Towards a Confucian Virtue Bioethics: Reframing Chinese Medical Ethics in a Market Economy

  • Ruiping Fan


This essay addresses a moral and cultural challenge facing health care in the People’s Republic of China: the need to create an understanding of medical professionalism that recognizes the new economic realities of China and that can maintain the integrity of the medical profession. It examines the rich Confucian resources for bioethics and health care policy by focusing on the Confucian tradition’s account of how virtue and human flourishing are compatible with the pursuit of profit. It offers the Confucian account of the division of labor and the financial inequalities this produces with special attention to China’s socialist project of creating the profession of barefoot doctors as egalitarian peasant physicians and why this project failed. It then further develops the Confucian acknowledgement of the unequal value of different services and products and how this conflicts with the current system of payment to physicians which has led to the corruption of medical professionalism through illegal supplementary payments. It further gives an account the oblique intentionality of Confucian moral psychology that shows how virtuous persons can pursue benevolent actions while both foreseeing profit and avoiding defining their character by greed. This account of Confucian virtue offers the basis for a medical professionalism that can function morally within a robustly profit-oriented market economy. The paper concludes with a summary of the characteristics of Confucian medical professionalism and of how it places the profit motive within its account of virtue ethics.


Medical professinalism Confucianism virtue profit corruption 



The author is grateful to Professor H. T. Engelhardt, Jr., Professor Yongfu Cao and Professor Yali Cong for their generous assistance in the development of the argument presented in this essay. He also wishes to thank Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Sulmasy, editorial assistant Ann Young, and the two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their useful comments and suggestions for finalizing the essay.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public and Social Administration CityUniversity of Hong KongKowloonChina

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