Promoted by some Chinese intellectuals, “meritocratic Confucianism” presents itself as a third way between Western liberalism and the Leninist model. It advocates that in the interest of all, power should be wielded by a superior educated elite that is open to the most universal good. As attractive as this idea is, it ignores both the lessons of history and the voices emanating from individual consciences.
As described by its proponents, the Chinese system is a meritocracy whose “scientific” functioning highlights by contrast the irrationality of the populist movements sweeping the West today. These show how multi-party elections and freedom of information have irreparably altered the quality of governance. At the same time, the technocratic aridity of such a vision is offset by the construction of a progressive civil religion advancing a common dream.
The “meritocratic solution” is naturally rooted in the Chinese tradition, both intellectual and administrative. With its origin in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), which adopted Confucianism as the official doctrine of the empire, it found its expression in the system of imperial examinations established in 605 and abolished only in 1905. Sun Yat-sen attempted to bring them back, but it is the current regime that, since the 1980s, has offered a flexible and modernized version of it, combining the mechanisms of promotion and training dispensed within the Party with the importance accorded to university degrees.