CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Christian vocation of business world

HONG KONG (SE): “The Catholic understanding of business as a vocation can be enriched and deepened by learning from the experiences of Chinese Evangelical Christians,” Dennis McCann, the director of research at Rothlin International Management Consulting based in Beijing and Hong Kong, told a seminar at the Tenth Annual Gathering of the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network held in Hong Kong from July 20 to 24.

Speaking at the Ming Hua Theological College on the topic of New Questions and Contexts for Catholicism in Chinese Society on July 21, McCann explored the question of what impact Christian faith has upon the way Christians doing business in China perceive their moral challenges and respond to them.

He pointed to an extensive study carried out among Chinese Christians in Hong Kong, which questioned people on the connection between faith, business management and work.

McCann pointed out that most of those interviewed could put a date on their conversion to Christianity and many could name a critical incident, but the study also found that becoming a Christian rarely affected moral behaviour either in business of other areas of life.

He noted that the main reason for this is that they were highly moral people in the first place, who were not seeking to clean up their act, but to find a spirituality to underpin and strengthen it.

The big areas of challenge named by those interviewed were the culture of big drinking banquets in business in China, often accompanied by sex romps in karaoke bars referred to as male bonding, as well as the necessity of paying bribes in order to make any headway.

Swiss Jesuit, Father Stephan Rothlin, from the Macau Ricci Institute, said he believes that one big issue that needs to be addressed is how to make economic development sustainable and this requires a universally accepted business ethic.

Father Rothlin, who in his everyday life conducts seminars in business ethics in China, said that he believes that by promoting the vocation of business, Christianity can make an impact on Chinese culture.

He pointed out that the Catholic Church has a huge body of social teaching and, without revealing the sources of any Church teaching, the principles can be spelled out for Chinese business people within a cultural context which they are able to accept.

He explained that people come to his seminars because they are disturbed by the business milieu in which they find themselves, so he must be able to offer them a pragmatic process that is both healing and redemptive.

He quoted extensively from Memory and Identity (2005), by Pope John Paul II, where he asked how we can speak of God at Auschwitz.

“You can’t just trot out pious platitudes,” he said, “our teaching must be healing and redemptive. Much of our conversation after World War II was critical, but while it may have been somewhat healing, it was not redemptive, so the violence has in one way or another repeated itself.”

He pointed out that China uses religion as a cheap means of social control, so the challenge the moral person faces is not to get coopted into the government cesspool.

However, people do need convictions to counter a culture that only looks at constant economic development.

Father Rothlin pointed out that the government campaign against the flourishing Christian Churches in Wenzhou and across Zhejiang province often targeted those that had become big networks for doing business.

However, he believes that they did not set out to be business meccas, but a lot of people who had moral doubts about the dominant business culture were attracted to them, as they offered a circle of economic exchange that operates out of an alternative culture.

Consequently, these Churches were building up significant enterprise outside the specific control of the Communist Party, which makes them suspicious in the eyes of the government.

Father Rothlin used the example of the Polish union leader from the 1980s, Lech Walesa, who believed that workers’ rights were compatible with business principles, but Father Rothlin pointed out that they were not compatible with Communism, as Walesa’s triumph spelled the beginning of its collapse in Poland.

“So China is wary and mostly believes that entrepreneurial activity is not compatible with solidarity,” he said, as it is wary about any alternative system to its own being established.

He said that one thing he always advises business people is not to live a divided life, as it is important to be able to look your family in the eye upon returning from a business function or trip.

Although he admitted that in the current climate in China this can be difficult, individuals have to come to their own way of dealing with it and many decide that while some compromise is unavoidable, they make a firm decision about where they will draw their own lines.

He said that by pursuing this line a depth of life is being probed, which is not just encouraging people to fulfill a prescription or law. He also believes that in this area the Catholic Church has much to learn from the Evangelical Churches.

McCann called the social teaching of the Church a challenge to who we are, as well as the way we live, not just who we say we are or what we believe,

He described the existence of this dividing line between who we are and say we are, as a curse on society, as it leads to abuse of labour and practices like long working hours, depraving and dangerous conditions for labour, as well as low pay, lack of benefits and other abuses.

Father Rothlin said that he believes that the Evangelical Churches have much to teach Catholics in this area, as Church social teaching does have the capacity to give direction to Chinese society, but the Evangelicals have a well-honed capacity to probe the depths of souls.

He said that China is currently reexamining its developmental priorities and he believes that we should regard Church teaching as being a gift that can be offered to China.

“There are many areas from the ecology and environment to labour practices and the social milieu that people are interested in,” Father Rothlin, who has published on 15 different areas of ethnical importance in China, pointed out.

“Confucianism can be combined with wisdoms from other backgrounds. Matteo Ricci continually attempted to do this and he could combine it with friendship, which the Chinese could understand,” he pointed out.

He concluded by saying that one of the challenges today is to combine it with business ethics, as both Confucian thought and the Church have much to say about their value in building a healthy society.

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