Xi Jinping Extols Confucian Values

Xi Jinping Extols Confucian Values
Photograph by Keren Su/Getty Images

The Chinese sage just got a little more respect. “Confucian thought can play a positive role in China’s development today,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping, while visiting the sixth-century B.C. philosopher and teacher’s hometown of Qufu, Shandong on Nov. 26, reported the China Daily.

Xi stopped in at the 460-room Kong family mansion that once housed Confucius descendants (“Kong” is Confucius’ Chinese surname), and gave a speech while visiting a local research institute devoted to Confucius.

“China boasts a long traditional culture, and China will create a new glory of its culture,” Xi said according to press accounts. “The thoughts of the renowned philosopher of ancient China can exert a positive influence today.”

Xi’s comments no doubt have encouraged those who advocate a larger role today for the sage and his teachings. Those include a motley group of academics and businessmen who say China should adopt a political and economic system that incorporates some of the teachings of Confucius.

One vision: a bicameral system, with one house popularly elected and the other chosen by wise and capable elites—what Confucius would advocate if he were still around today, say some. “The modern state is too big and too complicated for average people to understand. And people don’t have the time anyway,” Fudan University philosophy professor Bai Tongdong told Bloomberg Businessweek in an interview in Shanghai last year.

Another ambition: an economy with a much smaller role for the government. Free market-oriented economists like Sheng Hong of the Beijing-based Unirule Institute, say that Confucius’ support for a small state shows the value of a more privatized economy. “Confucius’ theory is very similar to the invisible hand of Adam Smith,” Sheng said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, also last year. “People will [naturally] seek their own benefit, the government doesn’t have to interfere, and the economy will flourish.”

Cynics may question why Xi is plugging the philosophy of a man who lived some 2,500 years ago. After all, Confucius put a big emphasis on obedience to proper authority. And with China’s leaders trying to deal with an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 protests a year, they would likely welcome a more deferential, less unruly populace.

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