Neo-Maoist, Neo-Confucian or neither?

At the age of 90 one could be forgiven for dwelling on the past and the Chinese Communist Party is no exception writes Francis Fukuyama. In a world where liberal democracy dominates, China needs a legitimising narrative for its authoritarian government.

The older generation remembers the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, but political failure to hold Mao to account means that younger people look to China’s communist roots with nostalgia. Nonetheless, one song not promoted during the recent anniversary was the Internationale, a dangerously subversive tune for a government that demands conformity.

A Maoist past is tainted by uncomfortably recent memories. Thus there are those that look further back to Confucianism. Dynastic history is once more taught in Chinese schools, and academics are reviving Confucius’ teachings to justify China’s ‘unique existence’, outside of western thought or historical narrative.

Francis Fukuyama concludes that China needs to find its own way to modernity, and both traditions are being promoted as alternatives to democracy. Whether they will survive being (re) appropriated by the state remains to be seen. And can they peaceably co-exist?

Keynote speaker Francis Fukuyama  is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, and author of ‘The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution’.

International Affairs & Security