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China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society
China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society
by Daniel Bell
Edition: Hardcover
38 used & new from $2.85

15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, May 10, 2009
Oxford-University educated political philosopher Daniel Bell is-- as the reviewer above me mentioned-- one of the foremost authorities working on contemporary Chinese political philosophy today. He is also very uniquely situated as the first Western scholar to teach on a longterm basis in the department of philosophy at China's top university (Tsinghua University). In addition to Tsinghua, Bell has also taught at universities in Hong Kong and Singapore and is an extremely prolific writer-- writing for both an academic as well as a general audience. Perhaps of greatest significance to me is that he is trilingual and fluent in Chinese.

With his impressive background in mind, I was expecting a lot from his work-- and I was not disappointed.

I will echo that this particular book of Bell's would be of great interest to anyone wanting to read more about contemporary Chinese society or politics. However, what I have found most stimulating about his work is his ability-- and indeed his courage--to engage with the underlying philosophies that inform the issues. So often, when we read books about foreign-born philosophies (not just Confucianism, but Buddhist philosophy, daoism etc.) it seems that the authors feel compelled to present the philosophies only in such a way that maps on to our modern sensibilities. Of course, there is interest in seeing how, for example, Confucianism can be mapped on to American neo-liberal ideals, etc. That is fine. But, I think the lesser-traveled but more interesting and intellectually-stimulating route is to engage in the ideas (and their logical implications) as much as possible without filtering them through Western sensibilities. I mean, what in the end can we learn or take away from a Westernized view of Confucianism? I think this is precisely why Bell remains a somewhat controversial figure (online he remains my favorite cause célèbre on various China-related blogs!) precisely because he takes people out of their comfort zones (for example his chapter on karaoke).

The man thinks outside the box. And for that reason alone, I highly recommend this book (especially for readers who sincerely want to engage with ideas which might make them uncomfortable).

Along these lines-- and similar to Parag Khanna's work-- Bell presents alternative models for developing countries. And, I would recommend reading his ideas regarding contemporary Chinese politics with democratic India and the Philippines in mind (for example). Like the reviewer at the top, in one sense I also found the work Beijing-centric. On the other hand, though, I also found his book to be surprisingly relevant to Japanese contemporary sensibilities. Japan and Korea are often cited as the great Confucian societies today. I have lived in Japan myself for 20 years and Bell's book was surprisingly relevant to my experiences in Japan (I won't speak about Korea as I have not spent enough time there)--this was particularly so in his chapter "Hierarchical Rituals and Egalitarian Society," which I thought was the most interesting chapter in the entire book.

I highly recommend China's New Confucianism and hope Bell will turn his attention to Japan someday as well.


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