With President Xi Jinping’s ascension to power in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the concept of “Socialist Core Values” came into being with full force. Being one of the most important tenets of the Chinese Dream, they were introduced at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th CCP (Chinese Communist Party) Central Committee in year 2006, and subsequently its implementation was reiterated at the 18th Party Congress in 2012, with the total twelve values divided into three levels: the national values (prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony), social values (freedom, equality, justice, rule of law) and individual values (patriotism, dedication, integrity, friendship) (Miao Y., 2020:166-167). These values are disseminated by the CCP Propaganda Department and the Central Guiding Committee for Building Spiritual Civilization at all administrative level of the People’s Republic of China and via the means of Communist Party of China infrastructure as well as national media (Gow M., 2017:96). Socialist core values draw from plenty of sources, among them the May Fourth Movement and Confucian traditional values, emphasizing the role of the party in its implementation (Miao Y., 2020:169). Even though Confucianism can be regarded as one among many thought schools that influenced the policy of contemporary China, it is nevertheless an important constituent of China’s political identity.
Core Socialist Values can be regarded as a concept that not only has its roots in the underlying Confucian ideas in the CPC thought, but also as an important notion in the building of Social Credit System (SCS, 社会 信用). This text will focus on outline of Confucian notions in the contemporary China’s political thought, and then will elaborate on how the SCS project can be regarded as emanation of this traditional thinking school in today’s China.
According to the outstanding Polish sinologist professor Bogdan Góralczyk, during the reign of Jiang Zemin (江泽民), that is, in the period 1998-2002, a significant change in the course of the PRC took place. In connection with opening up to globalization and expansion into world markets, China began to look for its place in the world, departing from reforms within communism and realizing its growing power. On the way to this goal, they focused on tradition and a return to Confucian values, admittedly in Marxist-Leninist packaging, but in fact drawing directly from this ancient philosophy (Góralczyk B., 2018:207). In the 1990s, the ruling elite began to speak warmly about Confucius (孔子), and above all called for return to the concepts of loyalty and paternalism understood in the Confucian spirit, which, of course, perfectly fit into the narrative needed by a strongly hierarchical and authoritarian government (Góralczyk B., 2018:216). The speeches of top party officials such as PRC Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (温家宝) contained references to Confucian values:
„From Confucius to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the traditional Chinese culture presents many precious ideas and qualities, which are essentially populist and democratic. For example, they lay stress on the importance of kindness and love in human relations, on the interest of the community, on seeking harmony without uniformity and on the idea that the world is for all.” (Kirby, D., 2020).
In their speech, terms such as “harmonious socialist society” (社会主义 和谐 社会), “harmony despite different points of view” (和 而 不同) or “people as the basis of the state” (民 为 邦本) could be observed (Billoud, S., 2007:54). These notions are strongly connected to classical Confucianist doctrines. In the circles of Chinese intellectuals, even appeared the concept of “Confucian socialist republic” (儒家 社会主义 共和国) coined by the representative of the New Left, philosopher Gan Yang (甘陽) or bold concepts by Kang Xiaoguang (康晓光), who believed that China must adopt the Confucian model education and political system, and the Chinese Communist Party must be “confucianized” (Ownby, D., 2009:110).. While these notions may seem extreme and connected to the very narrow circles of intellectuals, Confucian ideas are embedded not only in these small cliques, but also in general characteristics of China’s political system.
According to the American sinologist Lucian Pye, cultural factors in China have a much greater impact on political and social life than in other countries. For this reason, what has been termed “Confucian Leninism” can be observed, which attaches importance not only to the ideology itself, but to its highly moralistic version.
The American historian Thomas Metzger even claims that contemporary Chinese elites are deeply Confucian in nature, and their adaptation of Western patterns is only due to the desire to implement Confucian aspirations (Sung, B. K., 1999:232). Contemporary communist leadership draws from the tradition of Confucianism also in terms of the belief that it has a mission to create a just society and government. After the creation of the People’s Republic of China, all walks of life and all social classes were oriented towards one goal – serving the party. It is seen as a service to the state and, consequently, also as a service to society. It was the responsibility of the ruling elite to cultivate what was right and thus gain influence in all areas of social life (Sung, B. K., 1999:236).
In its quest to create a society that adheres to the ideals of Confucian virtues, the Chinese government has in recent years taken far-reaching steps to create a new, high-tech system of social control, largely based on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.
Outside of the commercial AI field, this project is the most advanced, daring, and controversial AI endeavor in modern China. Its sources can be traced back to projects that emerged shortly after the proclamation of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, but it could only spread its wings for good in recent years. The fight against corruption, which China President Xi Jinping (习近平) embarked on his term in office, is part of a broader initiative to tackle behavior that damages public confidence. The rapid development of modern technologies, including AI, made it possible to develop and implement a concept of a system that would collect information about the credibility and behavior of both individuals and entire organizations in real time, and also evaluate them. Its general name is social credit system.
It all started with the “Outline of the plan for creating a social credit system” issued by the State Council in 2014. Its assumption is relatively simple – users who show positive behavior and patterns may enjoy various benefits (such as a loan on preferential terms or faster settlement of matters in the office), while those who behave in a manner inconsistent with the rules, can expect difficulties and penalties for their behavior (Blomberg, von, M., 2018:79).
„Another driving factor was the overall strategic shift of CPC governance towards morals to counter the moral vacuum which the CPC had diagnosed.” (Blomberg, von, M., 2018:86). The nature of this move can be regarded as Confucian, as it is essentially concerned with instilling the morals not only into the sphere of politics, but also the society. The SCS can be also linked to the Socialist Core Values, as the system that is directly tasked with upholding its tenets. Moreover, both concepts were developed around the same time, when General Secretary Xi Jinping started to enact its own policies and agendas in China’s political system.
It is worth emphasizing that, contrary to popular opinion, one cannot speak of a uniform, unified social credit system – it is a set or a group of systems with a similar principle of operation, but built for different purposes and operated by various institutions. The problem of the decline of morality was therefore of the utmost importance for the government administration, soaked with Confucian values, and its solution was sought in the system of social control, operating in a classically Confucian manner. In order to ensure harmony, prosperity and social stability, it was decided to transform the traditional Confucian duty system into a system of social trust, in which the individual is forced to submit to those higher in the hierarchy, and disobedience is ruthlessly punished. According to the CPC, the SCS also aims to strengthen the civil society, „that the sense of security and satisfaction of people is significantly improved and the society becomes more harmonious and disciplined.” [gov.cn/gongbao/content/2015/content_2847873.htm: 02.11.2021]. Although the SCS is still in the development, the mission of instilling harmony, righteous behavior and stability into the Chinese society can be regarded as Confucian in nature.
The issue of SCS as an AI-based system fits well with the doctrines of both Confucianism and currently prevalent Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. For centuries, in Chinese society, collectivist values have been placed in the first place, while dedication and service to the loved ones, society and the country have grown to the rank of a life mission. „As many westerners have observed, Chinese people once lacked a rudimentary sense of entitlement to a private life. The idea of conﬁdentiality or privacy has long been a remote and even alien concept for many Chinese. For most it is something read about in Western novels or merely observed in Hollywood movies.” (Wang, R.R., 2002:559). These notions have its reflection in the Socialist Core Values currently promoted by the CCP, but also in the underlying Confucian ideas of China’s political system. Even though most people do not have thorough, academic or philosophical understanding of Confucianism, they nevertheless share common-sense based familiarity with its tenets (Gow M., 2017:109) and this is why its inclusion in the Socialism with Chinese Characteristics can be done seamlessly.
As Confucianism emphasizes social stability and harmony, its integration into Socialist Core Values as well as the SCS system can be regarded as highly desirable for the legitimacy building of the CPC. Both of them can also be a great example of how the CPC integrates traditional values into its policies (Miao Y., 2020:180). The SCS on the other hand can be seen as a practical emanation of the Socialist Core Values and as an attempt to disseminate them in the Chinese society. Furthermore, by presenting these concepts as based on Chinese values that have a centuries old tradition, the CCP can not only enhance its legitimacy and its image as a builder of the Chinese civilization prioritizing social stability and harmony, but also offer an alternative to the Western “universal values”, and thus distance itself from them (Miao Y., 2020:181). This is especially important when one considers rising tensions between Western world and China in the areas of human rights and the rule of law. On the internal political level, while Xi Jinping’s predecessors were concerned with building economic power base of the PRC, the current Chinese leader has an ambition to create a new Chinese citizen (Gow M., 2017:111) and Socialist Core Values and the SCS system can be both regarded as a tool to fulfill this goal. The inclusion of Confucian ideas can help to attain the objectives of social stability and harmony, while at the same time creating an image of coherent, thousand year old tradition that was modernized and brought up to date by the leadership of the PRC. At the same time it is important to remember that Confucian themes are but one element of ideological cornerstone of contemporary China. While its notions stand behind the two concepts described in this text, they are by no means a sole guiding principle behind their enactment. Nevertheless, they are a potent tool to appeal not only to historical continuity, but also to the idea of Chinese civilization that can be an equal alternative to the Western model of governance and philosophy. Both the SCS and Socialist Core Values, with its underlying Confucian themes can be a great asset of current administration goal to fulfill the Chinese Dream and restore China’s place in the world.
Billioud, S., (2007) “Confucianism, “cultural tradition” and official discourses in China at the start of the new century”, China Perspectives, No. 3, p. 54.
Blomberg von, M., (2018) “The Social Credit System and China’s Rule of Law”, Mapping China Journal no. 2, URL (consulted: November 2021): https://mappingchina.org/mcj-2018/
Góralczyk B., (2018) Wielki Renesans. Chińska Transformacja i Jej Konsekwencje, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Akademickie Dialog.
Gow, M. (2017). The Core Socialist Values of the Chinese Dream: towards a Chinese integral state. Critical Asian Studies, 49(1), 92–116. https://doi-org.zorac.aub.aau.dk/10.1080/14672715.2016.1263803
Kirby D., (2003) “Remarks of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao”, URL (consulted: November 2021): https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2003/12/harvard-gazette-remarks-of-chinesepremier-wen-jiabao/
Miao, Y. (2020). Romanticising the Past: Core Socialist Values and the China Dream as Legitimisation Strategy. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 49(2), 162–184. https://doi.org/10.1177/1868102620981963
Ownby, D., (2009) “Kang Xiaoguang, Social Science, Civil Society, and Confucian Religion”, China Perspectives No. 4, p.101-111.
Sung, B. K., (1999) “Confucian Leninist State: The People’s Republic of China”, Asian Perspective, vol. 23 no. 2.
Wang, R. R., (2002) “Globalizing the Heart of the Dragon. The Impact of Technology on Confucian Ethical Values”, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, No. 29:4, URL (consulted: November 2021): https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6253.00099
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