CDT Bookshelf: Daniel A. Bell’s China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society

The role of Confucianism in Chinese politics and society has been a much-discussed topic in recent years. Daniel A. Bell, a philosophy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, published a book earlier this year titled, “China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society.” According to the publisher, Princeton University Press, the book, “makes the case that as the nation retreats from communism, it is embracing a new Confucianism that offers a compelling alternative to Western liberalism.” From a review in the Independent:

Bell, who teaches politics at Beijing’s crack Tsinghua University, is well placed to comment on changing Chinese attitudes. He detects signs of a reviving interest in, and practice of, pre-communist traditions, whether in the lecture hall, in the streets, or inside karaoke bars. The latter especially attract Bell’s attention. It is within the karaoke bar that the bonding properties of music – so beloved of Confucians – become manifest. If the hostesses offer sex as well as harmonious conversation, that too is as the Sage Master might wish. “I never met anyone,” he told his 5th-century BC students approvingly, “who values virtue more than physical beauty.”

Moreover (Bell argues) such arrangements, while providing profitable “employment opportunities” for the hostesses, also help preserve the family – the ultimate Confucian good. Husbands may err, but return to base soon enough. Health workers and feminists may grimace, but Bell has a sharp sense of cultural differences. What matters more to him than political correctness is China’s political direction. He senses greater inclusivity ahead, though not a Western-type democracy. Dismissing Yu Dan for her lightweight reconfiguration of Confucianism as an inner quest, he prefers Jiang Qing, whose Political Confucianism is distinctly socialist while upholding the role that non-elected wise elders should play in China’s governance.

See also:

– Reviews of the book from: The Los Angeles Times; New York Times; Far Eastern Economic Review; Asia Times; and the Literary Review of Canada.
The first chapter of the book
An op-ed by Bell in the New York Times
a video of an interview with Bell at the United Nations University
– “China: Humiliation & the Olympics” by Orville Schell in the New York Review of Books which discusses Bell’s book.

Here is an interview with Bell on VOA News:

And an extended interview on 3D Dialogue:

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