 9
1.5 SUMMARY 9
Chapter Two: Origin and Evolution of Confucian Humanism 2.1 INTRODUCTION 10
2.1.1 Main Strands of Confucian Ideas and Key Figures 11 2.2 CONFUCIANISM 12
2.2.1 Collective Intentionality 13 2.2.2 The Contributions of the Korean Neo-Confucian Toegye 14
2.2.3 Self-cultivation and Humanism 15 2.3 CONFUCIAN HUMANISM 16
2.3.1 Confucian Humanity 16 2.3.2 Mencian Humanism and Governance Ideals 18 2.3.3 Chung-Yung (The Doctrine of the Mean): Superior Personhood,
Community of Trust and Sincerity 20
2.3.4 Confucianism and its Encounter with Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism 23 2.3.5 I Ching: Source of Imagination for Confucian Creativity 26
2.4 CONFUCIAN GOVERNANCE 29 2.4.1 Governance: Sovereign as a Sage Ideal: Ching-hsi 29 2.4.2 Legalism: An Alternative to Confucian and Mencian Views 31 2.4.3 Confucian Power-Knowledge (governmentality), Hierarchy and
2.5 CONFUCIAN REFORMATION: REDISCOVERY AND PRACTICAL LEARNING 35 2.5.1 Chang Tsai and the Coming of Neo-Confucianism 35 2.5.2 Chu Hsi: Reformation and Integration into Neo-Confucianism 37 2.5.3 The Lu-Wang School: A Major Challenge to Chu Hsi Orthodoxy of Neo-
2.5.4 Wang Yang-ming and the School of Yang-ming 44 2.5.5 Practical Learning: Sirhak in Yi Dynasty Korea 48
2.6 SUMMARY 52
Chapter Three: Confucian Business Groups 3.1 INTRODUCTION 54
3.2 OVERVIEW OF THE KOREAN ECONOMY 55 3.3 CONFUCIANISM AND KOREAN BUSINESS GROUPS: PHASES 1-4 58 3.4 PHASE 1: INCEPTION AND NATI