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« Reading "On Liberty" in Beijing | Main | Friday Yi Jing Blogging: Yankees will win Wild Card playoff game next week! »

September 18, 2015


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Good article. Would it be fair to say that, in your view, Confucianism may serve as a personal ethics but not a political ethics in the West?

Yes, generally. It may have political significance but this is best enacted in conditions of relative freedom. I blogged this idea here:

I'd like to respond on my own blog, Sam. Do I have your permission to cite from the paper?


I hope I haven't mangled your arguments too badly.

Dear Dr. Crane,

Thank you for reading my blog, and thank you for the pushback. My blog post clearly wasn't my best writing; my apologies for the polemical and straw-mannish tenor of it.

I'd like to reiterate my appreciation that you clearly have some sense of the problems that you'd like to see Confucianism begin to solve (attachments to wealth and war and material comfort), so it's clear to me that you're not one of the 'village people' Mencius inveighs against.

But what continues to frustrate me is that you're not amenable to any deep, psycho-social critique of the structures and institutions that allow for and encourage those same attachments. And, as evinced in my blog post, I have strong allergic reactions to world-historical determinism, whether in its Marxist form or in its Fukuyamaist form. There have been too many reversals, collapses and world-historical game-changing events throughout history for me to believe that American-style liberal democracy is fated to conquer all before it.

I'm convinced that if a project like Jiang's is to get off the ground, it has to involve both the macro-level political structure and the micro-level one. To use your terms, it has to be both 'top-down' and 'bottom-up', and frankly, his current strategy of intentional living in a Confucian academy is an intriguing one. It might be worth watching his academy, and see if it takes a long-view multi-generational approach, building an intentional community around itself which includes more than just scholars, who can live close to their parents and provide them with material support.

As for American society... honestly I have no clue. Something has to give on our part, and that can't be sugar-coated. I can only speak as an American from a radical family background, exasperated with his own warlike and profit-driven time. (Much as Mencius himself spoke as a Chinese man exasperated with his own warlord contemporaries.) It was their principled radicalism that attracted me to them in the first place.

That's where I'm coming from on this. I have greater hopes in the long run for localist and communitarian alternatives than I do for parliamentary ones; and it's always struck me that Confucianism in the main has greater adaptability to localist and communitarian concerns.


Thanks for the response, Matthew.

Yes, I get the need for critique of contemporary American society. What I want to resist, however, are critiques that lay the groundwork for centralized authoritarianism (I do not mean to imply that that is what you are doing...). This is my problem with Daniel Bell, for one. I see him as a Western communitarian bereft of meaningful models in North America and, thus, inventing a notion of a "China model" as a supposedly humane counterpoint to the failures of American democracy. And that plays into the hands of one of the most powerful centralized authoritarian structures in the world. I am further dismayed when Chinese intellectuals reinvent "Confucianism" in similar styles, all of which conveniently bolster centralized power (I know Jiang's work is banned in the PRC, but that only demonstrates the Party's jealousy in controlling the narrative). I tend to be more sympathetic to Yu Ying-shih:

Seems to me that we cannot get to "localist and communitarian alternatives" without Parliamentary ones. Localism is simply not possible under a Confucian inflected Leninist Party as in the PRC now.

Also, not sure how you feel about this, but my sense is that a revival of Confucianism that requires the re-imposition of classical gender stereotypes is neither a good thing, nor a thing that will be politically viable in China:

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