A Confucian Constitution

Is this op-ed a parody or what? Everyone here will find it worth reading, but may not know whether to laugh or cry. I’d like to know what you think.

If that column gives you a headache, you can also use this as an open thread.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 102 Comments

A fundamentally unserious proposal, simply astounding that this should appear in the New York Times.

“The political future of China is far likelier to be determined by the longstanding Confucian tradition of “humane authority” than by Western-style multiparty elections.”

Based on what? The influence that Confucianism has had on Chinese politics in the last 100 years (i.e., practically none)?

“In ancient times, Humane Authority was implemented by early Chinese monarchs.”

Errm . . which ones would that be? Surely the give-away here is that they were monarchs, and their legitimacy therefore lay in the line of succession? Has ‘humane authority’ as defined in the linked essay ever existed except incidentally in China or anywhere else?

“In modern China, Humane Authority should be exercised by a tricameral legislature: a House of Exemplary Persons that represents sacred legitimacy; a House of the Nation that represents historical and cultural legitimacy; and a House of the People that represents popular legitimacy. “

Great, who chooses who forms this bodies?

“This system would have checks and balances. Each house would deliberate in its own way and not interfere in the affairs of the others.”

Right . . . just how will you ensure that exactly?

“Instead of judging political progress simply by asking whether China is becoming more democratic, Humane Authority provides a more comprehensive and culturally sensitive way of judging its political progress. “

I love how “culturally sensitive” here means “deciding on an idealised version of how things were a millennium or more ago and imposing it on the modern day regardless of any cultural changes in the meantime”.

July 11, 2012 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

FOARP, I was thinking pretty much the exact same things as I read this. I really did begin to wonder whether it was for real.

July 11, 2012 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

Jiang Qing strikes me as a fairly naive fellow; a slightly savvier Liu Xiaobo who manages to keep himself out of trouble despite having an agenda that doesn’t fit terribly well with Beijing’s. I doubt this movement has legs, but wouldn’t it be interesting if JQ’s “New Confucianism”, with his confucian seminaries and retreat centers, ended up becoming the core of a civil society that undid the CCP? Unlikely, but weirder things have happened… and with labor unions and churches out of the running, options are kind of limited…

July 11, 2012 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

Well, in the Democracy debate thread people were asking what alternatives were being promoted by dissenters within China itself… here’s one!

But probably not what you had in mind. JQ is offering an alternative to the CCP like Al-Qaeda offered to the Saudi Monarchy; the replacement of a venal, corrupt authoritarian government with a totalitarian ideological fantasy based on a mythic golden age. Not much of an alternative.

But I can’t help but applaud his methods. The seeds of subversion that he is planting may ultimately prove far more fertile than the pleadings of Charter 08, the rants of Han Han or the theatrics of Ai Weiwei. Confucians are patient and willing to bide their time.

July 11, 2012 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

Jiang Qing got a lot of attention in recent days, probably for being so different. His desire for a “Confucian” system (with a bit of participation from other philosophies, religions, etc.) is as natural as an islamist’s desire for an Islamic republic. But most Chinese people I know who took note of him think of him as a freak.

Bell, on the other hand, seems to have a soft spot for whatever kinds of grand designs that might create a political universe. If he actually believes in Jiang’s suggestions, I don’t know.

One needs to be a believer to seriously advocate a leading role for just another religion or worldview. A Chinese academic, Wang Zhicheng, actually took a look at today’s Confucianism – his review includes Jiang’s, but it’s only one Confucian current of many. I translated one of Wang’s posts, in 2009, in three instalments.

One doesn’t need to believe in “axial ages” – and the world has become so small and communicative that we can’t compare these times with those some two-thousand years ago. But I like Wang’s survey – and I think it only sees a chance for philosophies that are prepared to compete, rather than to “naturally” create rulers from their own ranks only.

July 11, 2012 @ 6:20 pm | Comment

Richard, the previous comment is from me – although its data behind it may not look like it — JR

July 11, 2012 @ 6:21 pm | Comment

This is indeed very odd. As FOARP points out, the lack of attention to the *mechanisms* of checks & balances disqualifies this as a constitutional proposal. What strikes me, though, is the gratuitous and arbitrary role of Confucius.

“…a great scholar. Candidates for membership should be nominated by scholars and examined on their knowledge of the Confucian classics”

– implies that knowledge of the Confucian classics is the touchstone of scholarship. I am not saying knowledge of the Confucian classics is in itself a bad thing, but . . .

“The leader of the House of the Nation should be a direct descendant of Confucius”

– looks like magical thinking.

For all its unseriousness, though, the proposal does get one thing right: a form of rule is not good in which the popular majority always and quickly gets it way. That the authors would caricature constitutional democracies as following that pattern, however, is the most shockingly ignorant thing I have read today (although, admittedly, it’s pretty early in the morning).

Perhaps it’s best to read this as a bid for publicity whose approach is to take a simplistic and extreme position in the press. Rather like the piece which Amy Chua ran in the WSJ just before the publication of her Tiger Mom book — the book turned out to be somewhat more balanced and more nuanced than the newspaper article, but the newspaper article got people talking.

July 11, 2012 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

Not only can this piece not be taken seriously, but it doesn’t even appear to have been edited/translated all that well. It should be “popular legitimacy” not “legitimacy of the human”, and I count three sentences beginning with conjunctions – something that is to be avoided even if it is not un-grammatical in all circumstances. Is this the New York Times or some expat rag?

July 11, 2012 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

I think roles that might be there to be played by Confucianism should be a great topic – but to get started with someone like Jiang Qing isn’t constructive. Maybe it was meant to be exactly what Gray Hat wrote above: a bid for publicity. But it seems that Jiang simply wants to have his way, that he interprets everything in accordance with his rigid ideas, so as to make it fit into his “constitutional” picture, and that would be that.

Maybe the NYC took that piece because they thought of it as bizarre, entertaining trash. It will probably be successful in ridiculing what could be a real issue, with a different approach to it.

July 11, 2012 @ 7:52 pm | Comment

Presumably women would be banned from the political system in the best spirit of Confucian ideals?

July 11, 2012 @ 8:13 pm | Comment

Presumably women would be banned from the political system in the best spirit of Confucian ideals?

Well, that’s why I posted this link under #3. The issue is referred to as feminism there, and it is suggested that Confucianism, in that regard, can’t “go back past the May-4th movement”. All this would have the makings of a real debate.

To be clear: Jiang Qing seems to have got quite some funding, enough to run an academy of his own, but to equate him with Confucianism in China in general, only because the international press are more interested in his, than in more moderate Confucian views, is misguided.

July 11, 2012 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

Doesn’t China already have a more than respectable looking (on paper) constitution, but simply fails to uphold it?

July 11, 2012 @ 11:27 pm | Comment

The constitution is for the better atmosphere.

July 12, 2012 @ 12:29 am | Comment

3rd and 4th comments got stuck in my spam filter. Sorry about that.

Are we sure it wasn’t a spoof like Ask Alessandro? The fact that Daniel Bell signed his name to this is utterly amazing.

July 12, 2012 @ 1:18 am | Comment

I quite like the idea of three “houses” but their make-up as detailed in the original article is just silly.

Perhaps a system that consisted of an elected house (elected representatives), a meritocratic house (people chosen for scientific and/or factual-based achievements), and another house consisting of “great thinkers” (philosophers and religious figures of note?) and “great artists” might work, with a 5025/25 split between them.

Of course the question remains, who selects the members of the two latter houses and what would the selection criteria be? To these questions I have no practical answer.

All I know is that I’m not convinced by western-style Democracy. Nor am I convinced by China’s brand of corrupt authoritarianism. Both are flawed systems, I think, although having said that, I’ll take Democracy over authoritarianism every time, thank you very much.

July 12, 2012 @ 1:56 am | Comment

Western democracy sucks. But what has worked better?

July 12, 2012 @ 2:25 am | Comment

@Nic (comments nos. 2 and 3) –

“The seeds of subversion that he is planting may ultimately prove far more fertile than the pleadings of Charter 08, the rants of Han Han or the theatrics of Ai Weiwei. Confucians are patient and willing to bide their time.”

FLG was similar to this, and initially tolerated by the CCP leadership because it fit their ideas of what was ‘traditional’, until they started to see them as a threat, that is . . . .

July 12, 2012 @ 2:26 am | Comment

This has to be a satire. wtf?

July 12, 2012 @ 2:52 am | Comment

@Richard – Why talk only about “Western” democracy? Saouth Africa, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and now, increasingly, Burma are all democratic to varying extents. There is nothing inherently Western about democracy, any mnore than there is anything inherently Russian about China’s Leninist political system.

July 12, 2012 @ 3:05 am | Comment

That editorial would’ve been perfect for The Onion. For the New York Times, however, that’s just strange. Maybe the NYT is trying to broaden its appeal…to crackheads?

But you know, those dimwits propose an interesting system…a government made up of 3 branches…one of which has veto power…hmmm, I wonder where I’ve seen that before?

As FOARP says, I wonder who gets to pick these pre-eminent scholars. I also wonder how a Confucian expert qualifies him/her for governance.

July 12, 2012 @ 3:15 am | Comment

FOARP. I should have said Western-style democracy that started thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece, which I believe influenced most democracies that later were established around the world.

Still trying to figure out how this op-ed made it past the editors. It would be perfect for April Fools.

July 12, 2012 @ 3:47 am | Comment

Is there any other style of democracy?

July 12, 2012 @ 3:55 am | Comment

Not a rhetorical question, but there wouldn’t be any need to say “Western style” if there wasn’t.

July 12, 2012 @ 3:57 am | Comment

No argument there. Force of habit.

July 12, 2012 @ 4:08 am | Comment

Meritocracy – who’s going to decide who has the merits to exercise political power? Besides, a tricameral parliament existed before, and didn’t last long. The prerogative to veto things, in that linked case, came pretty much down to “race”. In China, I guess, such rights could be about revolutionary lineage, i. e. about how much money your parents and grandparents have amassed.

July 12, 2012 @ 4:23 am | Comment

And just for the sake of fairness toward Confucianism: to equate Jiang Qing’s half-baked “plans” with Confucianism is no more intelligent than Jiang’s concept itself.

July 12, 2012 @ 4:24 am | Comment

“Meritocracy – who’s going to decide who has the merits to exercise political power?”
—precisely. And I wonder what relevant merits a Confucian scholar might have. I wonder even more what merits a direct descendant of Confucius might have.

July 12, 2012 @ 4:30 am | Comment

it is suggested that Confucianism, in that regard, can’t “go back past the May-4th movement”

I’m not so sure. There are always people who argue that women need to get back in the kitchen and look after the kids, because it’s their fault that families break down when they go to work.

I’m not suggesting that everything Confucius ever spouted was rubbish, but his views on women had a terrible effect on much of Asia for a very long time. Confucius boosters needs to say this all the time.

July 12, 2012 @ 5:03 am | Comment

I may be getting it wrong, Raj, but the present tense, in all parts of the world, is riddled with institutions, religious communities etc. which used to sneer at women – and to suppress them. Some of those institutions underwent changes, some didn’t. I think the question if Confucianism can do that is as open as the question about any such philosophy or religion, in any neck of the globe.

What also needs to be taken into account is the influence Confucianism – but Buddhism, Taoism etc., too, have in contemporary China. What can be said for sure is that they are still around, in daily life.

I think I can imagine the NYT’s motivation to publish Jiang’s / Bell’s sorry effort. It comes across as “sensational” (even if sensationally stupid) in America or Europe, and too few people will realize that you might as well interview some obscure Mehdi in northern Africa to find out where his subcontinent is heading.

If American issues were covered on the same botched level, the NYT wouldn’t last for another year. If they have no correspondents who know a number of Chinese academics who work in the humanities, or if these correspondents don’t get through with their information at their headquarters, the press is making itself obsolete – in terms of information, anyway. Maybe not in terms of entertainment.

July 12, 2012 @ 5:20 am | Comment

@Richard – Of course, there is (or at least, could be) such a thing as “Chinese-style democracy”, just as there is “British-style democracy” and “Japanese-style democracy”. The problem is that democracy of any variety has some basic requirements – the participation of the people in a free and fair electoral process being one of them. Those who either try to claim that China is already a democracy, or claim that democracy is developing under the CCP at the moment, don’t seem to want to accept this. Phrasing it as “western-style democracy” allows them to accuse democracy advocates of cultural imperialism and quasi-treachery and characterise electoral processes as “western” and therefore un-Chinese. The essay you link to in the OP is an example of this kind of thinking.

@JR – Of course the ROC has five government branches – legislative,executive, judicial, examination, and control. However, whatever the original intention, the Control and Examination Yuan have shrunk to the point of mere ministeries, whilst the legislature and the executive, being the government branches that are directly elected, have become the most important parts. The old ROC national assembly, which was supposed to be the national parliament, existed alongside the Legislative Yuan until it was amended out of existence in 2000/2005 as, amongst other things, there was no point in two elected assemblies under the ROC constitution once the executive could be chosen by direct elections.

July 12, 2012 @ 5:25 am | Comment

I think you guys missed the point. Jiang Qing (what a name) is not talking about how well his system would work, or even whether it would work. He is simply refuting Hillary’s swipe at the Chinese government’s illegitimacy, by setting up alternate ways in which a non-democratic government can be considered legitimate. Being descendants of great sages or passing exams give you some sort of elitist legitimacy. To Jiang Qing, a neo-Confucian, that’s enough, because within the Confucian system, legitimacy is the source of authority, not sovereignty.

You can see this going on in the excerpt:
After all, democracy is flawed as an ideal. Political legitimacy is based solely on the sovereignty of the people …

Here he takes legitimacy as the more basic object and tries to determine what it should be assigned to, rather than determining legitimacy by a proper exercise of sovereignty.

In reality it will not work, because modern Chinese society is not Confucian at its core and will reject authority based on legitimacy except at the clan level.

July 12, 2012 @ 11:08 am | Comment

Hating to change the subject, please go take a look at this neat article on Chinese outrage at attempts to cover up the Great. Leap Forward. I’d put up a separate post about it, but we all know the chaos that ensued the last time I posted on the GLF, a couple posts down.

July 12, 2012 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

Jiang Qing (what a name) is not talking about how well his system would work, or even whether it would work.

@Nimrod: Jiang has been in the business of promoting what he considers Confucianism for many years. His name (蒋庆) is written differently from that of Mao’s last wife (江青). Current affairs may help to explain why the piece was published by the NYT, but Jiang’s “constitutional” plans are much older than this.

July 12, 2012 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

FOARP mentioned the issues of “style” here. That’s the point, I believe. When a supporter of a philosophy or religion wants to make it a state religion, and turn one of its classics (not all of them, it seems – Jiang is highly selective here) into the foundations of a constitution, he won’t even find too much agreement among Confucian-minded people. To suggest that Confucians in general want Confucian political power is like suggesting that every Muslim is an islamist.

That’s my main issue with the NYT op-ed. Without some additional information about where Jiang actually stands even within Confucianism, let alone the philosophical spectrum as a whole, the article is in a position to suggest that Confucianism itself was speaking there. It isn’t. It’s just Jiang Qing.

July 12, 2012 @ 2:30 pm | Comment

Some of those institutions underwent changes, some didn’t. I think the question if Confucianism can do that is as open as the question about any such philosophy or religion, in any neck of the globe.

It really depends on what you’re talking about. Discrimination against women in say Islam is pretty much cultural. There’s nothing in the Koran that says women need to wear burkhas or cannot drive. Whereas Confucianism (and Buddhism) is far clearer in putting women down as part of its beliefs.

As I said before, are we going to see the main proponents of Confucianism make it clear that he was wrong on women, rather than sweep it under the carpet?

July 12, 2012 @ 2:49 pm | Comment

Discrimination against women in say Islam is pretty much cultural.

In that case, it must have been global culture, Raj. Here’s an example how Christians re-interpret what an uncertain number of them believes to be an absolute, re the role of women in congregations (or beyond).

Is that re-interpretation, or sweeping things under the carpet? I’ll leave that to organized religion, and to women to decide. A focus on how misogynic Confucianism is or was would suggest that the greatest impending danger from a political Confucianism is oppression of women. That, however, would require women who allow that to happen.

It may or may not mean something that women are now included in the Confucius family tree. That, too, may just amount to sweeping issues under the carpet. But then, that’s what half of politics, even democratic politics, is about.

I’m not religious myself. I preach neither contrition nor conversion. Just a reasonable practice will do – practice is the best way to judge whatever kind of school.

July 12, 2012 @ 3:00 pm | Comment

Here’s the link: http://www.ntrf.org/articles/article_detail.php?PRKey=16

July 12, 2012 @ 3:02 pm | Comment

Here’s an example how Christians…

Erm, SOME Christians. Or perhaps more accurately one Christian in the case of that article.

Confucianism CLEARLY SETS OUT the fact that women should be discriminated against. It’s objective, not subjective.

July 12, 2012 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

Well, that’s my point, Raj. The Corinthean letter clearly sets out that women should be discriminated against – that’s my reply to what you said about the difference between Islam and Confucianism (cultural / far clearer in putting women down, respectively).

It doesn’t seem to make much sense either to suggest that it would be easier for Islam, than for Confucianism, to overcome old practice. Practice itself suggests otherwise – and allegations that Confucianism was, after all, out of power for most of the past century, is far too blanket. For one, islamism would hardly abdicate as easily as political Confucianism did, when facts spoke against it.

I think that, if you want to describe Confucianism as a threat against the achievements of emancipation made so far, you will need to point out as to how Confucianism actually clings to the old concept. If you want to see remorse and contrition, you’ll have to go back to situations where such confessions were actually enforced. That, too, is “cultural”.

I see no reason why Confucianism should be more suspicious than other systems of thought or religion.

One more thing @everyone who reads here: I don’t think that Confucianism could work as a political framework or foundation. But I think that the NYT approach and the way Confucianism is discussed here are quite interlinked. Any suggestion that Confucianism isn’t at all “dead” may be considered advocacy for a political role for Confucianism – if people equate Jiang Qing in particular, and Confucianism in general.

July 12, 2012 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

One letter suggesting that women should remain quiet in church is NOT the same as what Confucius said about women. And the article you cited says “correctly INTERPRETING….”, which suggests that there is scope to argue what the letter meant.

I really don’t understand why you’re so defensive about Confucianism’s negative impact on women.

July 12, 2012 @ 8:24 pm | Comment

Am I defensive? I’m pointing out that the Bible is, at times, also putting women down – and if we go back to the Old Testament, where a woman was made of a man’s rib, the issue of quantifying as to how misogynic these or those founders of religions are becomes quite a task.

But above all, I don’t think that only the scripture or only the practice will define an ideology. It has to be both of them. I’d like to put this comment of yours to you, Raj, on the Dalai Lama. You first quoted the BBC, I believe:

Under the Dalai Lama’s so-called “Middle Way” approach, Tibetans would essentially stop pushing for the re-establishment of Tibet as an independent nation.

. And you added:

So China cannot claim the Dalai Lama is seeking independence. Or will it try to claim that is his real motivation so it can avoid putting anything substantial down in return?

I agree with you – to suspect the Dalai Lama of wanting independence, of wanting his old slave society back, etc. is meaningless – unless one wants to believe that.

But there is no need to suspect Confucians either – unless they state that they want women with bound feet, a Confucian veto power in politics, or what have you.

To call on Confucians to denounce their past is no smarter than to call on the Dalai Lama to denounce his.

July 12, 2012 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

I’m pointing out that the Bible is, at times….

The Bible is contradictory in places. I mean, how do you “square turn the other cheek” with “an eye for an eye”? You can’t easily – you have to analyse and if necessary discard.

Let’s put it another way, how many examples of Confucian texts do you have that say women are as good as men in something other than looking after the home or raising kids?

I’d like to put this comment of yours to you, Raj, on the Dalai Lama.

Do you have a link to that comment?

To call on Confucians to denounce their past is no smarter than to call on the Dalai Lama to denounce his.

But the Dalai Lama has implicitly denounced past Tibetan society by calling for autonomy and his support for democracy. How often do Confucian supporters talk about women’s rights?

July 13, 2012 @ 5:32 am | Comment

Interesting comments. Not sure Confucianism would work any better now than it had before – like every other system, be it religious or secular, it depends on interpretation and that depends on the people who do the interpreting, especially when they’re in power. China right now is communist – here’s Wikipedia’s opening sentence

“Communism (from Latin communis – common, universal) is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless, and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of this social order.”

Is it thus? I don’t really think so. Not classless, not moneyless and not stateless. Soviet Union wasn’t either. Religions don’t show what they’re fairytales tell them (unsurprisingly – in the case of the Abrahamic religions it is surprising how the all knowing god managed to get such incoherent and contradictory manuals written up…and indeed why he needed something written down on paper when….oh, never mind, you get my drift).

Women nearly always get the short straw when it comes to power. I have a theory the patriarchal nature of many societies nowadays is a reaction to the matriarchal societies I’m told and read occurred in our dim and distant ancestry.

Democracy isn’t really a western concept as far as I can tell, western democracy (and for that, in most authoritarian media, means US) isn’t really all that Greek in derivation and as far as I can tell isn’t as flawed as some might lead us to think. I dunno, but to me a financial recession or even depression does not mean the system is broken. Banking, yes, but not democracy. As I recall, there was something a depression in the 30s which didn’t fragment the US, resulted in some experimentation with authoritarianism and ended up, after a war, with a slew of democracies….all of which appear to have improved lives etc.

July 13, 2012 @ 7:34 am | Comment

I stopped reading after “legitimacy from heaven” or something like that. As soon as you derive your legitimacy from your invisible friend you know things are going to go from bad to worse before you can say “Corrupt Theocracy”.

July 13, 2012 @ 9:16 am | Comment

I will second FOARP’s comment: “A fundamentally unserious proposal, simply astounding that this should appear in the New York Times.”

July 13, 2012 @ 11:48 am | Comment

The Bible is contradictory in places. I mean, how do you “square turn the other cheek” with “an eye for an eye”? You can’t easily – you have to analyse and if necessary discard.

Sure, Raj. And when Confucians are doing that – which is happening -, I think it would be nice if media like the New York Times would cover that, too. If a suggestion that you can’t go back behind the May-4th-movement isn’t the kind of implicit departure from old systems and ideologies you demand, and if it isn’t what you gave the Dalai Lama credit for, I don’t know what it is. It’s exactly this statement, however, that you chose not to believe in your comment #28 (“I’m not so sure”). That’s the choice between wanting to believe people, or not wanting to believe them, but it’s no point against either the Dalai Lama, or against Confucians.

Jiang’s and Bell’s article leaves the impression that Confucians are a bunch of sectarians who can’t even answer the central question they themselves have raised – the issue of political legitimacy.

I won’t go further into history – I assume that everyone who is interested knows a bit of the scripture, and a bit of the history of women through the history of church. The issue in our discussion – originally, anyway – wasn’t which religion or school is “worse” or “better” – it’s if Confucianism poses a particular threat to womens’ rights.

Mike, I agree with you that how religions or ideologies work will depend on their interpretation. However, I don’t think that either Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, or any other religion can “work” if they try to rule this side of the cupboard. If secularism isn’t one of the results of interpretation, I see no way that it will work. Theocracy, simply put, is no state-of-the-art form of government these days. Maybe it was in the past – but I have a strong feeling that it sucked even then. Or, to put it more historically correct, it wouldn’t be the kind of society I’d want to live in, no matter how many reasons historians may find to explain their existence.

July 13, 2012 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

justrecently, can you tell me where you that comment of mine on the Dalai Lama from?

July 13, 2012 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

It’s from HH.

July 13, 2012 @ 6:02 pm | Comment

What username were you running with back in 2008 on HH?

July 14, 2012 @ 6:14 am | Comment

justrecently.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:21 am | Comment

What China needs is its own set of vocabulary and philosophical concepts to go head to head with the bullsh*t concepts of democrazy and freedamn. Without our own lexicon, we are forced to discuss and debate the West using their own words and concept – how can you win something if you are subordinated to discuss things in terms that are invented by others? In order to win a debate, you have to speak on your own terms.

What does it mean? It means putting together the best sociologists, the best economists, the best philosophers, the best rhetoricians, and have them come up with a very complex and rich set of ideas/lexicon/words that shape the message of China, that’s a Oriental rival to Democracy/Freedom/Multiparty elections of the West. And this must have 2 prongs:

the first prong is making it accessible to the general public (ie, simple slogans, banners, catch phrases, aphorism, etc. The West has this, such as ‘ Democracy is the worst govt except for all rest’, blah blah. We need our own witty phrases to counter)

The second prong is substantiate these concepts and vocabulary with very serious and ‘thick’ and ‘boring’ academic writing. Preferrably there should be a series of ‘big books’, maybe 20,000 pages each, that explore these topics in detail. To the point where anyone who wants to seriously challenge these ideas must first spend years and years studying them in depth.

Once these concepts/lexicons are formed, there shall be tens of thousands of scholars trained in it, and those will in turn have students, and in turn have students, etc. So that after 10 years, it’ll be a sign of uncultured and uneducatedness for any intellectual not to be familiar with these concepts.

And slowly there’ll be western scholars of these conepts/lexicons, and they’ll permeate western colleges/books/literature/academia.

Ans slowly, once you have build up it up and matured it, people will have no choice but to take your ideas seriously, and will be forced to speak in your lexicon and to argue on your terms.

This is how you build an intellectual counterpunch to the Western bullshit ideas of democracy/freedom/multiparty elections, which have dominated the discourse for 100 years.

It’s time for China to offer a new set of vocabulary, new direction of discourse.

It’ wont be easy of course, and is a multi-generational effort. And the problem is most scholars and intellectuals in China are mental slaves of the West – they have no idea how to speak and write outside the Western lexicon. So how can we depend on them to create something new?

July 14, 2012 @ 8:00 am | Comment

“In order to win a debate, you have to speak on your own terms.”
—LOL. In order to win a debate, you need logic, reasoning, and intelligence. What you’re talking about is simply semantics. That doesn’t win debates, but merely obscures the subject…which, come to think of it, is really the tried and true expertise of the prototypical CCP apologist like you.

It’s amusing (and sad) that your ideas revolve around what can best be described as “burying them with bullshit” and “appealing to the lowest common denominator”. I suppose that is the only hope of “selling” authoritarianism. Unfortunately for authoritarianism, you can dress it up and put lipstick on it, but it’s still going to be a pig.

But by all means, I hope you embark on your decades-long multi-generational attempt to create your own bullshit. By the time you withdraw your head from your ass, hopefully Chinese people will already be busy engaged in a Chinese version of democracy.

July 14, 2012 @ 9:24 am | Comment

—LOL. In order to win a debate, you need logic, reasoning, and intelligence.

That helps, but oftentimes it’s your ability to dominate the discourse with money, resources, intellectuals willing to shill for you, etc. And the West dominated the discourse for the past 200 years due to its economic and military strengths, and then the intellectuals followed, and then its own lexicon and ideas are established and refined and matured, soon enough, anyone who doesnt speak in West’s terms are ridiculed as marginalized.

July 14, 2012 @ 9:32 am | Comment

Well, types like Eric Li and Shaun Rein are already more than willing to shill for the CCP. However, I suppose it is quite a stretch to consider them “intellectuals”.

But while you use ‘concepts’ and ‘terminology’ somewhat interchangeably, it seems to me you are still really just worried about the “lexicon”. Are there really any novel ‘concepts’ to be had when it comes to things like freedoms, rights, rule of law, and democracy? If not, then will it really be fruitful to reinvent the wheel? Or are you just looking for new words to better serve your obfuscation purposes? For me, it seems something like “democracy with Chinese characteristics” is amply vague to serve such purposes.

But here’s the thing. Why are you concerned about being ridiculed and marginalized? If Chinese people truly were convinced that the CCP’s way is the way to go, why would they care that other people disapprove? If the CCP was confident that it enjoyed true legitimacy among Chinese people, why would they care about marginalization and ridicule? There are only 2 logical reasons why the CCP would take offense to ridicule and marginalization coming from beyond China: that she ultimately intends to export her brand of authoritarianism to the world at large, and such marginalization and ridicule diminishes the likelihood of success; or that she lacks confidence in the strength of her legitimacy at home, such that external ridicule and marginalization could be viewed as a threat to progressively erode her tenuous hold on legitimacy. I very much doubt the former, and very much believe in the latter.

July 14, 2012 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

Without our own lexicon, we are forced to discuss and debate the West using their own words and concept

If you live in mainland China, you may be forced to a lot of things, By the Clock, but by whom?

July 14, 2012 @ 1:17 pm | Comment

@The Clock – You seem not to know anything about China. If you did you would know that China is already governed by a ruling party whose ideology has its own lexicology, its own heavy tomes, its own heroes, academics, and catch-phrases.

The problem for you is that the majority of Chinese people, including party members, recognise this ideology as being utterly false and empty. With the exception of a few fanatics and people whose livelihood depends on it, no-one treats this nonsense seriously, neither inside nor outside China, despite study of state ideology being a mandated part of the educational curriculum. Even the university lecturers tasked with teaching nonsense like the Three Represents laugh when you ask them what possible application it could have and why people should have to learn it.

Like it or lump it, democracy is a tangible thing which people can see real-world results coming from and hence by-and-large they support it. Communism, even the re-defined version seen in modern-day mainland China, is nonsensical garbage used as a paper-thin screen by a self-interested dictatorship, and everyone who is of sane mind knows this.

July 14, 2012 @ 1:57 pm | Comment

By-the-Clock will probably inform you that the lexicon you are referring to is foreign stuff, FOARP. Well, it’s with Chinese characteristics, but anyway.

Here is the crux, I believe:

Once these concepts/lexicons are formed, there shall be tens of thousands of scholars trained in it, and those will in turn have students, and in turn have students, etc.

There shall be.

That’s about the wording the Lord God used – or will use – to (re-)create the world. And I have no doubt about which kind of little movie is running in By-the-Clock’s little totalitarian brain when he’s writing stuff like this.

It comes down to “foreigners know nothing, Chinese people who disagree with me know nothing, the party knows very little, but I know everything, and behold, I am making all things new”.

Tens of thousands of scholars shall be trained in what By-the-Clock thinks is good for China. He’s really plagued by very strange lexica (foreign or otherwise), he’s resenting it, but he’s talking it anyway.

And he’s blaming “the West” for it. Convenient, but useless.

July 14, 2012 @ 2:39 pm | Comment

JR, I’m flattered that you’ve kept a notebook of all my comments. Do you have a “best hits” shortlist?

July 14, 2012 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

I haven’t kept a notebook, Raj – I have a rather long memory. Besides, I thought your comments about the Dalai Lama there made a lot of sense. But what I can’t see is why the same reasonable standards you applied in the Dalai Lama’s case shouldn’t apply elsewhere.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:26 pm | Comment

Maybe because the Dalai Lama didn’t create the political system in Tibet so it’s fair for him to refute it, directly or indirectly. Whereas Confucius did create his own beliefs/lessons.

Now fair enough modern students aren’t Confucius, but it would be healthy if they emphasised more clearly and unambiguously that Confucius was wrong on women. Referring to the May Fourth Movement is ambiguous because it was about a lot of things and people took part in it who didn’t care about women’s rights.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Comment

And I’ve never said all followers of Confucius want to discriminate against women. But I think it’s necessary to indicate that his views on women are 100% wrong, lest anyone get the wrong idea and think there might be something to them. You don’t have to bind women’s feet to discriminate against them.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

Maybe because the Dalai Lama didn’t create the political system in Tibet so it’s fair for him to refute it, directly or indirectly. Whereas Confucius did create his own beliefs/lessons.

Neither did the Dalai Lama create “his” society, nor did today’s Confucians create “theirs”, Raj. I can’t see your point there.

July 14, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | Comment

Sorry, I think I lost the point you were trying to make with the Dalai Lama comment.

To reiterate, referring to the May Fourth Movement is ambiguous because it was about a lot of things and people took part in it who didn’t care about women’s rights. It seems sensible to me for Confucian scholars to spell out their disagreement with Confucius’ views on women, plainly and directly.

July 14, 2012 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

referring to the May Fourth Movement is ambiguous because it was about a lot of things and people took part in it who didn’t care about women’s rights

Even in political movements today, there are people taking part who don’t care about womens’ rights, Raj – and certainly beyond China, Korea, or Taiwan, and beyond Confucianism. If there are people who find that relevant, because they alledge that only an open apology for or a public retraction about the past will be convincing, so be it. It would, however, be a first in mainland Chinese public life – except for ritualistic or forced retractions. That’s one reason why I don’t expect it to happen.

I’m also sure there are people in Dharamsala who find the Dalai Lama far too liberal – politically for sure (Tibetan Youth Congress), and “morally” with some likelihood (every place has its share of bigots). But I see no need to dig there and to hold it against the Dalai Lama. Rather, if the CCP were interested in getting some Han-Tibetan reconciliation started, they should act as long as the old man remains available.

But therefore, I can’t see why the kind of “ambiguity” you alledge, re May-4, should discredit Confucians today. People who demand bullshit (and Jiang and Bell certainly do), are doing just that. Those who are making reasonable efforts to understand how Confucianism may be relevant today, politically or otherwise, are doing just that. It’s an individual responsibility to make such efforts and choices, it is – in the field of womens’ rights – in Chinese womens’ interest to judge such choices and to make their own choices, and all of them may, in future, become real issues to decide – among Han-Chinese and Tibetans -, if the Chinese political system allows for a public life that deserves the name.

July 14, 2012 @ 10:00 pm | Comment

One line that may help to make my view clearer: different positions among Tibetans abroad are no reason for me to find the Dalai Lama’s position – or his implicit denouncement of the past – too ambiguous to be believed. If I want to distrust people, I’ll never find them “unambiguous” enough to be trusted.

July 14, 2012 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

Excellent rebuttal to this argument in the NY Times:

Jiang Qing and Daniel A. Bell present their constitution as a third way for China between the hackneyed alternatives of authoritarianism and democracy. But it is not. It would be nothing more than new clothes for today’s authoritarianism.

There is nothing in it that the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing would not like, except, perhaps, for the headache of trying to implement such an awkward plan and defend it before public opinion.

July 15, 2012 @ 2:03 am | Comment

I think it’s no real challenge to refute Bell or Jiang, Richard, but to object to that stuff when published by a paper with a lot of prestige is still a good thing. “Authoritarian”, however – that’s how the letter to the editors refers to the status quo in China, should be differentiated further. Tu Wei-ming believes that a highly politicized Confucianist society would be more coercive than, for example, a purely legalist society, because Confucianism is about minds, and not only about behavior (as legalism is, in his view). That’s how Wang Zhicheng quotes Tu, anyway. (Such a mind-control ambition also seems to describe the CCP quite accurately, I believe.)

Tu sees himself as a New Confucianist. I think this is noteworthy, because Confucianism doesn’t necessarily aspire to build a political system in accordance with its own ideological blueprints. They can actually be unremitting critics of their own tradition. People like Tu would hardly agree with Jiang or Bell. What kind of “Confucianism” you get depends on who you ask, and I believe that Jiang and Bell may be good for catchy short op-eds, but not good enough if we want to see the complete Confucian scope.

July 15, 2012 @ 2:31 am | Comment

Even in political movements today, there are people taking part who don’t care about womens’ rights

Let’s stop muddying the waters. Confucianism was one of the most destructive forces on the lives of women in East Asia. So when people start championing Confucianism again (especially when women are massively under-represented in areas like politics), I think it’s healthy to spell out what they are and what they are not advocating.

It’s not about apologising. Confucian scholars have nothing to apologise for. It’s about being clear, so that people with backward ideas don’t try to hijack the project. If Confucian promoters are too proud or stuffy to say anything that might be construed as a criticism of Confucius, I can recommend a good surgeon who will remove the sticks jammed up their backsides.

July 15, 2012 @ 3:15 am | Comment

Let’s stop muddying the waters.

Colors are usually not black and white, but muddy, especially if you go a few decades or centuries into history, Raj.

So when people start championing Confucianism again (especially when women are massively under-represented in areas like politics), I think it’s healthy to spell out what they are and what they are not advocating.

Sure. Which is what they are doing. But there are no Confucians who would dominate the discussion, and could bindingly speak for Confucianism – and if there were any, I doubt that this would alleviate your reservations. As far as the discussion described by Wang is concerned, I say no reason to find them particularly suspicious.

However, I believe that our discussion is going in circles, and that might indeed “muddy” this thread. My suggestion is that if you are interested in continuing this discussion, drop me an e-mail (the address is available on my blog, under “about” at the top). And if we arrive at something new, it might become interesting for other readers here – as far as I can see, nobody else has been interested in our discussion since Mike made his, at #43.

July 15, 2012 @ 3:55 am | Comment

One more thing, Raj: I mentioned a Confucian who is indeed very critical of what “Confucius said”. I mentioned Tu Wei-ming there. As I said before: If you really want to distrust people, you will never find them unambiguous enough to be trusted – be it the Confucians, the Dalai Lama, or the Japanese, for that matter.

July 15, 2012 @ 4:08 am | Comment

JR, I don’t see what we can really get by continuing the discussion in detail by email.

As a closing thought, would you agree unreservedly with the following comment?

Confucius’ views on women are wrong and have no place in modern society

July 15, 2012 @ 7:00 am | Comment

Confucianism doesn’t demand that you obey every tenet of Confucianism lest you be branded a heretic and burned at the stake, that said Confucius did not really go into depth about the supposed roles of women.

Because of this, Chinese women were undoubtedly more free than their contemporaries elsewhere where anywhere from 25-90% of women were slaves that could be raped at will. Chinese women were generally free women who have a long history of running businesses, leading and raising armies, etc.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:05 am | Comment

Raj
Confucianism was one of the most destructive forces on the lives of women in East Asia.

Please drop the overdone internet chivalry act. Confucianism was in no way entirely destructive to the lives of Chinese women. Confucianism in Japan and Korea have taken on their own meanings based on their native societies and their experiences can’t really be generalized on China as a whole.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:08 am | Comment

Raj, it sounds like you’re trying to box JR into a corner.

I can say a lot about Judaism and Christianity’s long histories of discrimination against women, some of it ongoing even today, not to mention Islam’s. Taoism wasn’t much kinder to women, either. China has come a long way since the fall of the Qing, and improving the status of women is one of the few things I give Mao genuine credit for. Mission is not accomplished, of course, but the steps forward have been dramatic. If we’re going to go after Confucianism, I see the brain-cell-destroying notion of “face” to be its worst byproduct.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:17 am | Comment

I’m pretty sure face is not really a Confucian concept, nor is it solely a Chinese phenomenon.

July 15, 2012 @ 10:13 am | Comment

“Confucius’ views on women are wrong and have no place in modern society“

It depend on which “Confucius” you talking about, the apparent parting line on discrimiation against woman was Song Dynasty, you would notice that Han Dynasty was a pretty matriarchy society, that is why many ‘new confucian’ from the May Forth era and contemporary like Tu suggest to rediscover confucianism and discard lixue (理学), particularly Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism (程朱理學) including their view toward woman.

July 15, 2012 @ 11:56 am | Comment

I can say a lot about Judaism and Christianity’s long histories of discrimination against women, some of it ongoing even today, not to mention Islam’s. Taoism wasn’t much kinder to women, either. China has come a long way since the fall of the Qing, and improving the status of women is one of the few things I give Mao genuine credit for. Mission is not accomplished, of course, but the steps forward have been dramatic. If we’re going to go after Confucianism, I see the brain-cell-destroying notion of “face” to be its worst byproduct.

Agreed on most of your points here. Not sure about face being the “worst” thing that Confucianism brought upon China–I’d say that actually it’s the bureaucratist/statist impulse that Confucianism, especially past the Song Dynasty, created, that has done the most to hobble China.

That strain of Confucianism seems to have created a perverse idea where the only way the nation can grow strong is if the state can overpower society. That’s crazy… and tragic.

July 15, 2012 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

Cookie, neither “face” nor the designation of women as second-class citizens were unique to Confucianism and go back quite a long way. But Confucianism more than any other force helped to institutionalize them.

T_co, I don’t disagree with you; it’s just a matter of degree.

July 15, 2012 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

JR, I don’t see what we can really get by continuing the discussion in detail by email.

Maybe there’s nothing to get from that, Raj. But then, we won’t get anything by continuing the discussion in detail in this thread either. I made the e-mail suggestion to find out about that.

As a closing thought, would you agree unreservedly with the following comment?
Confucius’ views on women are wrong and have no place in modern society

To know if Confucius was wrong, I’d need to know how much of what “Confucius says” can actually be attributed to him. I believe that women have the same rights as men. People who want to deny them these rights – at home or in society – must not be allowed to exercise political power. That’s no matter of majorities – it’s a matter of legitimacy.

Rhan, if you know some good sources on Confucianism today, in Chinese or English, please let me know. The problem with the current discussion about Confucianism seems to be that it is either rather tentative, or extremely assertive (as in the case of Jiang Qing and his school). The latter, it seems to me, is most likely to chum up to the power that be (the CCP), wishing to win it over and to “confucianize” it.

July 15, 2012 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

To know if Confucius was wrong, I’d need to know how much of what “Confucius says” can actually be attributed to him.

Well in that case maybe there’s no such thing as “Confucianism” because nothing supposedly attributed to him may have been said by him!

With all due respect, your unwillingness to accept that Confucianism has ever led to the suffering of women is bizarre. I really hope you’re not typical of supporters of Confucianism. The sign of a healthy political or philosophical system is when its followers are happy to criticise aspects of it, past or present. It would be a shame if others were similarly in denial about Confucianism’s legacy regarding women.

July 15, 2012 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

@Raj – It is necessary to distinguish between traditional Chinese culture and Confucianism per se, especially where traditions pre-date Confucius or come from entirely different sources.

@JR – Correct. The Clock’s belief that arguments will be developed to support his prejudices marks him as an ideologue.

July 15, 2012 @ 5:11 pm | Comment

With all due respect, your unwillingness to accept that Confucianism has ever led to the suffering of women is bizarre.

I think discussions like these lead nowhere without patience, Raj. I’m not sure if you can read my comments without anger by now, but I suggest that everyone who reads here takes his or her own look at your question, and my answer to it. To answer to your assertion (comment #80), I have no doubt that Confucianism has been a cause for the suffering of women, and I’m no supporter of Confucianism (“I really hope you’re not typical of supporters of Confucianism”). However, I believe that Confucianism will remain an important system of religion and thought in China, and Chinese debates within and about Confucianism shouldn’t be ignored.

My advice would be that people who want to have a meaningful discussion should read patiently, be polite, include every stage of a discussion in their judgment of other people, and should not jump to conclusions.

July 15, 2012 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

@Raj, JR and anyone interested in how gender equality relates to Confucianism.

Part of Confucianism is the ‘three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues’ (三綱五常). Leaving aside the virtues for now, the cardinal guides (三鋼) refer to three relationships: ruler-subject, father-son, and husband-wife.

Although it is stated that with each of these relationships there should be a reciprocal moral responsibility, one person still has to be the ‘boss’ (the whole point of a hierarchical order).

Is this husband-wife relationship compatible with concepts of gender equality? I would argue that it is not.

If one chooses gender equality, that may call into question the other two cardinal guides.

If you are interested in a different opinion, you could read Wang Tang-jia’s chapter on gender roles in Fan Rui-ping’s book, ‘The Renaissance of Confucianism in Contemporary China’ (you can read it on Google Books). Wang states ‘for anyone who tries to learn from and apply Confucian wisdom to the contemporary world, the best way is to avoid the extremes of masculinism and absolute egalitarianism.’ (pp. 100).

July 15, 2012 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

Thanks for the book recommendation, Xilin.

I haven’t seen comments here which would suggest that Confucianism can play a role at all without calling much of past principles into question. And maybe Confucians will indeed need to find an answer to the question if two of the sangang can remain, if one of them has to be dropped. Maybe.

But then, many of the Confucians are probably married to women who wouldn’t tolerate the sangang practice. One aspect to judge how Confucian theorists and advocates tick might be to know their wives and children.

And other religions have gone through turns which would have been thought of as impossible – before they happened.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:03 pm | Comment

Xilin: the pages around 100 describe Jiang Qing‘s views on gender equality, right? Combined with Jiang’s “gongyang theory”, and his claims to political power as laid out in the NYT op-ed, it wouldn’t be too surprising, I guess.

Here’s a Jiang-Qing reaction to a previous speech by Tu Wei-mingof at least seven years ago.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:17 pm | Comment

@JR –

“I believe that Confucianism will remain an important system of religion and thought in China”

Actually my opinion is the exact opposite. Confucianism is neither of great religious, political, or philosophical consequence in modern-day China. Nothing displays this more than the CCP’s tolerance of it.

July 15, 2012 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

Thanks, JR.

Jiang Qing rejects the concept of equality.

If, however, one supports the concept of gender equality, what impact does that have on Confucianism (Classical, Neo, New, Political, Constitutional or otherwise)?

Put simply, if husband and wife are equal, are we all equal?
Conversely, if, according to Jiang Qing, husband and wife are not equal, are we all not equal?

Why is this this integral to current debates on Confucianism? Because if one discounts a single one of the three cardinal guides on the grounds of equality, then should one not also apply this concept to the other two?

I agree, JR, that religions have gone through many changes. Confucianism, however, is not a religion; it is a philosophical and ethical system. As I understand it, the three cardinal guides are core to Confucian thought. I don’t believe they are compatible with concepts of equality and I don’t know what Confucianism would really be without them.

July 15, 2012 @ 9:43 pm | Comment

I have no doubt that Confucianism has been a cause for the suffering of women

I’m not so sure why it had to take so much prodding on my part for you to say that. Still, I do appreciate you saying it so clearly.

Actually my opinion is the exact opposite. Confucianism is neither of great religious, political, or philosophical consequence in modern-day China. Nothing displays this more than the CCP’s tolerance of it.

FOARP, that’s an interesting view. If the CCP doesn’t feel threatened by it, they can’t feel it will amount to much.

July 15, 2012 @ 10:01 pm | Comment

Raj, I’ll leave the interpretation of our discussion – which was basically going on between you and me over the past few days – to everyone else who’s commenting here – people who are themselves involved are usually no objective critics, or “referees”.

Xilin, if someone asked me which religion is closest to me, I’d probably say it’s Buddhism. It’s not my religion – I only find it more plausible than Christian beliefs, for example, and I’m no pacifist, so I’d hardly qualify anyway.

But if someone says that he or she believes in Confucianism – possibly even as a religon -, I’ll buy that, and I’ll also buy it if they say that they can practice it and at the same time respect equality between men and women. Religion is that much a matter of personal experience that I can’t tell what faithful people may be able to reconcile, and what they can’t reconcile. But I guess that I can look at how their ideas are practiced, and then find out if it would by my kind of society, or if it wouldn’t.

Peng Guoxiang, one of the New Confucians, seems to argue that Confucianism is both philosophy and religion – a religious tradition, but not in the same way as Western Jewish or Christian religion.
Tu Wei-ming‘s school seems to believe that this can work “philosophically”, too.

FOARP, I think the letter to the editors quoted by Richard further above may provide the answer as to why the CCP is tolerant of “political Confucianism” discussions. I’d actually go one step further and say that Jiang and/or Bell may be trying to sell the concept to the CCP. It would only question the dictators if Jiang & Cie. started condemning the CCP for not accepting it.

July 15, 2012 @ 10:21 pm | Comment

@JR – Just so – in fact since so many people who talk about political Confucianism in the modern-day context are trying to explain how the CCP is already Confucian, even that is probably not a risk. This is the reason why for a long time my attitude has been, to paraphrase an old German play:

„Wenn ich ‘Konfuzianismus’ höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning“

Yes, Confucianism does exist as an independent religio-politico-philosophical concept, but very few people seem to have a concept of it that appears to make any sense at the present time. Instead it too often seems to be a way of excusing the inexcusable by saying it should be accepted as ‘traditionally Chinese’.

July 16, 2012 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

When the Golden Rule is spelled in classical Chinese, it reaches people more easily than if it’s spelled in English, in Hebrew, or in any other language, FOARP. I think that seen from that angle, Confucianism is relevant – and again from that perspective, it doesn’t even spell cultural, let alone political particularism. Whenever I can read something in German, rather than in English – let alone Chinese -, I’ll reach for the German version first. I don’t think that makes me a particularist – at least not more than an average Frenchman would be a French particularist. So, before I suspect a Confucian of totalitarian motives, I want to hear what he actually says, and practices. Many of those cited by Wang Zhicheng are more into seeking common ground with other world religions, and at times concede that among those, Confucianism is only a small one.

I think that it is obvious, after the past century, that Confucianism needs to re-evaluate itself. It is also quite likely that among academics, liberal and secularly/constitutionally-minded Confucians will rather remain a minority. If not naturally so, people like the Thirteen scholars with their “Joint Statement” (if their aims are reflected correctly by Zhang Qianfan will make sure that political Confucianism will remain about as “attractive” as athlete’s foot, to most Chinese intellectuals.

But Confucians have a right to their beliefs – just as anyone else.

And unfortunately, if there should be a political decision at all, it won’t be made by majorities, neither among intellectuals nor among all citizens. The real problem is that the CCP may warm up to the concept. The debate about Confucianism isn’t a public debate in a democratic rule-of-law country. Nothing is too insane for the CCP if it helps their legitimacy, even if only in their own view.

Therefore, this “public debate” – and I’ve stated before that I see no genuine Chinese public life there that would deserve the name – is a try to convince the dictators, rather than a majority. Either the Confucian (Jiang Qing et al) or the secular way (Zhang Qianfan, for example). It is a classical approach in China to “sell” your ideological stuff to those who are actually in power. This was true even before Confucianism became the state doctrine, and when different schools competed with their concepts.

I expect that this is mostly going to be (or remain) a dispute between secularists on the one hand, and gongyang-style Confucians on the other. Taoists seem to have no ambitions that would lead to similar arguments. Real democrats will always be accused of not taking the proper approach to power – hardly a chance to sell their concept even to Wen Jiabao-kinds of officials.

Meantime, the party is cooking its own ideological dishes, while social management makes sure that software developers elsewhere serve nothing forbidden.

July 16, 2012 @ 5:45 pm | Comment

Apologies – but I can’t resist this little side-blow: it isn’t only Chinese people who take the kind of sales approach I referred to above. ;-)

No offense meant. I’d just like to point out that you don’t have to be evil or authoritarian-minded to argue for the Imperial Court’s hearts and minds.

July 16, 2012 @ 6:02 pm | Comment

Raj
I’m not so sure why it had to take so much prodding on my part for you to say that. Still, I do appreciate you saying it so clearly.

Drop your tiresome white knight act. If Confucianism stood in the way of Christianity and Islam in China, it only benefited them on balance.

Other than that, Confucianism barred women from intellectual posts they often deserved, but also lessened punishment dealt to them. It often made mothers powerful as well.

There’s a reason why murder, assault and rape against women in Confucian societies is so much lower than your much-vaunted wonderful chivalrous West.

July 22, 2012 @ 1:26 am | Comment

“There’s a reason why murder, assault and rape against women in Confucian societies is so much lower than your much-vaunted wonderful chivalrous West.”
—that’s actually probably true. On the balance, there does seem to be less outright violence against women in China than in “the west”, and even less still in comparison to Islamic states.

However, in the grand scheme of male-chauvinism and under-respect for women, that seems to be a world-wide phenomenon. Ultimately, if it is happening, I don’t think it makes much difference whether it occurs in the name of religion, culture, or whatever else.

July 22, 2012 @ 1:59 am | Comment

The general lack of respect for women, I would say, has a lot to do with the general lack of respect for everyone but a tiny minority of powerful men (and their female associates).

No one seems to have any sympathy for men in “traditionally” dangerous jobs that are crippled and killed when they aren’t being underpaid.

July 22, 2012 @ 2:23 am | Comment

Why would the NYT publish this? Consider its readership. What percentage of its readers – national or global – have any knowledge or understanding of Confucian thought? This article probably sounds deeply philosophical to many NYT readers. Confucianism has a romantic mysticism for much of the west. Picture a bunch of benevolent bureaucrats with Fu Manchu beards wandering around in silk robes spouting quotes from Confucious.

Full disclosure; although I do not subscribe to the above misconception, I in now way claim any knowledge or understanding of Confucian thought.

July 23, 2012 @ 8:22 am | Comment

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[...] You can find a spirited Peking Duck thread on the meritocracy argument here. [...]

November 15, 2012 @ 5:51 am | Pingback

Confucianism certainly has its problems. Nonetheless many negative things that are associated with Confucianism have also been exaggerated, such as its support for absolute obedience of an authoritarian ruler (which is not true, given a good Confucian should remonstrate against his misbehaved ruler). Read the Mencius, writings by Wang Yangming and his followers, and Huang Zongxi for examples of this. These people I just mentioned do want moral, intelligent and independent-minded individuals and ministers to stand up against their rulers if needed. They do not support authoritarianism where the ruler can do whatever he wants. As for the Sanggan principle, it was developed in the Eastern Han, it was not there at the beginning. It also did not prevent later Confucian thinkers from questioning it and not following it either. For examples, remonstrating with one’s ruler and father is also advocated by Confucian texts such as the Xunzi (chapter Zidao)and the Xiaojing (chapter 15). Mencius even advocated tyrants should be do away with, which is again supported by Cheng Hao, a prominent Song Confucian. Of course, the conflict between loyalty and filial piety has been a major issue in Chinese history. Confuciansim after all, has a lot of different, diverse ideas within the teaching. The Analects is only one of the classics, not the Classic.

As for the Confucian position on women, again a complicated topic. Let’s just say while women did not have an equal position to men within Confucian teachings, they were also not as low as some people make them out to be. Also, status of women in Chinese society does change overtime in her long history. One can read works by Dorothy Ko and Patricia Ebrey on this topic for more.

Also, Confucianism has not had much influence in modern China anyway. Anti-traditionalism has had the upper-hand. These days, the CCP are not really promoting Confucianism either. Schools are not really teaching it. The CCP certainly don’t encourage political remonstrations, which is central to Confuciansim. The CCP members know very little about Confucianism, and many of them are still against it, due to Marxist teachings. Therefore, the CCP is not a Confucian government, it is basically devoid of Confucian content. In addition, most Chinese don’t really practice Confucianism, nor do they know much about it. Many of them are also against it. All of these have been the case since the May 4th.

As for Jiang Qing, really, not that many Chinese are truly paying attention to him either. So I think he has very little influence. Danile Bell’s ideas also won’t work in China today, given there are really no Confucians scholars left. It would be very very difficult to train them again, since most Chinese don’t have good classical langauge skills anymore. In modern China, there is a loss of faith of tradition, which still exist today among perhaps the great majority of Chinese population. So overall, I don’t think Jiang and Bell can do much with their ideas.

December 28, 2012 @ 7:31 pm | Comment

One more things: regarding foot bounding. The Confucians did not advocate this. It’s just one of these social mores that started around the Song and certainly became popular by the Ming.

Certianly if the Confucians came out to oppose it explicitly, it would have been great, but they didn’t. However, neither were they really responsible for this practice. I might note that Cheng Yi, a staunch and famous Confucian of the Song era, forbade his female family members and descendents to bind their feet. There were other Confucians who opposed foot bounding as well.

December 28, 2012 @ 8:44 pm | Comment

“Face” is a complicated issue. It means different things to different people in different times. I am not sure if Confucianism was the chief force behind it. Very hard to say. Also I Don’t think “face” was ever institutionalized, it’s just a part of the social mores.

December 28, 2012 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

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