Grace at Work in Hong Kong
Grace at Work in Hong Kong

Grace at Work in Hong Kong

June 1 st 2000

There was a king in the Han dynasty who brought 10 bags of gold to bribe Yeung Cheng. The king said, "In the middle of the night, nobody knows that you take this." Yeung Cheng said, "The sky knows, the earth knows, you know, and I know. Why do you say nobody knows?"

ABC is the respected Hong Kong purchasing office of a European department store. When they signed their first sales contract with ABC, everyone at Well-to-Do Traders was very excited. But one day, the purchasing manager at ABC said to the sales manager of Well-to-Do, "I have been working at ABC for many years. Every time I place an order with a Far East company, they pay me a commission. You must understand the high cost of living in Hong Kong."

Although there is an Independent Corporation against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, companies still found ways to pay this manager under-the-table commissions. In a mutually profitable situation, if the management of Well-to-Do could have bent the rules a little, they could have enjoyed the business like everybody else. The advantages seemed to outweigh the disadvantages. Why not go ahead with the deal?

Sometimes under-the-table commissions are viewed as a kind of gift, and all is well as long as no one mentions the word "corruption." Gifts are as old as civilization and there is no rule against them. If everyone doing business with ABC accepted under-the-table commissions as a common practice, didn't that make it acceptable, maybe even right?

Well-to-Do's sales manager could have refused to give the under-the-table commission because he believes giving bribes is wrong. On the other hand, he may have been a pliable person who values business for his company as the top priority. He may then have complied with the ABC manager's request. That would have benefitted Well-to-Do and cultivated the goodwill of the ABC manager. When confronted with such a situation, it can be difficult to discern what is right.

Relationship and trust

Although Hong Kong business people do not talk about business ethics a lot, we know in our hearts that doing the right thing is important. We like to have confidence in the quality of supermarket produce; we like not having to negotiate taxi fares; we like to trust the pilots of Cathay Pacific to bring us safely to our destinations.</>

A natural harbour and a free port has contributed to the Hong Kong success story. But we do not have to look far behind this good infrastructure to see the hard-working Chinese merchants who have migrated to this city. For the most part, these are people with high moral standards, influenced by Confucianism. If this were not the case, Hong Kong could not have become the major international financial and commercial centre it is today.

Chinese tradition makes much of good character and moral development. Personal morals are seen to serve the good of society. Civilization flows from character. Confucius concluded that the ultimate achievement of civilization was benevolence in human hearts. Confucian teaching helps build a moral framework into the Chinese person's conscience.

An example of the morality ingrained in Chinese tradition is the teaching of "benevolence, justice, respect, and trust" developed from childhood and in school, with evident results in business practice. When Chinese people do business, relationship and trust are two very important elements. Older Chinese business people like to go by their word of trust. Until recently written contracts were foreign to them.

The Bible warns us against corruption, especially when it is used to pervert justice and abuse power. "Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous" (Exodus 23:8). "A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live" (Proverbs 15:27). "The wicked accept a concealed bribe to pervert the ways of justice" (Proverbs 17:23). "A bribe corrupts the heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:7).

Missing jewel

We all make wrong moral decisions throughout our lives. If there were a judge who is always right and this judge came to judge us in our ethical behavior, we would all fail in some areas no matter how hard we tried. We need the grace of God. Grace is the undeserved favour freely bestowed on us by God. Because we are never perfect, grace is the missing jewel in business ethics.

Outside God's grace, we may strive to achieve a good character through learning and training. We may try very hard to prove to our boss, our colleagues, and our customers that we are moral people. But there is a Chinese saying: Rivers and mountains are easy to change (just look at Hong Kong's landscape today!); formed characters are difficult to change (just look at our own bad business habits).

Inside ourselves, we will feel our loads to be very heavy. Often we will feel the stress of fighting a lonely battle. Stress causes anxiety and many modern day diseases: ulcers, heart problems, psychological disorders, and more.

Acknowledging that we can be wrong is acknowledging our need for grace. Because of God's grace we can begin to walk in God's way.

The Well-to-Do sales manager had a grace option. With God's grace, he could have faith that practicing what he believes is right. He could hope that without giving a bribe he would still get the business. He could love the ABC manager and explain to him gently and sensitively the reasons why they should both avoid bribery.

The Well-to-Do manager did not jump to a hasty judgement on the ABC purchasing manager. He showed sincere understanding towards the position of the ABC manager and carefully explained the reasons why the request had to be turned down for the good of both parties.

In this true story, the ABC manager did not receive an illegal commission and still gave Well-to-Do the order. The two companies developed a long-term relationship. The Well-to-Do manager was not afraid to risk his order, and in the end he did not lose the business.

When grace is at work, the courage to say no sometimes brings unexpected outcomes.

Simon Lee
Simon Lee

Simon Lee is a businessman who commutes between Vancouver and Hong Kong.


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