Engineering Ethics Studies in China: Dialogue Between Traditionalism and Modernism

TitleEngineering Ethics Studies in China: Dialogue Between Traditionalism and Modernism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsZhu, Q.
Secondary TitleEngineering Studies
ISBN Number1937-8629
KeywordsChina, engineering ethics, history of engineering ethics, modernism, traditionalism

This paper maps approaches to engineering ethics in the People’s Republic of China. It is addressed primarily to English-language scholars interested in learning more about one aspect of the complex historical and cultural context of technological education in a nation that now graduates more engineers than any other in the world. Although the basic terms of this mapping - i.e., traditionalism vs. modernism - will strike some non-Chinese readers as too simple, it nevertheless represents a common conceptualization within the community of discourse being presented. Engineering ethics studies in China today are constituted by a dialogue between traditional Chinese value systems concerning engineering and modernist perspectives influenced by both Marxism and more technoscientifically advanced nations as a result of global technology transfers and economic exchanges. As a preliminary exploration of this dialogue, the paper offers a historical-philosophical narrative of engineering and engineering ethics in China as reflective of traditional attitudes shaped by engineering in the premodern sense of ’gong cheng’ and its modern reinterpretation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The paper then outlines some of the main research areas in contemporary Chinese engineering ethics studies. Finally, in the face of globalization, the traditionalism-modernism tension is used to characterize contemporary challenges in engineering ethics in China. The paper concludes with an argument addressed more to Chinese than to non-Chinese scholars, suggesting a need to rethink engineering ethics in order to redefine the meaning of ’made in China’.