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« The Mandate of Heaven and Communist Party Leadership Transitions | Main | Confucianism is not an obstacle to democracy »

July 25, 2012


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Bo's case is quite murky. But even if his case does suggests that he got where he did not from ability but from cunning and other less legitimate means, it still wouldn't show that the CCP as a whole is not a meritocracy because his case was merely one case. I don't know how meritocratic the CCP is but I suspect that it is FAR more meritocratic than the so called meritocracy in the US system. China's success story in the last 30 years despite massive obstacles shows that compared with the US's disastrous economic, social and foreign policies within that same period. There probably are many things the CCP can improve and they probably know many of that.

I wouldn't doubt that the top CCP political leaders are far more competent, intelligent, and even more moral than senators in the US, a collection of dissembling, millionaire lawyers, the vast majority of whom born in the lap of luxury, and who can't even pass a high school level algebra test. Popularity and rhetoric (seen a political ad lately?) is the name of the game in US politics, not competency or virtue. In fact, I would even say that the US political system displays much negative meritocracy; that is, those with competency are weeded out by the system in favor of less competent, but more persuasive people. I doubt hardly any of the Chinese public would trade their politicians for US ones.

ok, so it's the most meritorious of the suck-ups that get ahead?

Melektaus: no one claims the U.S. POLITICAL system is a meritocracy; my question about Bell: how could he not know, or know and dismiss all of the above? (I could give dozens of local examples of egregious corruption.)My guess: one doesnt become a Professor at a Beijing university writing about corruption; one gets one's skull cracked.

A good post but one thing - The Party is by Richard McGregor (that's me!). James McGregor is a nice guy and a published author and a good friend but also someone else entirely. The US paperback of The Party is out this week.


I never said that the CCP was a meritocracy either. I merely said that IMO it was more meritocratic than the US's political system. It may be that both are not meritocratic. But we're not dealing with absolutes here. No country can measure up to absolutist conceptions of meritocracy. We can only make relative comparisons and I thought the US was a convenient standard since I'm familiar with the US as with many folks here.

Good work, Sam.

Excellent post. Correction: Richard McGregor is author of The Party. James McGregor is author of One Billion Customers.

"Bo is unusual only in the scale of his abuse of power."

Not true. Very creditable recent reports by Bloomberg indicate that the immediate family of Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao's soon-to-be successor, is worth at least US$ 400 million - and perhaps upwards of US$ 1 billion. Likewise, reports in March suggest that the 70 richest Chinese tycoon/lawmakers (i.e., members of China's highest "legislative" body) have a combined personal wealth of nearly US$ 90 billion, far surpassing the US$ 7.5 billion combined wealth of the 660 highest ranking U.S. government officials.

Bo Xilai isn't in trouble because his family abused its power to become obscenely wealthy; rather, he's in trouble because his wife embarrassed the Party. Gu Kailai's shenanigans gave Bo's enemies the opening they needed to get rid of him.

Richard (and BB): typo fixed. Sorry for the mistake...

Daniel Bell might be a philosopher. If so, he seems to have missed the training the rest of had in ethics. The Chinese regime is immoral. At least I'm pretty sure Kant would consider "always torture or imprison those who disagree with your regime" not a universalizable maxim. As a result, by definition members of that regime cannot make "morally informed political choices." Acting prudently on behalf of an immoral regime is still acting immorally

We should hold Bell to the standard of a philosophy scholar, whether we agree or disagree with him.

Bell is not discussing the reality of Chinese politics; he is subject to all the flawed logic of the opinions he wishes to counter. However, since he is obviously educated and lives in China, this is a willful action. Absent serious argument, he is championing the government/system he prefers. This rhetoric should be separate from his argument (unless we are dealing with the Nazis or something), but Bell just marries them together.

The bigger problem is how Bell does this. His discussion of meritocracy would not pass any sort of standard in philosophical argument (a decent argument can be made in one page; this is not a newspaper problem). His use of Confucianism is ad-hoc and unnecessary to all of his points (i.e. it is window-dressing, albeit he sees it as essential). Finally, he moves between "unreal" and "real" fluidly, as if there is no actual China apart from fictional; that is political rhetoric and not clear argument.

These are why Bell cannot be taken seriously, except as a political commentator.

Meritocracy, in the utopian sense, is fantastic stuff. Qualified people doing things only for the greater good - what's not to love about that?

But as you say, using Bell as a framework, the CCP isn't so much a meritocracy as it is a system that encourages 'political choices informed by personal gain'.

The CCP version of "meritocracy" is also befallen by the chicken-egg conundrum. If members of the meritocracy are to be chosen by those of merit (ie people who themselves were previously deemed meritorious), then who was the first person of merit who initiated this selection process (and how was he himself "chosen")?

"morally-informed", CCP style.

The main problem with Bell's piece was that it was clearly deluded. The man seriously put forward the idea that the adoption of a political system which gives people political power due to being descended from Confucius would be a step towards meritocracy. Just bonkers.

Add in the fact that the CCP isn't, and never has been meritocratic (to take a couple of examples of where it falls down: religious belief is an automatic bar on membership, ideological exams decide membership) and it is clear how preposterous his assertion that the CCP is a meritocratic union representing the whole nation is. Consider also the current leadership being made up largely of the descendants of high-level officials and it is obvious that merit has little to do with advancement in the PRC government.

The man's either a charlatan or a dupe.

I do not endorse or reject Bell's arguments, as I have not read it myself. But it seems to me that arguments against the supposed CPC morality/values based meritocracy (the purely philosophical definition) is an attack on a straw man. The basis of the CPC's legitimacy since its inception is the revitalization of the Chinese state following the century of humiliation - an endeavor measured overwhelmingly by the advancement of material well-being and military strength.

This is not to say that the CPC operates in a moral vacuum or does not make values-based claims at all, but ensuring "virtue and moral righteousness" does NOT sit at the top of the priorities list in Beijing, just as it does not for MOST governments in the world. The only possible deviation from that might be the cultural revolution.

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