- A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China’s Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future by Jiang Qing
“In recent years, China’s political development began to go astray. Every current of political thought in China assumes that democracy is the way ahead for China. A glance over China’s current world of thought shows that the Chinese people have already lost their ability to think independently about political questions. In other words, Chinese people are no longer able to use patterns of thought inherent in their culture—Chinese culture—to think about China’s current political development. This is a great tragedy for the world of Chinese thought.”
This statement by China’s controversial intellectual Jiang Qing 蔣慶 (b. 1952) is taken from the opening remarks of the first of his three essays that stand at the core of A Confucian Constitutional Order (p. 27). The book, coedited by Daniel Bell and Fan Ruiping, collects, in addition to Jiang’s essays, critical responses by four Chinese intellectuals, a counterresponse by Jiang, and a highly informative introduction by Daniel Bell. Read together, they provide readers of English with an excellent introduction to Jiang’s thought and, more broadly, to some recent developments in the Chinese intellectual scene.1 Bell and Fan should be congratulated for their efforts, and Edmund Ryden should be proud of his translations. Minor technical misgivings (e.g., the omission of Chinese characters) notwithstanding, A Confucian Constitutional Order should surely take pride in its place among the Princeton-China Series publications.2
Jiang Qing is a self-avowed cultural and political conservative. He proclaims, “[I]n my view, political modernity is precisely the chief cause of political problems”; modernity is blamed for the “loss of historical nature, continuity and national spirit”; “loss of sacredness, prestige and value”; and “loss of loyalty” (pp. 89–90). China’s embrace of modernity brought about “serious chaos and lack of order” (p. 44). Worse, it caused severe cultural disruption, since, fascinated with it, Chinese intellectuals—even traditionalists and Confucians, such as Zhang Taiyan 章太炎 (1869–1936) and Kang Youwei 康有爲 (1858–1927)—failed to address “China’s own historical and cultural specificity” in proposing a new post-monarchic order (p. 45). Having adopted Western values, most notably the idea of popular sovereignty as the single source of political legitimacy, these intellectuals brought about cultural and political disaster. The embrace of democracy, according to Jiang Qing, leads to “extreme secularization, contractualism, utilitarianism, selfishness, commercialism, capitalization, vulgarization, hedonism, mediocritization, this-worldliness, lack of ecology, lack of history, and lack of morality” (p. 33). [End Page 608] Moreover, it creates a dangerous void of legitimacy, which threatens to bring about “a crisis of political authority” (p. 28).
Even those readers who do not subscribe to many of Jiang’s claims may agree with some of his diagnoses, especially regarding the weaknesses of internal legitimacy of China’s current political system. Only a few, however, would accept the remedies that Jiang prescribes to China’s current illnesses. Jiang Qing wants to cure China through a revival of what he believes to represent the Way of the True Monarch (Wang Dao 王道, translated, somewhat problematically in my eyes, as “The way of humane authority”). Jiang claims that his view of the Way is rooted in Confucian tradition, particularly in the Five Classics, among which the Gongyang Commentary 公羊傳 on the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu 春秋) is singularly important for him. Jiang believes that the Five Classics should be taken as “a norm” (p. 191), according to which the political, social, and spiritual system should function. Yet his concrete proposals are not exactly for the restoration of a traditional monarchy; rather, they are a curious attempt to create an entirely novel political structure that would implement ideas of the classics as Jiang interprets them.
Jiang Qing envisions China as a sort of constitutional monarchy run by a tricameral parliament under...