The book CHINESE POLITICAL CULTURE relates to political culture in significantly different ways from the approaches used in other books with similar content. This book touches on many aspects of Chinese political culture; as a result, reading the book gives one a better comprehension of China’s complexity. This collection of essays manages to achieve this aim without losing its unity.
The first section of the book explores the modern transformation of Chinese traditional culture and its effect on contemporary political culture. It speaks to the complexity of the issue that the three essays do not agree on whether neo-Confucianism always provides the foundation on which contemporary Chinese political culture can rest. Kam Louie examines the role of Confucianism’s dichotomy between wen [man of letter] and wu [warrior] to emphasize continuities in the patriarchal nature of Chinese society.
Roger Ames, from a different perspective, examines the continued relevance of Confucianism among intellectuals in his presentation of the creative use of Kant by noted scholars Mou Zongsan and Li Zehou in their effort to reassert the relevance of the Confucian heritage. Godwin Chu, however, shows that although there are striking continuities between the ways in which the concept of zhong [loyalty] was used in traditional China and during the Maoist period, the individual assertiveness he observes today marks a major break with the past. The second section of the book proceeds to socialization and observes official ideologies.
The chapter on nationalism, by Edward Friedman, reminds us that despite the use of a sometimes strident nationalist rhetoric by its leaders, the existence of a Chinese “nation” protected by the Party-state remains a long way off, as evidenced by the inability of the government to establish institutions such as the welfare state. The chapter by Zhu Jianhua and Ke Huixin, which addresses the construction of Hong Kong in the minds of Chinese in Gungzhou and Shenzhen, suggests that despite greater exposure to a diversity of opinions, people living next door to Hong Kong still hold distorted views about that territory.
Misra Kalpana’s chapter on the transition from neo-Maoism to neo-conservatism offers to explain this paradox. She argues that the state has successfully shed its orthodox Leninist ideology in favor of neo-conservative nationalism thanks to the recuperation of the neo-conservative discourses emerging in diverse milieus of society. Peter Moody addresses cynicism and indifference to politics in China in his chapter on anti-political tendencies. Moody also warns that the anti-political trends may end up tacitly endorsing the unjust, corrupt political system they claim to reject.
The third section enriches these nuances with an additional layer of complexity, by looking into the different variants of Chinese political cultures found among different social strata and regions. Cheng Li looks at the emergence of pluralism among entrepreneurs; Alan Liu at provincial identities; Shih Chih-yu at elections in minority areas of the PRC and Taiwan; Tang Wenfang at religion in China and Taiwan; and ChuYun-han and Chang Yu-tzung at regime legitimacy in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, through the use of sophisticated survey techniques.
This third part of the book may present less coherence, but the case studies succeed in illustrating the diversity of Chinese political culture. My only remark is about Liu’s assertion that Chinese on the mainland, as well as mainlanders living in Taiwan, are displaying lower levels of religiosity, and that higher degrees of modernization reduce religiosity. Not only does this conclusion contrast with most studies on religion in Taiwan, but the data contradicts this statement: Taiwan displays a higher degree of religiosity than China despite its greater degree of modernization.
It is also necessary to note that the past two decades has been a period of remarkable growth in China, characterized by economic expansion and the opening of its society to the outside world. What has followed is a better life for many of its citizens. As a result, China supporters from outside its borders have become confident that economic and social progress will eventually lead to a more open political system and consequently more favourable investment conditions. Reference CHINESE POLITICAL CULTURE: 1989-2000. Edited by Shiping Hua, foreword by Andrew J. Nathan. Armonk (New York), London (England): M. E. Sharpe. 2001. xv, 370 pp.