By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times
Chinese scholar Lanxin Xiang has written a book, The Quest for Legitimacy in Chinese Politics, that is arguably the most extraordinary effort in decades trying to bridge the East-West politico-historical divide.
It’s impossible in a brief column to do justice to the relevance of the discussions this book inspires. Here we will highlight some of the key issues – hoping they will appeal to an informed readership especially across the Beltway, now convulsed by varying degrees of Sinophobia.
Xiang delves right into the fundamental contradiction: China is widely accused by the West of lack of democratic legitimacy exactly as it enjoys a four-decade, sustainable, history-making economic boom.
He identifies two key sources for the Chinese problem: “On the one hand, there is the project of cultural restoration through which Chinese leader Xi Jinping attempts to restore ‘Confucian legitimacy’ or the traditional ‘Mandate of Heaven’; on the other hand, Xi refuses to start any political reforms, because it is his top priority to preserve the existing political system, i.e., a ruling system derived mainly from an alien source, Bolshevik Russia.”
Ay, there’s the rub: “The two objectives are totally incompatible”.
Xiang contends that for the majority of Chinese – the apparatus and the population at large – this “alien system” cannot be preserved forever, especially now that a cultural revival focuses on the Chinese Dream.
Needless to add, scholarship in the West is missing the plot completely – because of the insistence on interpreting China under Western political science and “Eurocentric historiography”. What Xiang attempts in his book is to “navigate carefully the conceptual and logical traps created by post-Enlightenment terminologies”.
Thus his emphasis on deconstructing “master keywords” – a wonderful concept straight out of ideography. The four master keywords are legitimacy, republic, economy and foreign policy. This volume concentrates on legitimacy (hefa, in Chinese).
When law is about morality
It’s a joy to follow how Xiang debunks Max Weber – “the original thinker of the question of political legitimacy”. Weber is blasted for his “rather perfunctory study of the Confucian system”. He insisted that Confucianism – emphasizing only equality, harmony, decency, virtue and pacifism – could not possibly develop a competitive capitalist spirit.
Xiang shows how since the beginning of the Greco-Roman tradition, politics was always about a spatial conception – as reflected in polis (a city or city-state). The Confucian concept of politics, on the other hand, is “entirely temporal, based on the dynamic idea that legitimacy is determined by a ruler’s daily moral behavior.”
Xiang shows how hefa contains in fact two concepts: “fit” and “law” – with “law” giving priority to morality.
In China, the legitimacy of a ruler is derived from a Mandate of Heaven (Tian Ming). Unjust rulers inevitably lose the mandate – and the right to rule. This, argues Xiang, is “a dynamic ‘deeds-based’ rather than ‘procedure-based’ argument.”
Essentially, the Mandate of Heaven is “an ancient Chinese belief that tian [ heaven, but not the Christian heaven, complete with an omniscient God] grants the emperor the right to rule based on their moral quality and ability to govern well and fairly.”
The beauty of it is that the mandate does not require a divine connection or noble bloodline, and has no time limit. Chinese scholars have always interpreted the mandate as a way to fight abuse of power.
The overall crucial point is that, unlike in the West, the Chinese view of history is cyclical, not linear: “Legitimacy is in fact a never-ending process of moral self-adjustment.”
Xiang then compares it with the Western understanding of legitimacy. He refers to Locke, for whom political legitimacy derives from explicit and implicit popular consent of the governed. The difference is that without institutionalized religion, as in Christianity, the Chinese created “a dynamic conception of legitimacy through the secular authority of general will of the populace, arriving at this idea without the help of any fictional political theory such as divine rights of humanity and ‘social contract’’.
Xiang cannot but remind us that Leibniz described it as “Chinese natal theology”, which happened not to clash with the basic tenets of Christianity.
Xiang also explains how the Mandate of Heaven has nothing to do with Empire: “Acquiring overseas territories for population resettlement never occurred in Chinese history, and it does little to enhance legitimacy of the ruler.”
In the end it was the Enlightenment, mostly because of Montesquieu, that started to dismiss the Mandate of Heaven as “nothing but apology for ‘Oriental Despotism’”. Xiang notes how “pre-modern Europe’s rich interactions with the non-Western world” were “deliberately ignored by post-Enlightenment historians.”
Which brings us to a bitter irony: “While modern ‘democratic legitimacy’ as a concept can only work with the act of delegitimizing other types of political system, the Mandate of Heaven never contains an element of disparaging other models of governance.” So much for “the end of history.”
Why no Industrial Revolution?
Xiang asks a fundamental question: “Is China’s success indebted more to the West-led world economic system or to its own cultural resources?”
And then he proceeds to meticulously debunk the myth that economic growth is only possible under Western liberal democracy – a heritage, once again, of the Enlightenment, which ruled that Confucianism was not up to the task.
We already had an inkling that was not the case with the ascension of the East Asian tigers – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea – in the 1980s and 1990s. That even moved a bunch of social scientists and historians to admit that Confucianism could be a stimulus to economic growth.
Yet they only focused on the surface, the alleged “core” Confucian values of hard work and thrift, argues Xiang: “The real ‘core’ value, the Confucian vision of state and its relations to economy, is often neglected.”
Virtually everyone in the West, apart from a few non-Eurocentric scholars, completely ignores that China was the world’s dominant economic superpower from the 12th century to the second decade of the 19th century.
Xiang reminds us that a market economy – including private ownership, free land transactions, and highly specialized mobile labor – was established in China as early as in 300 B.C. Moreover, “as early as in the Ming dynasty, China had acquired all the major elements that were essential for the British Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.”
Which brings us to a persistent historical enigma: why the Industrial Revolution did not start in China?
Xiang turns the question upside down: “Why traditional China needed an industrial revolution at all?”
Once again, Xiang reminds us that the “Chinese economic model was very influential during the early period of the Enlightenment. Confucian economic thinking was introduced by the Jesuits to Europe, and some Chinese ideas such as the laisser-faire principle led to free-trade philosophy.”
Xiang shows not only how external economic relations were not important for Chinese politics and economy but also that “the traditional Chinese view of state is against the basic rationale of the industrial revolution, for its mass production method is aimed at conquering not just the domestic market but outside territories.”
Xiang also shows how the ideological foundation for Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations began to veer towards individualist liberalism while “Confucius never wavered from a position against individualism, for the role of the economy is to ‘enrich people’ as a whole, not specific individuals.”
All that leads to the fact that “in modern economics, the genuine conversation between the West and China hardly exists from the outset, since the post-Enlightenment West has been absolutely confident about its sole possession of the ‘universal truth’ and secret in economic development, which allegedly has been denied to the rest of the world.”
An extra clue can be found when we see what ‘economy” (jingji) means in China: Jingji is “an abbreviate term of two characters describing neither pure economic nor even commercial activities. It simply means ‘managing everyday life of the society and providing sufficient resources for the state”. In this conception, politics and economy can never be separated into two mechanical spheres. The body politic and the body economic are organically connected.”
And that’s why external trade, even when China was very active in the Ancient Silk Road, “was never considered capable of playing a key role for the health of the overall economy and the well-being of the people.”
Wu Wei and the invisible hand
Xiang needs to go back to the basics: the West did not invent the free market. The laisser-faire principle was first conceptualized by Francois Quesnay, the forerunner of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. Quesnay, curiously, was known at the time as the “European Confucius”.
In Le Despotisme de la Chine (1767), written 9 years before The Wealth of Nations, Quesnay was frankly in favor of the meritocratic concept of giving political power to scholars and praised the “enlightened” Chinese imperial system.
An extra delicious historical irony is that laisser-faire, as Xiang reminds us, was directly inspired by the Taoist concept of wu wei – which we may loosely translate as “non-action”.
Xiang notes how “Adam Smith, deeply influenced by Quesnay whom he had met in Paris for learning this laisser-faire philosophy, may have got right the meaning of wu wei with his invention of “invisible hand”, suggesting a proactive rather than passive economic system, and keeping the Christian theological dimension aside.”
Xiang reviews everyone from Locke and Montesquieu to Stuart Mill, Hegel and Wallerstein’s “world system” theory to arrive at a startling conclusion: “The conception of China as a typical ‘backward’ economic model was a 20th century invention built upon the imagination of Western cultural and racial superiority, rather than historical reality.”
Moreover, the idea of ‘backward-looking’ was actually not established in Europe until the French revolution: “Before that, the concept of ‘revolution’ had always retained a dimension of cyclical, rather than ‘progressive’ – i.e., linear, historical perspective. The original meaning of revolution (from the Latin word revolutio, a “turn-around”) contains no element of social progress, for it refers to a fundamental change in political power or organizational structures that takes place when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.”
Will Confucius marry Marx?
And that brings us to post-modern China. Xiang stress how a popular consensus in China is that the Communist Party is “neither Marxist nor capitalist, and its moral standard has little to do with the Confucian value system”. Consequently, the Mandate of Heaven is “seriously damaged”.
The problem is that “marrying Marxism and Confucianism is too dangerous”.
Xiang identifies the fundamental flaw of the Chinese wealth distribution “in a system that guarantees a structural process of unfair (and illegal) wealth transfer, from the people who contribute labor to the production of wealth to the people who do not.”
He argues that, “deviation from Confucian traditional values explains the roots of the income distribution problem in China better than the Weberian theories which tried to establish a clear linkage between democracy and fair income distribution”.
So what is to be done?
Xiang is extremely critical of how the West approached China in the 19th century, “through the path of Westphalian power politics and the show of violence and Western military superiority.”
Well, we all know how it backfired. It led to a genuine modern revolution – and Maoism. The problem, as Xiang interprets it, is that the revolution “transformed the traditional Confucian society of peace and harmony into a virulent Westphalian state.”
So only through a social revolution inspired by October 1917 the Chinese state “begun the real process of approaching the West” and what we all define as “modernization”. What would Deng say?
Xiang argues that the current Chinese hybrid system, “dominated by a cancerous alien organ of Russian Bolshevism, is not sustainable without drastic reforms to create a pluralist republican system. Yet these reforms should not be conditioned upon eliminating traditional political values.”
So is the CCP capable of successfully merging Confucianism and Marxism-Leninism? Forging a unique, Chinese, Third Way? That’s not only the major theme for Xiang’s subsequent books: that’s a question for the ages.
That’s how “glasnost” and “perestroika” started and gave what happened in the Soviet Union. Better to be quiet and work.
Right on! No idea why kind of cool aid the author and Xiang were drinking
“dominated by a cancerous alien organ of Russian Bolshevism, is not sustainable without drastic reforms to create a pluralist republican system. Yet these reforms should not be conditioned upon eliminating traditional political values.”
Are he crazy? CCP is the main China advantage over other countries.
Wanna change the party? Join the party!
If the CCP, a franchise of “Russian Bolshevism” is so advantageous, why is China allied with Ex-Bolshevik Russia? Bolshevism was so cancerous, the Soviet Union died from it, but Russia’s Orthodox Christian principles bounced back. China’s Confucian principles bouncing back are also proving incompatible with Bolshevism.
Who is talking about ideology?
I’m talking about one party that truly represent the interests of its people.
While in ALL other systems, shadows hide in-between the FAKE left and right dispute.
Just look at Brazil and France to notice it….
I understand pointing out a “party that truly represent[s] the interests of its people,” Zico, but isn’t that an ideology issue? Not a partisan one?
For example, we can tell that Russian Bolshevism is also part of a “FAKE left and right dispute” from the Federal Reserve US’s billions of dollars worth of Lend-Lease Act military aid shipped to the Soviets during World War 2, General George Patton having an “accident” when he planned to finish the war against the Soviets, and all the banker gangsters’ current anti-Putin, anti-Christian warmongering which, if it succeeds, will only empower the Russian Communists.
I agree, Zico. Indeed the CCP and what fits it and radically connects it into millenary culture is the main advantage of Baba Beijing longevity and success.
A Chinese-American woman told me that Mao would have gotten nowhere if he had tried to lead Africa. She said it was Confucius who provided the social cohesion, the respect for work and good government, the love of elders and of tradition which were the driving force behind China’s major achievement under Mao.
She voiced that opinion in the 1980s. Thinking about it in the year 2020, I guess Mao would have gotten nowhere trying to lead fragmented modern Europe either.
That is correct, that is why it is “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. It is a model that works for China, not other countries.
The first of these two articles asked some interesting questions, for example about the Belt and Road Initiative. Critical questions about China should not be taboo. This second article however is a disappointment. It gives the so-called Western liberal system way too much weight. In Asia, this system is not very popular, not even in Japan. Why should China be the leading Asian country of Western pluralism? This sounds absurd to me. Even in the USA, this model is in serious trouble.
Moreover, the article quotes a lot of Western philosophers. But not a word from Marx, even if Marx appears in the title. How can one write about „Confucius and Marx“ by speaking a lot of Confucius, but not a word about Marx? This is not convincing.
I do not know this Lanxin Xiang. But the article gives me the feeling that Xiang seeks support in the Western world which he cannot obtain in China. This, of course, is not something which can impress me.
this looks quite simple.
The author talks about China of the last 30 years, which is now the city shining on the hill.
It doesn t focus Marx because after Mao China has been rejecting the very same system and principles that Marx deemed worhy of full rejection.
The Chinese I knew, knew that all this communist pageantry is bs. There is little else: Fascism died, communism died and liberalism is dying. One can call it an euro-centric view. Doesn’t change the fact, that it’s always been about power and who gets what, when and where. Legitimacy is a very apt topic. I do not think you can rule without consensus. We have the technical potential to ask everyone for singular consensus on any issue. Those who don’t want to participate, won’t – then they by default have to consent. Most problems of the economy can be reduced to technicalities, at least to build a just base.
Believe is one way to live. If truth seeking desired purpose, than society has to be modeled for this purpose. Either way, many won’t be content. The more political systems with different purposes exist in the world, the better.
I don’t know if the Chinese model of society can be described by obsolete political terms. It’s the Chinese system, maybe pragmatism. Maybe this style of government is necessary. Otherwise this would have very well become just another liberal colony, with its center in DC. A multitude of political systems should have a chance to exist and with all interests balanced.
“A multitude of political systems” might work, but what’s really important are the moral and spiritual systems. And since these are either objectively or subjectively moral, metaphysically selfless or selfish, there is a lot less leeway.
As Karl Marx wrote in “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” “The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun.” This is a very self-centered, subjectively moral spiritual foundation, and what says “fashion… reality [and] discarded… illusions” like Stalinists and Maoists striking politically inconvenient individuals from historical records…?
Confucianism, however, has a collective-centered, objectively moral spiritual foundation where, as Escobar says in the article, “moral quality and ability to govern well and fairly” are what matters. This meshes with Christianity’s principle of “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4) It explains why the revival of Confucianism in China is clashing with Marxism, and why Russia’s Christian revival has mostly smashed Marxism.
I can agree with what you say about what marx and confucianism talks about the whole. yet, have you ever considered as a general concept, I doubt even lanxin xiang even considered it, that communism works very well with the Chinese? in a general idea, they both looked at the whole/communal needs of the people/country vs the individualist looks of the west. hence, can you not agree why communism worked within China so well and still is working for them? regardless of the present system, communism with the CCP as its head, it still looks like the traditional Chinese system of the past. the emperor/head of the CCP giving ideas and policies that helps the people vs enriching individuals. the western concept, as per escobar, can’t see this view in a Chinese setting vs their own pre-conceived western viewpoints.
aside from what the west says its contradictions, especially the bolshevist viewpoint, China never was that aggressive in conquering other countries besides its tributary system, nor went elsewhere, like the great Ming voyages, to a distant country and said “this is my land now so you’re my slaves.” the tributary system was more of a trading viewpoint if you can say it. those tributary states tend to get more than they gave as the emperor wanted to show his moral superiority and the greatness of the Chinese kingdom.
I agree, Known Unknowns (appreciate that reference, BTW), that China is making progress with “looked at the whole/communal needs of the people/country vs the individualist looks” actually bettering the people/country. However, this has less to do with political/economic beliefs and more to do with spiritual/metaphysical beliefs.
For example, Marx promoted whole/communal politics/economics (communism), yet his spirituality/metaphysics was very individualist (atheist “man… move around himself”). The Soviet Communists maintained that combination, and did you know that Khrushchev admitted the Shelling of Mainila was a false flag attack? Would the Soviet Communists hitting their own people with artillery to justify invading Finland be more whole/communal or individualist? Or what about Chernobyl? Does allowing over 1 million people to go on May Day celebrations and get showered with radioactive material just so the government might save face sound more whole/communal or individualist?
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith… Despotism may govern without faith, but not liberty.”
~ “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831
Thank you Pepe Escobar for undertaking the work of unlocking this book, and Xiang’s thinking. He is indeed controversial, as we glimpsed – uncomfortably – in your first article, but now we see the context describing the vast reach of his controversial point.
So it is a question for the ages – which hopefully means we have some time to deal with it! We shall watch China with more precise interest now, particularly the CCP, whose meritocratic workings people such as Godfree Roberts have revealed as commendable. But no one put it in these terms before.
Just how alien is the CCP and the Chinese system? I have to believe that Confucius still haunts its thinking and planning, and will predominate over all other distractions and attractions over time. I also have to think that the cultural dream underway in China can restore all the great virtues of China, and render her timeless again, and unaffected by outside forces – balanced and infinitely sustainable.
It would be no surprise for the future to reveal that the revolution in China has by no means finished yet. And I think Marxism and Confucianism will be shown to have married, and this will known by their great harmony and happiness together. There seem to be no great truths that ever conflict with other great truths.
Thanks for introducing us to Xiang. He’ll be one to watch and his book is one to read. I’m not yet convinced that his point is sound, and as with many commenters I wonder how westernized his paradigms may have become. But you’ve done us all the service of showing that one must actually read his point, in full, before being even capable to judge.
I don’t really see where the East Asian tigers – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea show any application of Confucian political concepts
By exactly what mechanism did Marx even court Confucius, much less consider a lasting relationship?
The moment of Chinese success beginning was when Deng Xiaoping instructed the Chinese to turn loose the human spirit in the market place. Simultaneously, in obvious need of foreign investment, he began a slow, measured opening up of the economy. Early entrants who wanted to sell to the Chinese market were heavily restricted, but enough room to succeed with profits and growth were allowed.
The Chinese people, freed from ideological restraints (Marx for instance), put ideas, money and human energy to work ceaselessly. They copied things, they innovated things, they produced products, they bought and sold machinery, they partnered with foreign producers, they hired out to foreign manufacturers who came to China, they worked, invested, created new assets from old assets, and they worked, day and night for one end–to get rich. Hundreds of millions of people set their goal to get rich.
Meanwhile the Communist leadership watched the fall of the USSR, in ideological horror.
It took a decade to understand that theory and reality don’t often get along in the economy of large nations.
China didn’t need any other lessons to design a catch phrase that explained what they were doing economically and how they would proceed—”socialism with Chinese characteristics” was the phrase.
That did not mean Marxism. It meant capitalism, like Adam Smith or John D. Rockefeller would have liked. The Chinese were creating millionaires and, soon, billionaires.
As the world turned to China to become its factory, exporting products became obsession. In return, China sucked in foreign payments for goods purchased and the Central Government got rich also. Dollars and Euros and gold and other currencies piled up in Chinese State banks.
The eighties and nineties laid the grown work for a global supply chain that linked Japan, South Korea, Taiwan with China.When the US created NAFTA, Mexico came on board the supply chain. Everything was linked to China, and China grew rich and powerful.
At the turn to the 21st century, we saw the formation of major Chinese corporations led by billionaires in their forties and fifties, brilliant people who used the platform of China’s wealth and growing status to launch companies that could dominate Asia. Concurrently, China presented the world with State Owned Enterprises in crucial sectors of the enormous economy that now existed as a matter of growth and greed. Foreign investors poured trillions of dollars into China and hauled in many multiples of those invested dollars. It was a capitalists playground, if you knew how to play the Chinese way.
China built cities and many hundreds of millions of Chinese people climbed out of poverty and formed a middle class, while some formed an oligarchic elite class. The government encouraged the best and brightest and richest to join the Communist Party. Most did just that. It was good for business.
In all the 40 years of the Chinese “miracle” as it shed poverty and developed wealth there was never a project or policy that was promoted that was formed out of any ideology. The Chinese built 3000 bridges that were needed. They laid tens of thousands of miles of rail for high speed trains that were necessary. They built gigantic container ports for import and export. They built airports and laid fiber optic cable alongside every tens of thousands of miles of highways and roads they needed. None of these efforts were inspired by any ideology or dogma. In fact, many projects done by province and city chiefs were done for careless reasons to build reputations. Whole cities were built that were built solely because the use of cement and rebar were blindly used as metrics of “progress” and achievement. These became ghost cities, indicative of ego, greed, ambition and weak oversight by the Central Government.
So, the giant successes and large wasteful projects alike were born outside ideology.
China, the modern, successful, sometimes inspirational nation exists to this day because it followed a clumsy version of the early 20th Century USA. China is USA pre-WWII with Chinese characteristics.
It now faces another test. Can it become something better? Can it improve itself as it comes under stresses it never faced before? The days of miracle growth are over. It is becoming more dependent on its own internal consumer economy. Its work force is being harmed by loss of exports, loss of jobs to robotics and AI, and efforts from the US and Five Eyes nations to cripple China’s role in the global supply chain. It also is under growing demographic pressures from an aging population.
Finally, there are 400 million more citizens in poverty who have to climb the economic ladder. It is within this group of Chinese that we see Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Housing, job training, pensions, health care and education are delivered to these people, often when they move to cities and villages newly constructed for them as an attraction to leave the poverty-stricken rural homes they clung to during the 40 years of spectacular opportunity.
The communal wealth of the Chinese people, managed by the Communist Party leadership, is now no longer limitless. As more and more of the economy becomes technological, China will need less and less ideology and more individual and group creativity. Inventions and innovations are imperative. They won’t spring from theories by European ideologues from two centuries ago. It is much more likely they will be inspired from a native son, a model thinker and moralist, Confucius.
The challenge will be for Confucian ideals to find enough room in a society that might fall into stagnant, redundant ideas (like the USSR) or have to wade through a corrupt system to make their way into the engine room of progress.
Well, this is a good summary.
Everyone has a system of ideas aka ideology. Liberals f.e. think, that they have no ideology, but like fish they seemingly don’t know that they swim in water. We can call it the Chinese ideology of pragmatism.
The bigger context is that the Chinese economic revival was as much a Western project; against the USSR and to enrich Western elites. The rust belt is not the only victim in this interplay (I distinctly remember a German industrial zone dismantled, with a giant red banner the Chinese put up which read “we are not taking your jobs” – exactly what they were doing…SPIEGEL report from the early 2000s out of NRW). In many ways this capitalist market economy is a zero sum game. Those who produce the cheapest win. Capital accumulates more capital through G->W->G’. The Chinese are responsible for their population, just like the West and not for others, but the ramifications of this process will come back big time. The West is not dead yet. It can and will inflict a lot of damage, maybe even catastrophic. Anglo elites are not known to just roll over. This is just a facet of the predicament the whole world is in:
– Automisation with fewer and fewer people needed.
– Environmental destruction (how much more is the biosphere able to take?)
– Resource wars and not of the usual kind clean water/air/energy
– Technogenic catastrophe, as the power of technology is growing by the day.
I think the world is wholly unprepared for what is coming. The economic system is outdated. Social structures are failing (atomization and estrangement) apart. Maybe I’m wrong and everything will be fine. Maybe the West goes the way of Africa and will becomes irrelevant. Maybe all the loosers of this century will be washed gradually into their new situation without realizing their predicament. Certainly if I look at my still young peers, idiocracy is the only thing which comes to mind.
But we still see that the global elites don’t let any good crisis go to waste. They are actively encouraging it. The masses exist and are not lucid to even declare any intention, only groups of power are subjects in history. I see the CCP, the Zio-Anglos and (still partly unwilling) Russian elite. If WMDs didn’t exist we would be in permanent war right now. The redline of their possible usage keeps getting pushed. This doesn’t end well
The end result of such thinking was a ‘Humanities’ graduate who lived in a hut on Epstein Island waiting to be used. Whether Confucianism or Buddism is the moral flagpole for the Asian experiment we have yet to know but whatever the SEAsian social construct it certainly put a stop to the Covid infestation.
Marx is probably burning in hell, his ideas destroyed many nations, including the Russian Empire.
Marx destroyed the corrupt oligarchies, and he is in heaven.
Perhaps the greatest lie of the last century is that the USSR collapsed entirely on its own merits, thereby absolving the expansionist US/NATO project of any responsibility in their terrible (and ongoing) hybrid war against peoples’ movements. And leading to unnecessary self-hatred in the former Bloc.
This lie teaches us to distrust the objective observations of Marx and his predecessors (including Stalin and Mao), which has certainly played a role in arresting the development of political economics in the West. And now, of course, the West is harvesting its spoiled crop.
Thus we have confused efforts like the above book to reconcile 3rd Millennium China in terms of 2nd Millennium ideology and their apparent contradictions. It simply won’t yield fruit.
As one commenter wisely said, let’s just shut up, observe, and learn.
Maravilhoso, obrigado Pepe!!!
The problem when we try to address Confucianism is that we tend to forget the role of those who came after Confucius, who had a major impact developing his thoughts. I don’t know how far Mr. Xiang elaborates on it however.
Mencius or Xun Zi, for instance, comes to mind. The former, particularly because one of his concepts deals with Confucianism’s code-backed legitimate overthrow (易姓革命 – Change the Ruler and Reform the Mandate) of a ruler if he doesn’t act accordingly (i.e. in favor of his people), therefore lacking moral points and therefore lacking legitimacy since he is no longer deemed “necessary” according to Heaven.
(I wonder if it would be too farfetched to think that this concept particularly had some sort of impact on Mao’s revolution though)
Things will also continue to stalemate if we insist in fitting squares into circles. As an example, thinking of a Western-like individual apart from the position one occupies within one’s social structure can be quite a conundrum in societies vastly influenced by Chinese thought, since it presumes an individual doesn’t exist by itself, only by the relations one cultivates inside one’s society.
Since we can’t ignore the indoctrination of Western concepts around the world, what we see in reality in places like Japan or Korea is people having to make something out of the contradiction between two different systems of thought. No wonder we see some weird stuff.
Interestingly enough, most of Western concepts such as freedom, democracy, individual, and what else were in fact first translated to ideograms by the Japanese who then sought in the Chinese classics (you can also add Buddhism related stuff here) for the most proper words. Latter it seems they were then “imported” back by the Chinese. (I guess that’s would also be the case of “revolution” that is usually refereed as 革命 both in Chinese and in Japanese)
I may be misinterpreting a few aspects but hopefully someone with actual knowledge on the theme can correct me.
革 in modern mandarin pronounciation: gé’, japanese pronunciaton: kaku Means either (noun) a hide bot as a verb it means to fleece or to change
命 in mandarin is mìng and in japanese pronunced mee or mèi (one cullable. As a noun it means a command or destiny, in verb (combined with other words) to give an order
Larchmonter445 perfectly sums up the reality of China’s situation :
“The communal wealth of the Chinese people, managed by the Communist Party leadership, is now no longer limitless. As more and more of the economy becomes technological, China will need less and less ideology and more individual and group creativity. Inventions and innovations are imperative. They won’t spring from theories by European ideologues from two centuries ago. ”
Chinese traditional culture (CTC) is what glues the Chinese individual minds into a cohesive societal whole. CTC goes way back to animism which was pragmatism at its best : reducing suffering while enhancing the production by the individuals of their daily lives (that’s where the centrality of family comes from). This contrasts sharply with the civilizations that emerged in the Tri-Continental-Erea, that Eurocentrists call the Middle-East, where animism was violently destroyed and replaced with new “foundational stories”…
This gave “continuity” in China versus “rupture” in the West. These are the 2 most striking opposed paths that humanity inherited from the emergence of its civilizations.
With the advent of its power society China continued to subscribe to animism while adapting it, to the changing tides of the present, by continuously loading it with add-ons. That’s how the principle of continuity was dominant along the entire history of China. It was also predominant at the end of the seventies when Deng Xiao Ping and his comrades decided to focus China’s economy on the concept of capital that they had inherited from Marx who taught them that socialism would not emerge in an “asiatic mode of production”. So they realized China’s “primitive accumulation of capital” through a successful restructuring of the agricultural sector during the eighties that helped to finance the industrialization of the country in the nineties and in the first decades of the two-thousands. And by focusing on capital accumulation China succeeded to beat the West at its own game in a blink of an eye on the scale of history… How strange that capital is being ignored so completely by Lanxin Xiang and also by Pepe. What does this possibly suggest ?
The same traditional idea of continuity remains central today in China. CTC is being promoted all azimuths as the worldview to glue all Chinese minds and the Confucian idea of decision making by a meritocracy necessarily shapes China’s answer to the Late-Modern human predicament or “the great Convergence” in Late-Modernity between :
‒ the restructuring of the governance world around East-Asia with China at the core (geo-politics)
‒ the worldwide necessity to address the side-effects of a carcinogenic Western driven Modernity that threatens life on earth (an ecologically and socially sustainable future)
The human predicament of Late-Modernity best describes the human condition today. How come it figures nowhere in this discussion. What is for sure is that the “theories by European ideologues from two centuries ago” are of no help at all in addressing this predicament. That’s why I started my comment yesterday by stating that “This article is missing the point about what is really going on in China”.
Now about Lanxin Xiang’s idea, that the CPC’s political approach to reconcile “continuity” with Western syle democracy, is incompatible. It is for sure absolutely incompatible. The Chinese understand Western democracy as being the ownership by big capital holders of the Western political decision making process and they see voting every 4 or 5 years as the ultimate destruction of the popular will through financial manipulation.
On the political front China is experimenting its future popular interface that has to reconcile “popular will” with “the centers of political decision making”. The idea being that the center should implement the will of the people and not the will of capital holders or other interest groups. This experimentation addresses the mechanisms of popular consultation. It is a process intended to place the people at the center of the decision making process while the implementation of the peoples’ decisions rests firmly in the hands of a meritocracy selected through exams that is managed by the CPC. This experimentation is intended to span over a few more decades and should conclude with a mature system by 2050.
If interested to go deeper in the kind of larger perspective that I summed up here check https://laodan.blogspot.com/2020/09/the-ebook-first-societal-blow-in-late.html
You bring some deep thoughts for us to consider. I do tend to agree that Pepe might have a blind spot about China. God knows he is very learned about many societies, but the Chinese “scene” is opaque and layered in millennia of complexity. If not a native, many decades of living there and studying are necessary to scratch into the culture.
Keep at it here with your comments. It’s a challenge some of us welcome. Thanks for the link to your blog.
For anyone wishing to consult directly the writings of the master, Confucius, but who, like me, cannot read Mandarin, I can recommend the translation of the Analects by Simon Leys. He includes an enlightening introduction and useful notes.
All the Chinese sages in history did not accomplish what Marx and Stalin did for China. It was the irradiation of illiteracy and ignorance in conjunction with the elimination of famine and malnutrición. The first university was established in 1898, Peking University. The oldest university in Asia is Universidad de Santo Tomas, in the Spanish overseas province of Filipinas. University of St. Petersburg was founded in 1725. Until 1917, Russia had only three universities, the other two in Moscow and Kazan. Now, compare India which inherited the British governmental system.
The oldest university in Asia is the Gondishapur Academy, Sasanian Persia, established before the 6th century AD.
I don’t get the logic of this piece. At the risk of oversimplifying:
1. Marxism is a Western political ideology/philosophy.
2. Western ideologies/philosophies denigrate Chinese philosophy.
3. Confucianism is a Chinese political ideology/philosophy.
4. Marxism and Confucianism is inherently contradictory.
But this doesn’t have to be so. It’s how you understanding things. I’ll give an example that is relevant to those living in U.S. today.
The U.S. Constitution is pro-slave since the way it was practiced and interpreted originally allowed for slavery. But, that doesn’t mean the U.S. Constitution is inherently forever inconsistent with a system that outlaws slavery.
Here is another example for the Christians here. Christ’s original disciples were all males. Scholars in the past took it to mean men were fundamentally superior beings to women. That however doesn’t mean Christianity can’t be reinterpreted to be inclusive of women or even to treat men and women as equals.
Is the thing you are thinking about a key inherent concept of the thing itself? Or is it just historic ancillary baggage?
Anyways – so that’s the first problem with Pepe’s interpretation.
But there is a bigger picture that is completely lost.
The bigger question is what does Chinese governance entail in the modern world. When one reads the ancient text, it’s always mysterious, it seems vague. It was! It always needed examples to be alive.
But this is not something weird out of China. If one reads the U.S. Constitution without understanding the political impetus / events / policies / debates of the times, yeh, the document would seem abstract and vague and mysterious too.
Confucianism is like the Constitution in a way. Except more abstract. It prescribes a way for rulers and ruled to get in touch with the way of nature …. it doesn’t necessarily prescribe an answer … just guidance for people (rulers and ruled) to find harmony … legitimacy …. and depending on the era and circumstances … best approaches to governance.
Righteousness is a key … but there is more …
The Communist revolution however didn’t start with Confucius practicing leaders feeling the ways to find Communism. No Communism came into shatter the existing order! Communism came to China to rip out the then application / version of Confucianisms. It was a revolution to overturn … to blow up!
But as just as Mongols came in and adopted to the Confucian ways, so has Communism. As China threw off its foreign imposed shackles and internal corrupt shackles, Chinese leaders are rediscovering China’s own political heritage.
Modern prosperous China is still being born as we speak. It will take a few decades more – maybe even another century for it to truly awaken.
In the mean time, China has awoken, reflexively Chinese but not yet entirely awaken as it doesn’t quite have a modern ideology that touch on what it means to be Chinese.
Alleviation of poverty. Moderate prosperity. Green environment. These are all important elements for our times. But these are not the core thoughts per se.
Historians may look back to see how Marxism has been sinocized to be useful for China. Or perhaps not … Perhaps in time, some thing much deeper and more Chinese will take its place. But the way to find that something deeper, or the way to sinocize Marxism, or to ultimately dump Marxism, will be guided by Confucius ways … by leaders and society being rekindled and re-practicing a long lost art.
Confucianism is not a magic wand. It did not keep China from ossifying before. But it is a powerful way that had and that can still lead China back to the epitome of prosperity and civilization.
Yes, the best is still to come. It ain’t about marrying East and West. It’s about reawakening the East and absorbing interim Western experience as part of that reawakening.
If China keeps Marxism, Marxism will be changed, amended, and improved. If not, Marxism would have been a useful practical tool. Kept when useful … and gradually replaced as the times change. We’ll see!
Lanxing Xiang, unknown to me personally, would be controversial for his series of books within China and outside China. However, Pepe Escober through his insightful commentaries on ‘resistance to world order’ is loved and respected across the world. After reading this article, there would be serious confusion among the readers and activists about the underlying message of Pepe.
Let me raise few questions:
1) Is it that Confucius was the one and only socio-political thinker in ancient China ?
2) Did China achieve allround advancement before following so-called ‘western’ concepts of Marxism ?
3) Did China achieve ‘primitive accumulation of (national) capital’ without using western capital in 1980s to 2000s ?
Answer to all above questions is NO.
Why then the Chinese thinkers like Xiang is trying to prove (a) without following Confucius China will be doomed, and (b) Marx need to get married to Confucius to remain valid in China ?
Needless to say, every civilization had/has its own set of socio-political and cultural philosophy and philosophers which significantly influence politics and economy. But to ignore the dominant historical trend to follow so-called ancient philosophy is suicidal.
The people across the globe witnessed USSR’s downfall which was initiated with similar calls for socio-political pluralism by ‘scholars’ (who were sponsored by the Zionist-Capitalist world order ) for whom Marxism were alien thoughts.
Before similar cancer start growing within Chinese academia and media, Chinese Communist Party should take suitable actions to counter.
One thing I want to note – Confucianism definitely is not the end all and be all of Chinese political thoughts! And even within Confucius thoughts, there are many schools … for different times … or promoted by different groups.
And even … if Confucianism is the end all and be all (it is not) … what says China can’t develop more?
I remember someone telling me how the flute has been so embedded in Chinese culture that people forget it was an “imported” instrument.
Chinese civilization had a “Chinese source.” But since then, many thoughts and practices from around the world had come shaped and merged into the Chinese civilization. It’s like a river … starting from a source … but made great by the many tributaries that flew into the river along the way.
Chinese thought is not to be found necessarily from texts from 1000 years ago. Some key elements will be … but from those elements they need other elements to mix to bring to life modern China.
This article is “enlightening” for how “un-enlightened” the Xiang and Pepe are on what being Chinese mean. But at least they don’t spew out foul narcissist stench we see elsewhere!
I can’t agree more !
There is a tendency among ‘scholars’ (particularly if he/she has been in touch with Zionist-Capitalist ideals of ‘democracy’) to oversimplify and mix-up all concepts and philosophies ONLY to finally conclude that political pluralism and liberalism is the salvation of humankind.
Confucius was undoubtedly a great thinker and practitioner of elitist social order under enlightened monarchy (to put it very briefly). Some of his concepts, though developed in China, can be applied in other society. Marx was similarly a great thinker on political economy and activist for classless society – Marx’s theory has universal relevance as long as capitalism exploits 90% people and nature. Chinese Communist Party based on Marx’s philosophy may use Confucius to the extent it can support their cause for creating a just society.
It is beyond any intelligent person’s understanding why Marxism needs to marry Confucianism or , for that matter, why Marxism is ‘outsider’ or Confucianism is supreme socio-political theory for China !
I can sense that, such nonsense is being dished out to Chinese and global educated people as a groundwork of a kind of Chinese version of ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ …. If Chinese Communist Party is not guarding it’s ideological base , by 2030 , there will be Chinese Gorby on the the rise !
Giving political power to scholars is a crucial mistake. I don’t mean promoting repression, limiting thinking or any repressive whatsoever measure. Scholar, here is the fund, teach well, do your academic work, advance science and go home enjoy your dinner…
I mean scholar have a particular ability to screw-up and move on… leaving the consequences of their advises, decisions and miscalculations to others to handle. Scholars are more interested in advance their careers for enjoying academic prestige. This is why most the academic production is fashionable, sometimes fashionable-nonsense. The society that give political power to scholars is doomed.
The piece from Pepe, and the book from the “professor” seems to imply Confucism is neo-liberalism percursor.
I am surprise Pepe did not put imperialism in the equation…
@[Wasp] Lisbeth Salander,
“I mean scholar have a particular ability to screw-up and move on… leaving the consequences of their advises, decisions and miscalculations to others to handle.”
Your observation can actually be extended further to reflect the reality of past 500 years of zionist-capitalist world order. Most of the scholars and thinkers who earned their name in academia contributed to the development of the framework of democratic ‘politics’ and ‘governance’ that would invariably create a smoke-screen over the capitalistic exploitation of natural resources and 90% of the population. No such scholar would come forward to the rescue of the wretched majority of population. Neither Adam Smith nor Ricardo spent time on how the exploited mass can be rescued (i’m not trying to minimize their contribution to the subject of ‘Economics’). When somebody like Marx and Engels really spend their time and effort to dig up the mechanism of capitalist exploitation, scholars and thinkers across the world put extra efforts to debunk the theory. It is not that capitalist exploitation under the garb of democracy, was creation of Smith or Quesnay, but such scholars put heart and soul to establish the theoritical backbone.
Confucius, as a philosopher for continuity of moral principles of governance of ‘family’ and ‘state’ apparently followed during Shang and Zhou dynasties of ancient China, was an outstanding moralist philosopher. However with a quasi-male chauvinist and monarchical approach (both common at the ancient time across the world) Confucianism can not become a state religion let alone considering it as a legitimising aspect of governance (by communist party or any other party). Many aspects of Confucianism like ‘harmony’, ‘virtue’, ‘piety’, ‘morality’ etc. can definitely be taught to students in school for character-building.
Are we to believe that Mao-Zhou Enlai-Deng Xiaoping-Liu Shaoqi et. all did neither understood ‘Confucianism’ nor understood ‘Marxism’ ? Since they didn’t understand either, they made a blunder and followed Marxism instead of following Confucianism that would have solved all socio-economic problems of China ? The facts are very clearly in front of us – Chinese Communist Party’s nuanced application of Marxist principles along with capitalist market economy has resulted in such outstanding economic growth. If anything the party needs to take care , that relates to the increasing gap of income between rural and urban households as well as uncontrolled rise of private capital. Both neo-liberal and neo-conservative ‘scholarly virus’ (both are originated from same zionist capitalist clique) can hit the Chinese Communist Party ideologically while the private capital can transform the system of governance into a capitalist order (albeit with a prefix of democratic)!
After spending a considerable period of life under the influence of anglo-american academia and media, I tend to view such “Professors” who negates Marx’s theory as “old European” as indeed, Trojan horse!
This is freaking nonsense.
I would celebrate this as it would lead to the internal destabilization of China.
Confucianism is a class society, kinda like Plato’s Republic, where relationships between people (king, father, brothers are well-defined) while Marx desires a class-less society where “workers” can be whatever they want.
This comes at odd with each other, and will destroy each other.
For a Chinese perspective that is not interested in convergence with the west, I recommend Jiang Shigong.
In my opinion, the CCP has great ideological flexibility, and therefore can avoid pressure towards multi-party-ism so long as its answers to the needs of the moment are good enough.
That is how the Chinese do it: https://stalinsmoustache.org/socialism-with-chinese-characteristics-book-draft/
Pepe Escobar admirably outlines some interesting thoughts of Lanxin Xiang of relevance to the better understanding of Chinese-Western relations. However, Xiang (and Pepe) have spatially and temporally limited themselves to a few ideas pertaining to religion and politics.
There are more universal ideas concerning the nature of “goodness”; of (all) life on earth and its mutual interdependence; and, from our rudimentary knowledge of science, how existence itself seems to be preordained by the inherent physico-chemical qualities of energy-matter. Whatever happens concerning ‘human affairs’ there is a transcendent power that limits everything humans have done, are doing, and may do in the future, whether monopolistic or pluralistic.
For the past few millennia, since the ‘birth’ of civilisation, humans have given thought to ideas of a Utopia, an ideal existence. Meantime, they have sought to ‘better’ their existence by exploiting the world around them, irrespective of long-term consequences; and justified this by their thought systems, political and religious.
It seems to some that we are now nearing a temporal ‘tipping point’ of unintended, unforeseen, and potentially calamitous changes that threaten the (dynamic) stability on which existence (as we know it) depends. This prospect, if true, has profound consequences for humankind and the world that we inhabit.
Whoever has a privilege to read this Saker blog and whoever too puts down useful and good faith comments should have in mind that:
a-China is different
b-China will be in ten or fiteen years the new City shining on the Hill, dwarfing and reducing to stinky pieces the previous ‘soi-disant’ city.
c-anyone, any thinking man-woman will have to endeavour as hard as possible to understand the Empire of the middle, wish it or not.
d-Voting, elections and peoples ”consensus” with base on our faked popularity contests every 4 years, is NOT a NEED deriving from human nature. It ‘ s cultural and an upper classes’ convenience, no more.
e-when a phenonomenon repeats itselft for 40 years in a row, it s because it has the same causes. See the Chinese success phenom is recurrent in the last 40 years at least. So it necessarily is seated on solid, good bases. Which are not ‘voting’ or competing for any temporary ‘
consensus” like ours arroagance makes us believe.
And so on.
They would perhaps understand that the traditional societies of Europe were not that different from the Chinese one. The ‘Mandate of Heaven’ which conferred legitimacy to the Emperor is not that different from the ‘God’s Will and Grace’ which conferred legitimacy to the ‘Roman’ Emperor, and that the ‘anti traditional’ forces which disorganized those societies (each household or individual indiscriminately performing for itself the religious observances which had hitherto been conducted by the ‘shamans, priests’ and substituting the ‘will [i.e. the whims] of the ‘sovereign people’ to the will of God/Heaven and inventing a ‘science’ to suit these whims) were not that different either.
Well, I grant that Xiang is too close to the West for comfort but I think we should cut him some slack.
He’s Chinese and he understands the West. What he’s trying to do, I believe, is to make the West understand China using Western concepts; I think he’s sincere about that. He has his own opinion about how PRC should proceed with its policies. Some of it doesn’t chime with some people here but that’s OK. Sincere criticism doesn’t necessarily mean opposition or, worse, betrayal. A famous person said (I paraphrase) — ‘Support your friend when he’s doing right or doing wrong’. When asked how one should support a friend when he’s doing wrong, he said ‘ Tell him he’s doing wrong.’
It would be interesting to read Xiang’s book, published by Routledge, — that is telling us something about the intended target readership.
I for one appreciate Pepe’s effort in bringing Xiang to our attention and I thank him for it.
As Aristotle stated, democracy only works within Small States. No wonder the world is so screwed up.
The author needs not to talk a damn thing about Marx in China because the german philosophers thought s and consequent applicable guidelines are already built in, repeat built in, in the asian people system right up from Mao Dze Dong s times.
I think Xiang has it all wrong. China has a type of representative government. Jeff Brown and others have reported on this extensively. They can make it more legitimate by improving the responsiveness to the needs of the people. But It works fine and has provided a rapidly rising standard of living.
Confucianism did not create that nor did ML. It happened in spite of both. I think PRC like so many other successful economies followed the american system. What they are doing in Chna allows us to create the foundation for expansion outside planet earth and this solar system. If it ain’t broke…
The democratic west votes for people who are then corrupted rather than choosing policies and then building consensus around policies that prove successful. Democracy, selection of leaders vs. choosing goals and policies, has failed miserably to remove the banking aristocracy that is forcing the west into an ever deepening deflationary spiral -impoverishing, enslaving and dividing people. We will never get off this planet with that system. And time may be running out.
To add: Everyone here worries about nuclear war and winter. A yucatan size asteroid will make that look like picnic. And we are overdue.
Leaving planet earth will take generations and massive infrastructure program plus higher education, a PhD in physics level for every child. But it can only happen if humanity, the west in particular, follows China’s example of adopting the the “American System” as their political economy and abandons the usury oligarchy, the “British System”, that continues to be imposed on the world. With that the wars and other means of destruction, coups, austerity governments, etc. will end. Only then can humanity save itself from the inevitable consequences of an impact or super x solar storm. Putin/Xi should address the world and make this case. This may be the higher purpose that Russia has been searching for.
Recent events show the usury oligarchs are not relenting. They are doubling down.
“… Will Confucius marry Marx? …”
Hmm… I dunno… ‘T all depends on whether Democrats win in November, pack Supreme Court and prevent overturning its earlier same-sex marriage approval ruling methinks…
No, China does not need to change its governance, or try to “ marry Confucius with Marx”. What china really really needs is to quickly improve on their own kindergarten level propaganda, as described here:
Alan’s Link says China’s should win over the freedom loving democratic West by creating “a vibrant private sector for journalism”.
It says a lot more than that.It’s an awesome analysis of areas that China needs to improve on.Basically the author says China should do what Russia is trying to do with their media.
Two crucial aspects of Confucianism are often overlooked:
1: The duty of every subject to authority to remonstrant when that authority goes beyond what is right.
2: That the authorities that be shall know their place and listen to advice: A ruler shall rule, but not be a tyrant. A father must be a good father. A son must have the courage to speak back to his father and younger brothers should correct thei elder brothers.
Anybody here that is attacking China over the Uyghurs should read this article and see the short videos.
Pepe is an ideas guy. A good journalist…but he’ll fall in love with the next idea tomorrow. With Pepe it’s always sideshow alley time.
A very subversive author indeed, in my opinion. ““deviation from Confucian traditional values explains the roots of the income distribution problem in China better than the Weberian theories which tried to establish a clear linkage between democracy and fair income distribution””. The problem was that the Confucian traditional values were never a barrier in creating massive income distribution problems in pre nineteen century China.
One should talk about what it was, and not what the “theory” was supposed to lead to.
Democracy could potentially lead to greater income equality, but the problem is, we nowadays we mostly have Republics or monarchies (absolute or constitutional) with oligarchic control of the politic and economic system.
Thus, the CCP can in time become the new Mandarinate, the technocratic body that can try to marry some administrative expertise with ethical values (Confucianism and/of Marxists). The issue ultimately is that the author leaves open the door for the primacy of “private property”, which is the root of evil and the destroyer of communities, and the hater and despiser of democracy. A strong state can deal with that, but a state that has fallen in the hands of oligarchy will be the bane of life. History has shown this to be the case again and again and again everywhere on the face of the world.