Two excellent posts on Confucianism as THE ideology for China. The first, by Xujun Eberlein, writing at China Beat, is entitled, “China: Democracy, or Confucianism?” Greatly oversimplified, its thesis is, essentially, as follows:
It seems typical of American thinking to regard either a republic or parliamentary democracy as absolutely the only right model for all countries. For a political system to succeed, however, it needs to be rooted in the particular country’s cultural history. Throughout thousands of years, China has never lacked great thinkers, political or philosophical. Which poses an interesting question: why does China need to adopt a Western model for its political system, be it Marxist communism or capitalist democracy?
Ms. Eberlein then goes on to call out Confucius as China’s last great folk thinker in “quite some time.”
Professor Crane over at The Useless Tree responds to Ms. Eberlein’s post by, among other things, making three very strong points. The first point, and one on which I whole-heartedly agree, is that it is unfair and dismissive to refer to democracy as “simply a ‘Western’ thing”:
Two things come to mind here, by way of critique. First, while it is true that certain institutions and practices of modern democratic politics can be said to have arisen and developed in something called “the West,” it is not true that democracy is simply a “Western” thing. “West” is as problematic a construction as “East” or “Orient.” It operates on too abstract a level of historical analysis to be very useful in analyzing and understanding political dynamics. And it is as politicized as any other such generalization. It is used by critics of democracy to link popular demands for more open and participatory politics with imperialism. It thus frames Chinese or Vietnamese or North Korean democrats as unpatriotic (I do not mean to suggest that his is Jiang Qing’s intention; but the broader discourse of “The West” creates this effect). A further ramification of the use of “The West” is to distract attention away from historical and contemporary democratic practices in Asia (are Taiwanese not “Chinese”? Are Koreans not “Easterners”? Are Indians not “Asian”?) and also glosses over the history and current manifestations of anti-democracy in the “West.” Overall, a high cost to pay intellectually for a fatuous over-generalization.
His second point is that China is too diverse and too globalized to become harnessed by a “singular state ideology:
Confucianism cannot serve as the singular state ideology because no system of thought or philosophy can so serve. Confucianism can provide us with a unique perspective on modern issues but it cannot capture the totality of modernity. Neither can socialism or liberalism (which is not, by the way, the “state ideology” of the US) or conservatism or whatever have you. Globalization, which brings constant movement of ideas and cultural practices, makes this even more impossible.
Why not democracy with Chinese characteristics?