Xi Jinping, Confucius and Austerity

At Foreign Affairs, John Delury writes that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s austerity drive has less to do with macroeconomic policy and GDP growth, as it does in the West, and more to do with the Confucian philosophy of political virtue and legitimacy:

The old Confucian paragon of the “clean official” still resonates powerfully in today’s half-capitalist, half-Communist, pseudo-Confucian China. The current austerity program is best understood as Xi’s attempt to put his own stamp on that traditional notion of good governance. In particular, there are clear traces of Mao in Xi’s program. Xi even recently praised Mao’s list of “six nos” that barred officials from squandering the people’s wealth, and he promised to renew Mao’s old fight against “formalism, bureaucratism, and hedonism and extravagance.”

But Xi has also been drawing on the unique language of the progressive reform tradition in Chinese political thought, which traces back to the nineteenth century. Its standard-bearer, Feng Guifen, called upon his countrymen to study Western countries’ “techniques of wealth and power,” including the democratic political system that ensured “closeness” between ruler and ruled. That influence is especially clear when Xi explains the goal of austerity in terms of preserving harmony between the Communist Party and the Chinese people. “If we don’t redress unhealthy tendencies and allow them to develop,” Xi cautioned earlier this year, “it will be like putting up a wall between our party and the people, and we will lose our roots, our lifeblood and our strength.” This is a standard trope among Chinese reformers going back to Sun Yat-sen and Feng Guifen, who argued that elections and representative assemblies would reduce the distance between the people and the government, and thus tighten the bonds of the nation. Xi too wants to keep the people close to the Party, but to do so through austerity, not democracy. [Source]

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