Chinese Meritocracy vs Western Democracy

The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, Reviewed by Tongdong Bai, Fudan University
The second model is a hybrid of democracy and meritocracy, which can be implemented by a bicameral structure with a house of "meritocrats," a model Bell himself championed before. He discusses the proposals made by Sun Yat-sen, Friedrich Hayek, and Jiang Qing, as well as the English House of Lords, and argues that the meritocratic house will be overshadowed by the democratically elected house when people enjoy a sense of empowerment through one-person-one-vote. East Asian societies cannot bet on the meritocratic heritage because Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have all embraced electoral democracy instead of a Confucian hybrid regime.

The third model is democracy on the bottom, and meritocracy on top (through selections that are discussed in Chapter 2). In the Concluding Remarks, Bell also adds a middle level that allows experiments in combining meritocracy and democracy. He calls this three-level structure the China model. But in order for meritocracy on top to work, the potential candidates, when going through a long period of training, need guarantees that their training will be rewarded. This means that one-party rule is a pre-condition. Then, the problem of the legitimacy of such a meritocracy can only be ultimately solved by a referendum that can render legitimacy to this regime for a long period of time (say, 50 years) until the next referendum.
On the "closing of the Western mind" Bai writes:
But this book has also been ruthlessly savaged by (some) critics with similar accusations. Many of these critics sound like ideologues. Their belief in the alleged open society of liberal democracy is closed to open discussions. To them, anyone who dares to challenge the desirability of liberal democracy must be either foolish or evil. They owe us an explanation about why the West has been failing in so many fronts, and China has been doing relatively well. Moreover, Bell is not painting a purely rosy picture of China, and he offers critical remarks on the Chinese regime. Nonetheless, I feel that Bell gives too much credit to the present Chinese regime and not enough to criticisms of it. While criticizing the end-of-history view about liberal democracy, he himself seems to think that China will continue to be successful under the present Chinese regime, with its present way of doing politics. I am not that optimistic.

I share with Bell many of his criticisms of contemporary liberal democracy and many of his normative proposals. But some of his ideas seem somewhat one-sided. For example, he argues that to have one-party-rule is essential to meritocratic selection, but I think the key is really that when one's party is not in power, the meritocrat-in-training can find meaningful employment, which presupposes different channels for the politically talented and their mobility in society -- something American society does offer and the Chinese authority has been calling for recently.

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