China’s New Morality Push

November 27, 2009by

For most of the history of China, following Confucius, virtue has been understood to begin in the home, where individuals are brought up in an atmosphere of care, and taught how to relate properly to others. Through formal education what is engendered in the home is extended into the culture. Finally, virtuous individuals thus developed will by default constitute a virtuous and just society, which itself will in turn foster the creation of just and virtuous individuals, resulting in a self-perpetuating, harmonious cycle.

This was the Way in China prior to the fall of the Qing dynasty in the early part of the 20th century and the subsequent the rise of socialist and communist ideals. Today it is estimated corruption in China’s political culture has become rather commonplace. Transparency International gave is a score of 3.6 on its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Now, in an effort to address issues of corruption among party officials, there is another kind of ethical initiative in the works.

The language of the new morality push, one of countless such campaigns informally under way, is surprisingly bold, often cutting through the bureaucratese to make a clear link between moral lassitude and corruption. One statistic trotted out at a recent speech to bureaucrats: 95 percent of officials investigated for corruption were found to be keeping mistresses.

This new “morality drive” appears to be motivated primarily by the desire to assuage the fear that corruption will damage the government’s public reputation, but government censorship of certain web content suggests it may have a bit more reach that that.

Authorities recently banned more than 1,400 erotic writings and 20 Web sites, including those that discussed one-night stands, wife-swapping, sexual abuse and violence that “disregarded common decency,” according to the government’s General Administration of Press and Publication.

June Teufel Dreyer, a researcher specializing in US-China relations, is skeptical whether such policies will create any meaningful change. Minimal compliance may be offered initially, but over time patterns of corruption and moral lassitude are not likely to go away.

What the new laws will end up doing for China is of couse yet to be seen. Law or virtue, which has the power to create real change? Possibly a return to the ways of the Old Master would be more promising.

Quotations via GMANews