A Smoke Screen; China Needs Better Leadership, Not Another Morality Campaign

Article excerpt

Byline: Minxin Pei

So China has at long last found something to fill its "values vacuum." Once the party hoped that communist ideology would bind the masses to its will. After the catastrophic Cultural Revolution thoroughly discredited radical communism, Chinese leaders quietly rehabilitated capitalism and later fostered a resurgent nationalism to distract from the party's failings. Now Beijing is assiduously reminding citizens of their Confucian heritage. The Great Sage seems the perfect man for the job: by promoting him, authorities look both patriotic and sympathetic, given his views on how rulers must take the needs of the poor and downtrodden into account. And at the same time, leaders can underscore more basic, if not self-serving, virtues--like obedience to authority.

The question, however, is whether Confucius can bear such a burden. The answer is clearly no. China's torrid economic growth has produced enormous wealth and crushing social strains. But the principal source of social disharmony is not a lack of moral values. The real problem lies in misguided official policies, including a lack of state resources devoted to health and education in the countryside, as well as pervasive official corruption. The latter, more than any other factor, Confucius famously warned, delegitimizes rulers. The Confucian mandate of heaven must be regained, not through empty preaching, but by good governance. …