One of the striking elements of “The Governance of China,” a book published this past fall in several languages (including English) by Chinese President Xi Jinping , was his reliance on the “brilliant insights” of Confucius to explain his own political and social philosophy. Mr. Xi quotes, for example, this pithy saying from the ancient master: “When we see men of virtue, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should examine ourselves.” And Mr. Xi is clearly channeling Confucius when he writes that the Chinese have always “developed their country through studying the nature of things, correcting thoughts with sincerity, cultivating the moral self, managing the family…and safeguarding peace under Heaven.”
Leaving aside the question of Mr. Xi’s own sincerity in invoking these ancient and decidedly noncommunist ideas, there can be no doubt that the Confucian values he invokes have been the foundation of one of the great social, cultural and economic success stories of the last few decades. Despite Asia’s difficulties and imperfections (and the impressive achievements over the same period of such disparate places as Canada, Scandinavia and Israel), we have been living, since the closing years of the Cold War, in a Confucian moment. The rise of the Pacific “tigers” in the 1970s began a process that has made Asia the geographic organizing principle of the world economy. Countries like China and Vietnam couldn’t have discarded communism in all but name, switched to a riotous form of capitalism and remained as stable as they have been without the essential tolerance and respect for authority, hierarchy and social order embodied in Confucianism.