A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future

A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future

A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future

A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future


As China continues to transform itself, many assume that the nation will eventually move beyond communism and adopt a Western-style democracy. But could China develop a unique form of government based on its own distinct traditions? Jiang Qing--China's most original, provocative, and controversial Confucian political thinker--says yes. In this book, he sets out a vision for a Confucian constitutional order that offers a compelling alternative to both the status quo in China and to a Western-style liberal democracy. A Confucian Constitutional Order is the most detailed and systematic work on Confucian constitutionalism to date.

Jiang argues against the democratic view that the consent of the people is the main source of political legitimacy. Instead, he presents a comprehensive way to achieve humane authority based on three sources of political legitimacy, and he derives and defends a proposal for a tricameral legislature that would best represent the Confucian political ideal. He also puts forward proposals for an institution that would curb the power of parliamentarians and for a symbolic monarch who would embody the historical and transgenerational identity of the state. In the latter section of the book, four leading liberal and socialist Chinese critics--Joseph Chan, Chenyang Li, Wang Shaoguang, and Bai Tongdong--critically evaluate Jiang's theories and Jiang gives detailed responses to their views.

A Confucian Constitutional Order provides a new standard for evaluating political progress in China and enriches the dialogue of possibilities available to this rapidly evolving nation. This book will fascinate students and scholars of Chinese politics, and is essential reading for anyone concerned about China's political future.


Daniel A. Bell

In 1912, Kang Youwei (1858–1927)—the most prominent political reformer of his day—founded the Confucian Religious Society. During China’s brief experiment with parliamentary debate in the newly established Republic of China, the society twice proposed institutionalizing Confucianism as the state religion but narrowly failed to garner the required two-thirds majority of the vote in the national assembly. A century later, Jiang Qing (b. 1952)—the most prominent Confucian political thinker of our day—has revived Kang’s cause. Similar to Kang, Jiang argues that nothing less than an official embrace of Confucianism can save China from its moral and political predicament. Whereas Kang was somewhat vague about how to implement his idea of a constitutional monarchy with Confucianism as the official state religion, Jiang has developed the institutional implications in great detail. Jiang’s views are intensely controversial in mainland China, but a conversation about political change among intellectuals and political reformers in China rarely fails to turn to Jiang’s proposals. Jiang’s political Confucianism has generated an extensive Chineselanguage secondary literature of comments and criticisms. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Jiang Qing has almost single-handedly succeeded in enriching debates about China’s political future. Prior to Jiang, the discourse about politics with “Chinese characteristics” was usually shallow rhetoric meant to buttress the status quo. The main alternative was put forward by liberal democrats, who tend to think that China’s political future comes down to an empirical issue of when and how to adopt Western-style liberal democracy in the form of elections and multiparty competition. But Jiang’s modern-day adaptation of Confucian constitutionalism is the most detailed systematic alternative to both the current regime and Westernstyle liberal democracy.

In view of Jiang’s originality and influence, Fan Ruiping and I organized a workshop on Confucian constitutionalism in May 2010 at the City University of Hong Kong (due to the political sensitivity of this material, it would have been difficult to secure official permission or funding for such a workshop in mainland China). Jiang developed his proposals for the purposes of the workshop, and four leading Chinese intellectuals wrote . . .

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