A Confucian Constitutional Order (book review)

«if you are looking for an accurate reflection of Confucianism as historically practiced, or a political proposal with real feasibility, this is not the book for you»

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

book review by

Carl F. Minzner

Fordham University – School of Law
July 26, 2013
The China Quarterly, 2013



«In the late 18th century, as the French Revolution burned through the heart of Europe, toppling established political and social orders, the English philosopher Edmund Burke set pen to paper. Earlier a critic of unrestrained royal power, he now mounted a full-blown defence of monarchy, elite rule, state religion and English historical traditions in the face of French Enlightenment values of secularism and popular democracy: “We fear God, we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility.” Unsurprisingly, Burke’s thought is the wellspring for several strands of American right-wing thought. Despite the book’s title, Jiang Qing is a staunch Burkean conservative – just a Chinese one»

Chapter one sketches his vision for a tricameral legislature. Consistent with his distrust of popular democracy and commitment to elite rule, the three houses each derive their legitimacy from different sources, and serve to check the excesses of the others {…}

Chapter two sets out the role of the Academy – a supreme political body comprised of Confucian scholars (resembling the Iranian Council of Guardians) situated above both the legislature and other state institutions {…} Chapters two and three propose enthroning a symbolic monarch (resembling those in the United Kingdom) who is a blood descendant of Confucius and re-establishing Confucianism as the official state ideology (administered by the Academy) {…}

Jiang does not believe that China need strictly adhere to past models. “Changes in historical circumstances may necessitate changes in the form of rule” (p. 32): for him, that justifies everything from creating (limited) formal channels for popular political participation to imposing external checks on state power by an independent scholarly elite to adopting a symbolic monarchy. And Jiang certainly falls within a long tradition of Chinese thinkers who seek to legitimate their reform proposals by reference to the past – whether real or imagined.

In summary, if you are looking for an accurate reflection of Confucianism as historically practiced, or a political proposal with real feasibility, this is not the book for you. But it does offer a unique (and excellently translated) look into how some intellectuals, dissatisfied with China’s frozen political system and the debates surrounding its reform, are attempting to re-appropriate their historical heritage in an urgent search for a way out

FULL TEXT  Book Review




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