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Sub-Cultural Differences in Information Ethics across China:
Focus On Chinese Management Generation Gaps


As management educators, business consultants, and academic researchers based in (the People’s Republic of) China, we have become increasingly concerned about ethics. We perceive that many of our students and clients and even some of our professional peers tend to neglect or inadequately consider the ethical aspects of their decisions and actions. Advice to behave more ethically often falls on deaf ears. As relatively experienced members of our respective professions, we perceive that younger people tend to be particularly ignorant or dismissive about ethical dilemmas when they involve the “management” of information and its associated technology. A fellow professor studying the One Child Policy in mainland China recently expressed a similar concern, saying “I seriously doubt that those born after 1980 have any sense of shame or respect”. Others portray the younger generation in China as self-centered and pampered (Zhang, 2009). As scholars deeply interested in history, we recognize that these are not new or unique perceptions and portrayals. Elders in societies throughout the ages are likely to have held similar viewpoints. However, our specific concerns about the ethics of the younger generation in China have been reinforced by the following: thefts of intellectual property by technicians repairing computing equipment under the supervision of young managers (cf. Lee and Patel, 2008), the misappropriation of copyrighted materials associated with the Beijing Olympics by youthful “entrepreneurs” (Zhang, 2008), and widespread cheating on college entrance exams (cf. Xinhua, 2009) as well as many other educational tests. As social scientists, we have acted upon our concerns by conducting specific research. With respect to the ethics of managing information, we believe that it is critical to move beyond speculation, anecdotes, and personal biases. We aimed to systematically gather and analyze objective evidence that is useful for discussion and policy making. Consequently, we undertook a large-scale study of managers across China. This article reports on the sub-cultural differences that we found, with a specific focus on the generational gaps in the information ethics of these key decision makers.