Nourish the people with cheap diesel

In the post below Jonathan asked how a Confucian China could really be in the future. One possible bit of data comes from this article (From Brad DeLong). NYT reports that there are gas shortages in Southeast China because refineries are not willing to process crude at current low (state-set) prices. I suspect that things are actually more complex than that, but what I find interesting is that people are apparently hording gas in expectation that prices will go up. In other words they think that the state will adopt a market solution. If China had a more “Confucian” government they might take a more corporatist approach, and keep prices low for the benefit of consumers and farmers or whatever. (I’m an American, so the idea of cheap gas as a civil right is familiar to me.) For Confucian economic policy think of MITI in Japan and how it developed a whole range of ways to encourage firms to behave in a way that was for the good of Japan, as MITI saw it, rather than always for profits. I don’t see China heading in that direction. In part I just don’t see it, it is not happening. In part I can’t see where that would come from. China seems to have some pretty sophisticated economic policy makers, and they seem to look more to the US than Japan for models, which makes sense in 2005.

On top of that, I don’t think you can call a pure lassie faire policy like in Hong Kong in the old days Confucian. I can think of few things less Confucian than saying that the state does not matter, and should not have a role in regulating society. Nor do I see the CCP saying something like that any time soon. Without going too far into the “is it Confucianism” thing, it sounds a lot like the Republican era, or Taiwan, with a powerful state sector with at least some corporatist urges trying to control a fairly anarchic economic system but without the willingness to develop the methods of economic control you saw in Japan.


  1. Great site and interesting discussion about the future of Confucianism. I would like to reiterate some comments to the earlier post on this subject: The term “Confucianism” can have–and has had–a variety of meanings throughout history–from the thought and person of Confucius, to Han Dynasty worship of the figure of Confucius, to the Song Dynasty study of the 4 books and 5 classics in preparation for the imperial exams. Confucius is everything from a down to earth teacher who read books to a master of ritual performance to a sage ruler possessed of magical charisma. Often, what is meant by Confucianism is merely the official, state-centered perspective. In my view, when a modern government throws out the word “Confucianism,” it is similar to American politicians saying “compassionate conservate.” Nathan Sivin’s article, “The Term Taoism as a Source of Perplexity” makes a similar argument about the term “Taoism.” It is on-line–if you are interested I can find the URL.

    I also want to welcome you to the blogosphere. I recently completed my Ph.D. in East Asian Language and Civilization at UPenn, and spent a lot of my spare time during the final stages of my dissertation surfing the blogosphere. Since I started in June 2003, the best and most widely read blogs have been focused on American politics and media. It is refreshing to see more people with particular expertise getting involved. I will link to your site on my own, “Mandate of Heaven,” which is a mixture of Chinese and American politics, religion, and media. Actually, now that I am in a transitional stage, and jobless, I tend to be leaning more towards my new hobby: American politics/media. In some of the older sites, you can find more discussion about Chinese history, though, especially during the lead up to my defense, part of the success of which I owe to blogging about my dissertation beforehand.

  2. Wow, you finished your dissertation while spending a lot of time on the blogosphere? I respect you. I finished mine while raising a new baby, which is almost as big a distraction but tends to focus one on work. The “I’m hungry” cry reminds you that if food is going to keep coming someone needs to finish this disseration. Full diapers remind you that is someone is going to be producing a scholarly product around here it is probably you.

    I agree that “Confucianism” is a term that gets tossed around a lot, but at least for someone like Lee Guanyu it has real meaning in a modern political sense. I’ve yet to see anything on how seriously people in Zhongnanhai take all that sort of stuff.

  3. Good points about Lee Guanyu; I remember Tu Wei-ming was involved in that.

    As for blogging and dissertating: I didn’t have my own blog at the time. I merely read other peoples’, and only after fulfilling my day’s goals. But I also feel, at least for me, it is also necessary to get one’s mind off of the dissertation sometimes, to have some different experiences, to know what other people in other places are thinking. Again, that is just me, and yes, I didn’t have a baby to take care of. However, sometimes just being alone–feeling cut off from other people–can be its own obstacle. In my own case, the blogosphere is one hidden backdrop for my discussion about minority (particularly Yao) religion and politics, and how different media are used to represent center/periphery contacts in imperial China. Maybe I can think of it as the control in my project, which served to contrast with the main issues of my dissertation. Maybe not.

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