What makes you the best person for the job? A common interview question we can all relate to at one point or another. A job that entails leading an entire country would surely involve a similar question. Rather than pose the above question through an interview, Confucius created a system of selection that identified the most virtuous of people to serve as political leaders. Confucius based his system on the idea that everyone was educated; however his process involved discovering leaders who were morally cultivated and capable of gaining the trust of the people, an important element for a junzi person of power. Confucius believed that those who govern should do so based on merit, not on inherited status.
Political meritocracy, a key theme in the history of Chinese political culture, is making a comeback and President Xi Jinping is making it his job to deliver it. President Xi is reflecting the teachings of Confucius through his Anti-Corruption campaign. The campaign targets suspected corruption from all levels of the government and state-owned industry. The targets in this drive are high- and lower-level officials in the Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the state enterprise system. In 2014 alone, 68 top officials and more than 70,000 lower level officers were investigated for violations of anti-graft rules. Around 36 high-level officials have been brought to trial (1).
Confucius was an advocate not of absolute power, but of the constraint of power. His political message was that virtue, not force, would bind the public to the state (1). Can Xi’s strategy re-establish the CCP’s authority over its nearly 90 million members? State propaganda refers to the campaign as “killing tigers and swatting flies,” where the tigers are the powerful and the flies the petty officials (2). President Xi has utilised Chinese imperial rulers in public statements to make it clear that he is serious about embarking on a transformation that will benefit the future of China:
• “The people are the basis of a country” (民惟邦本), he said, quoting Confucian classic of “Shang Shu,” or “Book of Documents” (also known as the “Book of History”).
• “Politics is about gaining the people’s support” (政得其民), he said, a quote from the Confucian philosopher Mengzi (Mencius).
• “Combine ‘li’ ” — rituals that express ethics — “and the law in order to rule” (礼法合治), he said. More Confucius, but also shades of Xunzi, a later Confucian philosopher (3).
Xi also quoted Confucius saying, “Govern with virtue and keep order through punishments.” (2) Studies show that ordinary Chinese expect their leaders to be virtuous, meaning that rulers are supposed to use power to serve the political community, not themselves. Xi Jinping is representing the central value of meritocracy (4). However, the higher the levels of political corruption in other areas of the government lead to a less meritocratic political system which in turn affects China’s future as a whole.One way of overcoming the problem of entrenched corruption is to realise that “Ultimately, the problem of corruption will only be solved if corruption is seen as a source of deep shame” and that this could be remedies by “the revival of Confucian education for public servants.”(4) For those who do not believe Xi Jinping is capable of doing the job, take a look at the recent case of Zhou Yongkang, China’s former domestic security chief who was found guilty of corruption charges and sentenced to life in prison (5).
“We acknowledge that Confucian culture has limits and some outdated concepts,” Mr. Yan said. “We need to keep the good things and discard the bad ones.” (6) This is the case with philosophies from all over the world including the West, and not only China’s. We move with the times, as shown in women’s rights, anti-discrimination and other social advances. But strong leadership that inspires the people because of its morality and not only competence in governance is perhaps the best blend.
“It is a basic Confucian view that the material and ethical welfare of the individual and the whole people is ultimately determined by the charismatic qualities of the ruler who is legitimated by Heaven and by the welfare policy of his officials”
– (Weber 1968, 212)
Any ruler who represents just that is surely the right candidate for the job. Would you agree? Let us know by leaving a comment!