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Global Viewpoint

Why China won't collapse

The purge of provincial party chief Bo Xilai is seen as China’s most serious political crisis in decades. But this view assumes the people are dissatisfied with the regime. In fact, the large majority of Chinese people support the single-party state structure. Still, dangers lurk.

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Second, the emphasis on political meritocracy does not just refer to rulers with ability, but also to rulers with above-average virtue. In the past, political leaders had moral legitimacy by virtue of their perceived commitment to Confucian values. Today, however, political leaders are widely seen to be morally corrupt and lacking any serious commitment to an ethical system that constrains their selfish desires. At the moment, most of the popular anger is directed at lower-level corrupt officials, but the Bo case points to rot at the top.

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The leaders are also seen to be responsible for the moral state of the whole nation. If nothing is done to improve perceptions of widespread moral collapse, they may not be able to resist calls for wholesale change of leadership. Hence, there is a need for more ethical education in the training of officials as well as society at large.

Third, a form of nationalism that draws on the emotion of resentment to strengthen the state makes less sense as China becomes a dominant global power. The whole moral point of building up state power is to secure political stability so that people can lead decent lives without worrying about material deprivation and physical insecurity. It may have made sense to build up state power at the cost of other considerations when China was poor and routinely bullied by foreign powers, but it is harder to justify now that the country has the ability to bully others.

There is still a legitimate role for nationalism, but it needs to take a more humane form. Hence, Chinese “cultural nationalists” have been calling for the revival of traditional Confucian values such as social harmony and compassion. Just as Americans take pride in “American” values such as freedom and democracy, so Chinese can take pride in “Chinese” values. The challenge, as always, will be to minimize the gap between the ideals and the reality, but any decent society needs some guiding ideals.

Daniel A. Bell is a professor of comparative political philosophy at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the author of “China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society.”

© 2012 Global Viewpoint Network/Huffington Post. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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