The Ideal Chinese Political Leader: A Historical and Cultural Perspective

The Ideal Chinese Political Leader: A Historical and Cultural Perspective

The Ideal Chinese Political Leader: A Historical and Cultural Perspective

The Ideal Chinese Political Leader: A Historical and Cultural Perspective

Excerpt

This study offers an historical perspective and conceptual framework to the investigation of Chinese political theory by identifying the personalities of ideal Chinese political leaders. In Chinese culture, personality is a significant factor that regulates the pursuits of political figures and powerfully influences their moral behavior. For Chinese political leaders, personality is a combination of the values and ethics of Confucian, Daoist, and Legalist traditions that derive from the ideal pursuit of the Confucian “nobleman” (junzi), the Daoist “sage” (shengren) and “authentic person” (zhenreri), and the Legalist “enlightened leader” (mingjun). Although Mohism, as a major school of thought before the pre-Qin period, was influential in modeling the personality of political leaders, it gradually lost its prominence during and after the Qin-Han era and no longer played a central role in the development of Chinese philosophy and thought; therefore, this study does not focus on Mohism in investigating the ideal personalities of political leaders.

Confucianism can be classified as three comprising traditions—the “great tradition,” the “politicized tradition,” and the “little tradition.” Although there are close links among those three traditions and each contains a few sharp departures from the others, they represent different influences on the personalities of the Chinese political leaders. For political leaders who received a systematic orthodox education, the values of the great tradition were likely their primary source of moral indoctrination and virtuous training. For those who had little exposure to orthodox education, such as military leaders who helped rising political officials overthrow established rulers, the little tradition provided the major source of the values that guided their social and political practice. The little tradition, as disseminated through folk culture—traditional stories, folk songs, and operas—was more influential than the great tradition. Considering that the classics of Chinese tradition were unpopular and traditional thought was heavily attacked by radical intellectu-

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