The “Regulations on Medical Ethics for Medical Professionals in the PRC” promulgated by the Chinese Ministry of Health function as contemporary moral rules for medical professionalism. The principles underlying these ethical rules are not that different from those underlying bio-medical ethics in the West, which provides a broad platform for medical ethics and moral codes. However, this paper explores Confucian moral teachings to supplement the current discourse related to professional ethics. The issue up for discussion is how medical professionalism can be reconstructed based on Confucianism. This paper outlines the Confucian ethics that formed the cultural context in which traditional Chinese medical practice is perceived and conducted.
According to Confucianism and especially the tradition of ruyi (or literati-physicians), “humanness (ren) is the art of medicine and healing.” Medical practice is considered part of the process of moral self-cultivation. Accordingly, the principles of Confucian ethics in medicine are not confined to regulating the external conduct of the professional agent, but are extended to cultivate the internal disposition of the moral agent, allowing a physician to fully understand the appropriate relationship between the physician and patient. Moral codes and regulations are necessary and essential for sustaining any sound medical practice. However, according to Confucian teachings, it is more important for medical professionalism to involve a mechanism that can transform medical practice from a technical craft into a spiritual pathway.