Political Legitimacy in China: A Confucian Perspective

The Inaugural Confucius Lecture, co-presented with the Confucius Institute at the University of Sydney

5 October, 2011
Professor Daniel Bell


The Chinese government has managed to achieve a high degree of political legitimacy without democracy in the sense of free and fair competitive elections for the country’s leaders. The main explanation is that the Chinese government has recently revived and drawn upon three sources of non-democratic legitimacy: performance legitimacy, political meritocracy, and nationalism. In a critical spirit, I will suggest that those sources of legitimacy may not be sustainable and justified from a moral point of view. I will then argue that a modified version of Jiang Qing’s theory of political legitimacy may help to remedy some of the defects of “actually-existing” legitimacy in China. And I will conclude by asking if this model of legitimacy is relevant and desirable outside of China.

Professor Daniel A. Bell was born in Montreal, Canada. He obtained his B.A. at McGill University and his graduate degrees at Oxford University. He is Zhiyuan Chair Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Jiaotong University (Shanghai) and Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy and Director of the Center for International and Comparative Political Philosophy at Tsinghua University (Beijing). His recent books include China's New Confucianism (2010), the co-edited book Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (2011), and the co-authored book The Spirit of Cities (2011). He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, and to Chinese language publications (Chinese name: 贝淡宁). His writings have been translated in 22 languages.