“A popular recent joke in China tells of two Communist Party members enjoying drinks in a fancy bar in downtown Shanghai. One says to the other: ‘I think I’ve lost touch with my comrades.’ The second asks: ‘Are you sure?’ Replies the first: ‘Ya, every time I type into Baidu the word “comrade” I get nobody.’ The joke’s pedestrian, but its popularity is another reminder that the language of twentieth-century Chinese communism has found its destiny, in the dustbin of local wit.
“Presuming the CCP apparatus retains its grip on power, and supposing its governing machinery requires the oil of public legitimacy, what will replace Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the dominant language of state power? Are there plausible substitutes for the old ruling ideology?
“Such questions occupy the heart of a recent New York Times op-ed piece by Jiang Qing (founder of the Yangming Confucian Academy in Guiyang) and Daniel A. Bell (a prominent Canadian scholar of Chinese politics). They call for a new moral foundation for political rule and everyday life in China. To the surprise of most China watchers, they say, ‘Western liberal democracy’ has no future in China. Their swipe against Francis Fukuyama and the American foreign policy establishment is backed by a strong preference for Confucian notions of Humane Authority.
“Qing and Bell explain that the current revival of Confucianism in China is fuelled by the moral bankruptcy of communism. They presume (or hope) that Confucian values are destined, with Party help, to replace communism as the ruling ideas. Their anticipation underestimates the magnetism of other values. Their silence about the conspicuous consumption of the middle classes and the hyper-rich ‘princelings’ is typical. Can risky market innovation, profit and self-interested greed of the ‘small person’ (xiăorén) denounced by Confucius be combined with his teachings on the saintly, scholarly, ascetic ‘perfect man’ (jūnzĭ)? Or (to take another example) how many Chinese women will be willing to embrace the old Confucian values of chastity, silence, hard work and compliance? Qing and Bell don’t say.
“Playing the role of court intellectuals, they yearn for a ‘progressive’ politics of Confucianism. Central to their vision is a strategy for building a new governing institution to replace the leading role of the Party. The sketch includes plans for a tri-cameral legislature. It would comprise a House of Exemplary Persons guided by mandates from heaven; a House of the Nation, whose representatives are imbued with ‘wisdom from history and culture’; and an appointed or elected House of the People.
“The blueprint seems quixotic.” To continue reading this article from The Conversation, click here.