Developing Awareness of Professional Military Ethics at the Chinese Naval Academy in Taiwan


by Wei-Lee Lu1, Fon-Yean Chang2, Sheng-Te Chang3, Chin-Ping Wang4, Tien-Hsing Yang1, Jong-Yun Hao1, Chih-Hung Li1 and Yiing-Jang Yang1

1 Department of Applied Science, Chinese Naval Academy, Taiwan.

2 Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling, National Pintung Teacher’s College, Taiwan.

3 Department of Political Science, Chinese Naval Academy, Taiwan.

4 Department of Literature, Chinese Naval Academy, Taiwan.


(The views presented herein are entirely those of the author, and do not represent the official position of the JSCOPE conference, Chinese Naval Academy, or the Department of Defense, Taiwan.)

(This paper is still a preliminary one, as some of the wording may not be accurate due to the double barrier that comes from my own speciality and cultural background.  There should be some revision before the formal publication)



This article tries to propose a tentative direction for promoting military ethics education in the traditional Confucian cultural tradition context. A brief comparison of the cultural difference between western and Chinese society is discussed. We conjecture that an Evolutionary Ethics aspect might be suitable for promoting the ethics education in the Chinese socio-psychological context. Some of the working strategies of present stage are also discussed. We hope that we can learn more experience from the US military academies in designing the military course.



One of the most important issues in the military education is the related leadership education. It is also an important education content that makes the difference in personal character between a well-trained officer and an ordinary citizen. It is this military leadership education which, besides all other military technical profession training issues, makes the necessity of the military academies. Without this cultural spirits in the military academies, there might be any difference between a civilian college and a military academy in a broad sense. However, a good character of military leadership could not be far from the moral and ethics that embedded in it. The root of leadership are in ideals: moral principle (such as justice and beneficence), high-minded values (such as loyality, integrity, consideration for others), and selfless service (Donnithorne, 1993). This is the reason that the spirit of “leadership with character” is inherited in almost all the US military academies and is set as an integral part of the educational curriculum.

From the cultural aspect, the Taiwan society has been long in a cultural crisis time ever since the capitalistic production system transplanted from the western society to the rural Taiwan. Although the capitalistic system do set up a much more prosperous society, it does not help much on the development of our cultural system. The prosperity seems to bring us less than we got and the psychological nihility pervades most of our society. The social status of a person is judged by how much money he got than whether he is a virtuous person. This is the reason that we can find some social disorder syndrome in our society. Some of the intellectuals in our country has already calls to lend an impetus to the professional ethics education. But still there are some query to promote this kind of education. Most objector would point out that this kind of education is purely evolved from the western civilization and it might not be suitable for our society. Others are inclined to stress our Confucian cultural tradition and try to resolve the social disorder only by stressing the traditional values.    

The Chinese Society has long been recognized as a moral and ethical society due to the Confucian cultural tradition. The Confucian morality satisfies the conditions of a holistic moral education, as it involves moral understanding, commitment and will, motivations and sentiments. Its basic principles of interpersonal relations include most of the virtue of a person: justice, truthfulness, equality and liberty by advocating virtues of character such as wisdom, courage, trust and love (Wei 1990).

In my opinion, the question of promoting a modern professional ethics education in our society and military institutes has touch upon the basic issues of how to “creative transformation of the Chinese cultural tradition” and the issues of “modernization of the Confucian cultural tradition” (Lin 1989 and Hwang 1996). We would expected this kind of “creative transformation” can rebuild our traditional core symbols, concepts, values, and behavioral patterns of Chinese cultural heritage such that it can be used to promote both the culture change and preserving the cultural identity in the process of rebuilding (Hwang 1996).

To give some idea of the current status, the second section will talk about the present socio-psychological and cultural context in Taiwan. The third section will discuss and propose some philosophical point of view and operational methods of promoting the military ethics education under the Confucian cultural tradition context. Section four is devoted to our present working strategy toward the goal. Finally, a short summary will be presented.


The Socio-psychological and Cultural Context in Taiwan

One of the key concept in understanding the Chinese (and thus Taiwanese) social behavior is the term guanxi (Hwang 1998). It is known as a lubricant for the operation of the Chinese government, as manipulate other people, and even as a reason of the distortion of the legal system (Yang 1994). Kipnis (1997) studies the art of producing guanxi in a northern Chinese village also get the same picture of guanxi.

Fei (1948) is the first social scientist who propose a well known concept of “differential order” to describe the Chinese social network (shown in figure 1). He said:

Individuals in a Western society of individualism are akin to wooden sticks, which may be bound together by their social organization just like a bundle of sticks. The structure of Chinese society is like ripples caused by throwing a stone into a pond. Everybody is situated at the center of water rings, which are extended to reach an edge of one’s social influence. No matter when and where one finds oneself, one is always situated at the center of the flexible social network. This is not individualism, this is egoism. The Chinese are very egocentric, and all of their values are oriented to serve their own various needs.

picture picture

Figure 1 (temporarily unavailable).  The water ripple style of the “differential order” culture in Chinese society (left), and the wooden stick bundle style culture of western society (right).

Note that the outer circle of the western society, which act as a force to bind the individual together, may be in the form of law in a country, regulations or code of ethics in a certain professional society. While in a Chinese society, each circle is a kind of ripple of water, and it may spread out to some extend which depend on his ability, age, position, and political authority. The extend of each person’s circle will in some sense know as how much guanxi he got, and how much resource he got to affect other people to satisfy his own needs or helping others.

In the Chinese society, a person usually decide how to give out his resource to share somebody by judging the distance of the center in-between. The center of the circle (black circle) of the Chinese water ripple style concept in figure 1 represents a person’s self, according to Confucian theory, the circles from inside out representing directly-related member of one's family (mother, father, or son), the in-directed-related member of one’s family (uncle, aunt), one’s friends, the society and etcetera. One should use different ethics rules to interact with other person and to share with his resource with them by referring to the “distance of the center in-between”. Just as Confucius had said, one should share his resource with other people, however no one have unlimited resource to share with others, and thus one should give his resources to others according to the rule of “differential order”. This is the Confucian ethic theory for the “ordinary people”, and this concept deeply affect the social behavior of the Chinese served as a basis for being ren or being a person in the Chinese society. According to the Confucian perspective, it is righteous to decide who has the power of decision-making by the principle of respecting the superior; it is also righteous for the resource allocator to distribute resource by the principle of favoring the intimate (Hwang 1999). Hwang (1999) construct a theory to depict the guanxi in the psychological process of resource allocator, (figure 2) and how the Chinese are solving the conflict between oneself and other people (table 1) (Hwang 1987 and 1999).



Figure 2 (temporarily unavailable).  Psychological process of resource allocator under the Confucian ethical system (after Hwang 1999)


Table 1. A complete model of conflict resolution in Chinese society (after Hwang 1999)




personal goal attainment


dominant response



taking care of face

obey publicly and defy privately

indirect communication




giving face

fight overtly and struggle covertly

direct communication




striving for face





According to Ho (1991) and Hwang (1999),

Self is not an independent entity in Chinese culture, one has no distinctive awareness about one’s existence, uniqueness, direction, goals, and intentionally. Because there in no clear-cut boundary between oneself and others, Chinese self can be termed as relational self. It has extraordinary high sensitivity towards the existence of others, the appearance of self and others in one’s phenomenological world has been merged to such an extend that they may be separated from the world to form a “self-in-relation-with others”.

In contrast to the Ptolemian view of human nature which conceives person as an individual standing against the world, Chinese tend to adopt a Galiean view which conceptualizes person as someone embedded in a social network. Therefore, the psychological study social actions from the perspective of relational orientation even when patterning to a single individual ,must extend its domain to include more interaction between the individual and other people.


At this point, we may state that the Socio-psychological and Cultural Context in Taiwan seems to be totally different from the western society, and that if we would like to promote the western cultural based ethics education in both our society and military academy, we need some kind of “creative transformation” of the Chinese cultural tradition” and the “modernization of the Confucian cultural tradition” (Lin 1989 and Hwang 1996), so that this kind of creative transformation can rebuild our traditional core symbols, concepts, values, and behavioral patterns of Chinese cultural heritage without the destruction of the cultural identity (Hwang 1996).


The need for a developing philosophical and operational theory

As the journalist G. K. Chesterton have suggested: every education teaches a philosophy, if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not an education at all.

Here we would like to discuss some of the ethical theories for the development of the military ethics education under the Confucian cultural tradition.


1. The Ethical Theories for the development of the Military Professional Ethics Education:

There are three ethical theories for the development of the professional ethical education, namely, the utilitarian ethics, the deontological ethics, and the virtue ethics. The Utilitarianism is often used as a theoretical based for the business ethics education and is widely accepted by the business society. However, as many scholar have criticized, this kind of theory could not help people get through the darkness of nihilism that we are all suffering (Shen 1996). Turn to the deontological ethics, it usually emphasize on one’s behaving according to obligations for their own sake, and in the present context of the destruction of moral and ethical codes, too much emphasis on the one’s obligation just could not encourage moral action (Shen 1996). Finally, we come to the theory of virtue ethics. The virtue ethics theory seems to be the most appropriate one for the theory of professional military ethics education and for the build up of the military leadership concept (Pfaff 1998).

However, there might be still some barrier for us to promote the professional ethics education both in our country and military institutes due to the social, socio-psychological and cultural aspect, as we have stated in the previous section.

We believe that in the western society there is also so called guanxi or relationship exist among people, but as the western people are more tend to the individualism in contract to the collectivism tendency in the Chinese society, there should be less guanxi in their consideration of how to interact with other person in the western society. This cultural context in the Chinese society might be used to conjecture why there are so many rules, regulation, and law already being enforced but there seems no one tends to follow the rules, regulations, and law seriously. People in the Chinese society might easily break the rules, regulations, or even the law just because his relative or good friend are in a higher position and can cover him up, and still most other think this behavior is righteous. Of course, this situation are getting better due to the democratization of our society and the promotion of the independent of the conduct of the Justice Department in Taiwan. However, we believe that it might still be very hard to promote the professional ethics education and the military ethics education by using the western ethics education prototype due to our “differential order” concept of ethical conduct. Then, are there any ethics theory that might be referred to promote the education? Here, we would like to propose tentatively referring to the Evolutionary Ethics aspect to promote our ethics education.

Evolutionary Ethics aspect might be still controversial and even dangerous ones from the point of view of some scholars in the western society, but it seems to us that this theory is much more adaptable to the Chinese society and culture. The works of Richard Dawkins’ “The selfish gene” (Dawkins 1976), and Ernst Mayr’s “This is biology” (Mayr 1997) may shed some light for us to introspect our struggling to bridge over the cultural barrier regarding the “differential order” concept of ethical conduct. We are also attracted by Robert Axelord’s idea of Altruism and his theory of the evolution of cooperation (Axelord 1981). However, in our judgment, this aspect is still under development and new findings from the genetic engineering research may correct some point of view of the Evolutionary Ethics and we are welcoming any criticism to adjust our aspect.  


2. The Operational Method for the development of the Military Professional Ethics Education:

As our group member are almost all new comer in this field of study, we would like to follow some specific point of view as our so called “operational method” for the development of the military professional ethics education. Hwang (1999) proposed a multi-paradigm oriented research methodology to the indigenous of the socio-psychology research. He advocate that the contemporary social science is originated from the Renaissance back in 16th century. If we are going to develop indigenous social science, we should study the philosophy of science of the western society first, then use it as a tool to examine our own society and culture, and this might be the way we have to follow to promote the indigenous socio-psychology study. We are likely to refer Hwang’s work (1999) as our starting point to promote our research on the development of ethics education.

In order to be more considerate about the cultural difference in doing the psychological research of the moral status of the cadets, we are also attracted by the methodology proposed by Triandis (1999) who advocating in using more complex methods to confirm the hypotheses of a researcher by showing convergence of findings in surveys, experiments, content analysis of materials, systematic observations, and examination of ethnographic materials (Triandis 1999).


The working strategy

This section is devoted to an overview of our current and future research strategy. In general, our military ethics education promotion strategy is more like a bottom-up research oriented instead of a top-down working strategy. That means we are going to build up the common consensus from a small group research scale to an across institutes research scale through (1) from the build up of the assessment tools to the promotion of the ethics course instead of developing an ethics course directly, (2) from the teaching of professional ethics concepts in science and engineering course to facilitate a stand along course, (3) from referring the prototype of the western military ethics course development to develop our own military ethics course, and (4) dividing the research topics of the military professional ethics into: leadership, engineering ethics, administrative ethics, educational ethics, and try to integrate them into a holistic military ethics course content.

Our present research team includes four physics background teachers, one Chinese Literature background teacher, two psychology and counseling background teachers, and one statistical background teacher. Currently we are administrating James Rest’s DIT test to our cadets. To our knowledge, the DIT would not be able to find the moral stage change during a short term (four years) survey and it might not be able to differentiate the progress of moral stages for the same professional (the subjects are all cadets). We are now developing a new DIT test for the military personnel. To mimic the real context of the military service, the dilemma for the DIT test has been collected from our interviewing with some of our Navy Captains. We hope that we can develop this questionnaire through a more conscientious and careful test of its validity and reliability, and we hope that maybe we can launch some cooperation with the US military academies to compare the testing results.

Recently, the Ministry of Education in our country has provides a four year budget for all the universities to apply for the "Program for Promoting General Education in Universities". The project will be started on this September. We have submitted a four year project to develop an ethics course for the military academies. We hope we can get the budget and we would like to seek more experience from the US military academies with some kind of joint cooperation.



As we have mentioned earlier, we only propose some working direction for the promoting the military ethics education in the Chinese cultural context. This working direction would be a tentative approach. We hope that we can get the support from the MOE to launch the research, and we also hope that we can learn more experience of the ethics education from the US military academies. The cultural aspect should also be an important consideration during the research and promotion stages. Without the cultural retrospection and some kind of cultural creative transformation process, we might not be able to facilitate the effectiveness of the military ethics education in our country.



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The research group would like to have a special thanks to Professor George R. Lucas Jr. of the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law, USNA. Our project has been inspirited by Prof. Lucas since three years ago as I was having a first private visit to the USNA. We would also like to thank CAP. Mark Clemente, Prof. David Johnson, and LCDR T.W. Strother for their warm welcoming and constructive talks during my first and second visits. Finally, I would like to cherish my memory of the first contact via the internet with the late Prof. Karl Montor. Although we never met in person, it was his kindness and generosity that we can have a good starting point for the research. We owe all of them much.