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Abstract

We combined scenarios based on information ethics issues identified by Mason (privacy, accuracy, property, and access) with questions based on the stages of moral development proposed by Kohlberg to empirically test two theories rooted in sociology: generational subculture theory and life-cycle theory. Evidence from more than 1,100 managers across China strongly supports generational subculture theory by revealing significant differences in information ethics among the Republican, Revolutionary, and Reform generations. The generation gaps suggest that events such as the Cultural Revolution as well as the implementation of both the Open Door Policy and the One-Child Policy have shaped the information ethics of Chinese managers. We also discovered fundamental tensions between Western moral philosophies (based on rules, democracy, individual rights, and personal freedoms) and the traditions of Chinese culture (based on relationships, hierarchy, collective responsibilities, and social harmony). The ethical dimensions of the evolution from traditional China to modern China, and from particularistic trust to systemic trust, are discussed. Combined with previous Chinese management research by Martinsons, our study implies that it will be difficult to resolve data privacy and intellectual property issues. It also raises concerns about cross-cultural research such as GLOBE and Hofstede that rely on narrow demographic samples. Further research is recommended to examine the information and knowledge management of Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (or Millennial Generation), and other sub-cultural groups, in order to determine the generalizability of “doing the right thing”.

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