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December 13, 2011

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Confucius on wealth and justice

CONFUCIUS (551-479 BC) didn't concern himself much with business, but he was not anti-wealth and his teachings indicate the importance of harmony between profit or wealth and justice.

"One who on seeing profit thinks of righteousness may be considered a perfect man," he said.

"For wealth that can legitimately be pursued, I will go after it even by doing lowly jobs; but for wealth that must not be pursued, I will not pursue it," he also said.

Those who would apply Confucian principles to business cite Confucius' emphasis on ren (benevolence), stability and harmony, the good of the larger group or society, the importance of hierarchical relationships and filial piety, as well as reciprocity and do-unto-others.

By extension, the head of a company is like the father in a family or head of state; he acts for the good of the whole and treats others with fairness. His employees, like children, owe him obedience and respect; he in turn cares for them.

The first Confucian merchant is said to have been Zi Gong, a successful merchant before he became a disciple of the sage. Zi Gong conducted large-scale trade across different kingdoms and was the wealthiest of all disciples. He made friends with people in high places and was appointed to high office.

Another role model of wealthy Confucian businessmen was Fan Li from the state of Yue in the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC), a former government official and adviser.


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