I.                                  Chinese Value Debate: Substance or Shadow?


I.         Human Rights Argument types.............................................................................................................. 2

Practical-Factual Issues................................................................................................................................... 2

Relativism: Values are Relative to Traditions...................................................................................... 4

Dismissive response: Chinese People are Humans........................................................................ 4

Orientalism: Criticism Presupposes Western Authority.............................................................. 5

Relativism and Asian Values................................................................................................................... 5

Do Chinese Values Affirm Tradition?................................................................................................ 6

II.       Epistemological Version: Excuse Without Prejudice................................................................. 8

Positive Excusing and Subjective Rightness.......................................................................................... 8

Moral Tradition Respect................................................................................................................................. 10

III.           Use and Misuse of Moral Tradition Respect.............................................................................. 13

Philosophical Ethics v Religion.................................................................................................................. 13

Chinese Norms of Warrant and Substantive Norms........................................................................... 16

Chinese Warrant for Liberalism............................................................................................................. 17

Rule of Law................................................................................................................................................ 17

Humiliating, Cruel and Capital Punishment................................................................................ 18

Control of Discourse and Thought.................................................................................................. 18

Democracy.................................................................................................................................................. 19

Equality........................................................................................................................................................ 21

Are There Universal Values?........................................................................................................................ 22



Open-minded and well-meaning Western ethicists often wonder what justifiable normative basis there might be in the widely discussed idea that Chinese values undermine the normative status of human rights. In section one I will argue that, buried in arguments about human rights in China are several different lines of reasoning. Along with the familiar fallacies are some that have real normative force.  However, only one warrants according central status to Chinese traditional values in relation to judgments about human rights. I will briefly note and discuss (1) some practical-factual lines of argument, (2) the appeal of moral relativism, and finally (3) an epistemological line of argument for the special normative status of China.  All of them confront interesting philosophical issues, however, I will argue that none soundly warrants the view that human rights (liberal values such as democracy and political, civil liberty) have no normative status in China. 

In Section II, I will focus on the epistemological line of argument. I regard it both as the most interesting and the argument that best captures the defensible "spirit" of the appeal to Chinese values.  It should show how an epistemically responsible, fully reflective Chinese intellectual might rationally reject human rights. I argue that the main defect of this argument arises when proponents try to make this point by appeal to actual norms and attitudes of some Chinese people. 

A related fallacy lies in assessing only the rational implications of Confucian thought. Identifying and concentrating on Confucianism while relying on this epistemic argument undermines its legitimate normative force. It is not epistemically responsible to ignore available counter-arguments and rival views.  Any Confucian intellectual who does ignore the arguments available to him from within his own culture and tradition, undermines his claim to epistemic responsibility. I will further argue this result does not rely on Western epistemic norms but follows clearly from ancient and venerable Chinese epistemic norms.  The Confucian's appeal to his own texts and sages in the context of this debate in China is roughly equivalent to a Catholic appealing to papal pronouncements in arguing about abortion. 

Finally, in Section III will briefly outline how arguments from other philosophical schools undermine the Confucian case for an authoritarian morality. Chinese liberalism is ground in different values from those commonly relied on in Western liberalism, but it still warrants valuing democracy, liberty, equality and the rule of law. I complain that advocates of Chinese Values have not assumed the burden of showing that Chinese norms validly warrant authoritarian or communitarian attitudes.  They rest too quickly on description of Confucian or dominant Chinese beliefs about political ethics.

II.    Human Rights Argument types

I distinguish broad three lines of argument for limiting human rights in China:

1.             Practical-factual: The material conditions required to implement human rights are lacking.

2.             Relativism: Different societies are subject to different realms of moral duty.

3.             Epistemological: Different societies justify moral judgments in different ways.  Thus good moral reasoning might lead to different judgments about a common question

Practical-Factual Issues

The practical-factual arguments are fundamentally compatible with a Rawlsian theory of justice. Rawls speaks of " two kinds of circumstances that justify or excuse a restriction of liberty. First a restriction can derive from the natural limitations and accidents of human life, or from historical and social contingencies. The question of the justice of these constraints does not arise." (Rawls: 244) So if it were the case that people would face mass starvation if strict regulations were flaunted or disregarded to any degree, then we could justify the suspension of human rights during the period of the emergency without having to invoke any special status for Chinese values.

Commitment to the line of argument may persist after the cessation of the emergency. A people may develop a habitual sense of emergency or vulnerability. Clearly, there have been frequent and starkly remembered periods of famine, war, mass starvation in China's recent history and they certainly may contribute to a national psychology that is more tolerant of these Rawlsian restrictions. That, however, explains popular attitudes.  It does not constitute a justification for continuing an authoritarian system unless accompanied by a sound argument that such conditions still loom and that restrictions on liberty will fail unless they are sustained even in periods of prosperity. This line of thought may still mitigate our condemnation of the persistence of authoritarian attitudes in a China which, while not wealthy, is not the obviously on the brink of mass starvation. (It certainly cannot be a realistic description of the situation in the other "states" of "Greater China" –Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.)

It is important to distinguish this appeal to special economic desperation warranting suspension of liberty  (or the associated persistence phenomenon) from the claim that Asians place special value on "economic rights" or a conception of rights that makes economic welfare more important than liberty.  That would be a (controversial) claim about Chinese values, not factual circumstances limiting its implementation.[1]

A version of Rawls accommodation to circumstances could also make Chinese culture and values relevant in a similar way, however.  Rawls speaks of social and historical contingencies—cases where "injustice already exists, either in social arrangements or in the conduct of individuals. The question here is what is a just way to answer injustice." The series of tragedies in the former Yugoslavia illustrate the kinds of ways that past cultural and historical hangovers may warrant more than the normal, minimal restrictions on liberty.  Past wrongs and the associated impulse to vengeance may justifiably require further restrictions on liberty.

While this is a way that traditional values and culture are relevant to whether or not it is practical to implement human rights, it is neither one that would combine with a pride in those cultural values nor with championing them, as the appeal to Chinese values does.  More positive versions of this line of argument are possible, however. For example, one may point to China's successful historical cultivation of a wide range of conflict resolution strategies that replace familiar functions of a Western rule of law. Their stability and effectiveness may well be a reason to modify or limit the range of legal penetration in Chinese society.  The basic structure of these well-practiced arrangements could be sufficiently just that disrupting the patterns of interactions with other institutions and complex practices exacts an unwarranted cost. 

For related reasons, a culture without a strong tradition of the rule of law cannot simply adopt it by declaration and instituting some “courts.”  Effective and efficient legal systems evolve slowly, meshing with other institutional arrangements and gradually instilling supportive norms and attitudes in the population that make it work. The simplistic strategy of setting up courts and producing lawyers may take decades to develop into what Westerners would recognize or endorse as the “real rule of law.” 

The familiar argument in China that Chinese people need to be “tutored in democracy” raises suspicions, of course, when it is presented by autocratic leaders—who themselves clearly need practice in democratic styles of governing. However, a valid normative case can be made that it takes time for institutions like the press to come to play its supporting role and for the public's norms and attitudes supporting open debate to develop.

These are clear cases where the tradition, traditional practices and attitudes, are arguably relevant to assessing the wisdom and practicality of setting up familiar Western institutional supports for achieving human rights. However, like the practical problems posed by “material conditions,” they can be understood and appreciated fully by someone who accepts and supports the norms behind a Rawlsian conception of justice and the priority of liberty. No normative appeal to fundamentally different Chinese ethical norms is required to appreciate the significance any of these practical-factual issues.[2]

As I noted above, we should clearly distinguish such appeals from superficially similar allegations that Chinese (or Asians) do not value basic freedoms as much as material well being or that they have a "need" to worship their leaders and don't want to hear criticism of them, or value order more than freedom and democracy and so forth .  These are allegations about difference in values that are relevant to the normative issue in different ways.

Relativism: Values are Relative to Traditions

Another line of argument draws on the notion of relativism or incommensurability of traditions.  The core idea is that what is right, like what is rational, depends on the values arising from social practices in those different societies. As these are different in China and the notion of rationality is not universal, we cannot meaningfully assert that arguments for human rights that are based on the norms of Western rationality "apply" to Chinese people. This vexed line of argument evokes two unhelpful responses

Dismissive response: Chinese People are Humans

Western critics of China scoff, "Chinese are humans! Whatever rights humans have are the rights Chinese humans have." That Chinese society does not recognize or acknowledge these rights is no more relevant to Chinese people’s having them than is the claim that someone does not believe germs cause disease can still get infected.

Orientalism: Criticism Presupposes Western Authority

The natural counter is to charge the moral objectivist with "Orientalism."  The objectivist has accorded ruling authority to "Western truths."  What is right about this charge is that the appeal to an objectivist truth works only when the speaker and audience agree – whether about what causes disease or about whether humans have rights. However, the objectivist can accept that rhetorical point (and even its epistemological counterpart) without the implication in the above formulation that there are different sets of truths for different societies.

An objectivist would then have to rephrase the disagreement as follows.  If Rawls is correct then Chinese people have human rights.  If Confucius is right then the moral status of New Zealanders and Canadians also depends on their social roles, not their personhood. We can easily present both sides of the Chinese values argument without giving either a relativist reading. 

Relativism and Asian Values.

Can relativism lend support to this kind of appeal to Chinese values? Ethical relativism is a complex topic, which I do not intend to explore fully here. Provisionally, let us use a distinction between two types of relativism: relativisms of truth and of justification.  The former holds that the value statements are true relative to some X while the latter that value statements are justified relative to some X. I will argue that the latter is more credible in the context of this Chinese-Western debate about values.[3] 

I will discuss and dismiss only truth relativism under this head. Justification relativism is relevant to the epistemic issues and will be discussed in section III below. Truth relativism requires sophisticated handling on pain of self-rebuttal. Defenders of Chinese values in the human rights debate, I will argue, cannot validly claim support from such an appeal. [4]

On its face, a retreat to truth relativism of values seems to protect the Chinese position. Truth relativism denies universal values, specifically universal values of human rights. It thus seems to warrant the implicit demand that reflection on values give an equal truth-status to both Western and Chinese outcomes. The problem for the appeal to Chinese values here, however, is that it is hard to show how a Chinese ethical philosopher could authentically rely on truth-based ethical relativism. 

A truth relativist would say that both traditions are correct relative to something--but to what?  What can she claim and still plausibly be defending Chinese traditional values?  China has no historical tradition of deeming values as correct for particular races and certainly not for particular regions of the globe or nations. The most promising line of development seems to be relative to the historical culture. Maybe something like: A normative statement is true if the culture's historical norms warrant or justify it. This way spelling out the relativity, however, makes it depend on justification relativism. We cannot rest with "Chinese culture treats traditional practice as right."  This would invite the dismissive response that Chinese thinkers simply confuse believing true and being true. One might suspect that someone talking this way just did not understand the rules underlying the use of words like "truth."[5] What we need is the claim that in Chinese culture, relativizing truth to historical warrant is the correct norm of warrant.

Do Chinese Values Affirm Tradition?

Whatever the prospect for coherently working out a fully adequate Chinese version of truth-based ethical relativism, its tradition does not seem to enshrine the inference from historical acceptance to being right.[6] The clearest evidence is in arguments from the first Chinese philosopher, Mozi. He understood Confucianism as naively assuming that the traditional    liritual is the correct standard of what is right to do. It offered this "story" to illustrate the error.  The people up north in Kai Shu kill and eat their first born son. They do this in complete accord with their tradition and the approval of their "elders." No one has ever doubted the tradition, which provides a universally-accepted deeper justification—that it makes the next son stronger. Surely, the Mozi asks rhetorically, we do not think these facts makes the practice right?[7]

Following the Mozi, no classical Chinese thinker could justify simply take the rightness of tradition for granted. Confucians did continue to support tradition, but all offered various strategies to for deeper justification.  The Mencius that it was a product of innate, natural inclinations and responses.  The Xunzi contains various arguments including that it was a solution to a problem of scarcity and that traditional values counter the natural human tendency to disorder in their absence or in the presence of value skepticism.

Other Chinese schools of thought were fully responsive to this point. The Zhuangzi clearly contrasts winning an argument with really being right and the Legalists flat out reject Confucian traditionalism as a self-serving fantasy.  Daoists and the later Mohists even reject a common Chinese strategy of appealing to  tiannature:sky  as a trans-social justification—the strategy pioneered and followed most influentially by Mencius and the Confucian tradition. The Zhuangzi notes that appeal to any natural basis as a justification, presupposes a value of that natural basis against other equally natural ones.  E.g. appealing to the heart's "natural" inclinations or intuition presupposes that the heart should rule over, say, the stomach. And since everyone has a heart, the appeal appears also to presuppose that some hearts are "better" trained or more "sage-like" than others.  So any appeal to nature appears to presuppose some prior norm--some dao.

Nor do the medieval or early modern traditions have any trouble distinguishing merely traditional standards from what is right. Inspired by Buddhism, the Neo-Confucians, despite their many internal disagreements about what constitutes moral truths and what is the source of moral knowledge, hardly even contemplate that they are constituted merely from historical tradition. Neo-Confucianism certainly continues to uphold tradition, but mostly follows Mencius and Xunzi in grounding that tradition on either metaphysics, theory of mind or moral psychology. 

Confucianism is the only school to which we could plausibly attribute any extreme attachment to historical standards.  For all its commitment to tradition, however, Chinese Confucianism never entertained the view that its values bound only to Chinese people or those influenced by Chinese culture. Even if a coherent, Chinese version of moral truth-relativism could be worked out, it seems that adopting it in this context would create an air of paradox.  Conforming to Chinese tradition appears, on its face, to entail rejecting truth-based relativism in ethics. 

In sum, Chinese norms may be radically different from Western norms and may well involve a much more appreciative attitude toward history and tradition, but their norms do not countenance appealing to the mere fact that such are our norms in justifying moral claims. The modern, patriotic, nationalist appeal to special Chinese values, strictly speaking, blatantly flouts Chinese values.

The nationalist appeal does not arise from deep reflection on Chinese tradition, of course. It comes from the familiar passions and appeals that underlie Western versions of patriotism and the sense of national specialness.  China's "motherland" talk is borrowed from the West, not their ancient tradition. In Chinese tradition, heaven is father, earth is mother and human society, writ large, is the "child" between. In this particular relativistic form, the appeal to Chinese values is cynical and disingenuous.

III.   Epistemological Version: Excuse Without Prejudice

Positive Excusing and Subjective Rightness

An epistemological analysis of the Chinese values argument explains its appeal to serious Chinese thinkers—as opposed to current political authorities. As we noted, it is the plausible underlying basis for appealing to relativism. Citing Chinese values is analogous to giving an excuse without prejudice – without admission of actual error.  The Chinese intellectual says, "I am judging subjectively rightly whether or not you agree my judgment is objectively right.”  The epistemological version of the appeal to Chinese values is an appeal for moral respect (ceasing to blame one) for acting (judging) on the best information available to one at the time. 


Chinese Values "Excuse"

Familiar "factual" excuses

What is being excused?


Action (strength of impulse etc.)

What is the basis of the excuse?

Epistemic principle

Epistemic and other (convenience, cost, etc.)

What is the type of belief in error?

Value or norm commitments

Factual beliefs

What is the normative status after excusing?

Deserving moral respect (subjectively required): Positive excusing

Simple excuse (Subjectively permissible): Weak excusing.


The reflective Chinese intellectual pleads for open-minded tolerance of her judgments and asks us to acknowledge that she is subjectively right. That is, given her knowledge, including her epistemic norms of moral judgment, she is correctly judging she should reject deontological individualism and its associated theory of absolute human rights. The appeal to Chinese values acknowledges that the epistemic norms of warrant she presupposes are different from those of her Western critics. Further, the appeal grants that, given the nature of those epistemic norms, neither side is likely to convince the other.  In this standoff, she appeals for a form of respect as an equal and for reciprocal acknowledgement that the discourse situation is reciprocal.

The epistemological analysis rests on justification relativism. It need not commit one to truth relativism and its justification relativism need not be timeless. That is, she may acknowledge that the difficulty of achieving consensus could conceivably disappear with enough further discussion. Then we would naturally construe it as an appeal for continued discussion under conditions of equal respect, in a word, for an end of Western “lecturing” on the subject.  "Our making careful reflective judgments according to the norms of warrant we currently find reasonable and against our de facto antecedent background beliefs about people, societies, and their role in the cosmos and weighting of values is prima facie as deserving of respect as yours."

The appeal implicitly parallels the more aggressive discourse attitude of someone who simply rejects Western values as wrong. Indeed, it draws the same conclusion relative to the epistemic norms of the Chinese community. The mild appeal differs in offering the acknowledgment it requests—that Western values constitute a rival norm justification system that is (for now) not susceptible to persuasion by appeal to the epistemic norms found in a Chinese community. Further, it implicitly offers the respect it requests.  Westerners too are subjectively right to go on reasoning and judging in the ways they find correct.  We need only recognize the mutuality of the situation and accord equal respect to the two systems of reasoning.

Moral Tradition Respect

In this respect, the Chinese thinker who uses this appeal, may also be departing from Chinese values. It may be the case that Chinese values do not underwrite tolerance based on a distinction between subjective and objective rightness. Similarly, a Western moral thinker who succumbs to the appeal and grants the equal respect requested may violate Western epistemic norms. 

Let us explore the latter possibility first.  I suggest Western liberal thinkers, by their own norms, should rationally acknowledge the legitimacy of the request and grant what I will call moral tradition respect.  I will argue that such respect is implicit in the liberal’s commitment to neutrality among conceptions of the good.[8] It grants the respect in acknowledging each individual’s normative right to follow his own conception of the good life. I accept with Barry[9] that this neutrality arises from an implicit mild skepticism about the prospect of achieving an uncoerced consensus on such conceptions.

 One route to accepting the appeal for moral-tradition respect is to view the different epistemic norms as components of a conception of the good life. Clearly, such a conception would include the value of accumulating and sharing knowledge. Different norms for claiming, transmitting and acknowledging “knowledge” are, prima facie, part of leading a good life according to different comprehensive views.  Our mild skepticism arises in part from accepting that knowledge and justification rest on norms and that our norms may differ.[10] 

I characterize the skepticism as mild because it does not arise from any substantive argument offered against the epistemic values of the Western liberal. It does not call on her to abandon her own norms of judgment. It arises mainly from the mere awareness that alternative systems of epistemic norms exist and that constructing an argument that would convince someone with the rival norms to accept our own comprehensive view is difficult.  What it involves that is not traditional in Western thought is open awareness that the familiar Western norms are neither natural, innate, nor required of all rational beings.

Simon Blackburn has described one way the liberal could accept this interpretation of the Chinese values excuse.  He argues that it is not the mere awareness of difference that warrants our slight reflective disequilibrium.  It is awareness that a system has a comparable reflective coherence.[11]  When those we acknowledge to be careful thinkers disagree with us, that acknowledgement induces the mild skepticism that lies behind liberal tolerance.  In adopting this attitude toward historically rich, reflective moral traditions, we need not be committed to the same kind of reaction to any alternative moral outlook, say of a Nazi or headhunter.

Alan Gibbard similarly addresses how a community’s moral discourse evolves through adjustments in use as it coordinates feelings and attitudes. The evolution refines and enriches the norms governing moral discourse; the distinctions and categories will come to work in the situation of the community.[12]  One of the features we would expect to find in an evolved moral system would be its ability at self-correction or “moral reform.”   The community discourse should have evolved a distinction between what the community actually believes to be moral, between actual moral attitudes and what is correct. Thus, a real rival morality will have a kind of quasi-objectivity. It will have a norm of warrant that bars inferring directly from the fact that X is our social practice, that X is right. It was the presence of this norm of warrant in Chinese tradition that, as we noted above, renders some popular forms of the appeal to Chinese values disingenuous.

These motivations for the insights suggest three conditions that intuitively contribute to moral tradition respect.  We are inclined to grant moral tradition respect where:

1.             We recognize the traditions normative discourse as a rich, reflective, and highly evolved system that itself includes quasi-objectivity (does not treat the traditional as the right). 

2.             We register a substantial overlap in important moral judgments and/or mild appreciation or feeling of permissibility for the known differences.

3.            We acknowledge some deep conceptual or theoretical differences that make full understanding of the alternative tradition challenging.

The first condition is essentially that shared in Gibbard’s and Blackburn’s analysis.  The crucial element is that the tradition has the resources of self-criticism and reform. Where the moral tradition includes a counterpart of what we recognize as philosophical questioning and reflection on moral issues, we come to accept that it might be different while still exhibiting a high degree of rational “reflective equilibrium.” Mechanisms other than reflective equilibrium may explain how moral reform takes place in a moral community. Clearly religious and charismatic authority are alternative resources. Still, with Peirce,[13] we may expect that an ancient, rich, reflective philosophical tradition would register that these may come with costs and that we ourselves have no good reason to think they are reliable sources of worthy reform.

The second condition recognizes that certain differences in manifest resultant attitudes affect our inclination to moral tradition respect in different ways.  Some value differences are so basic to our sense of morality that prima facie we find their violation disqualifies the tradition from respect. We would probably be severely disinclined to show this kind of respect for a moral tradition of cannibalism, slavery, or human sacrifice. In other cases, where a practice of a culture corresponds to an earlier, now widely rejected, moral practice of our community, we would tend to find still having the practice “backward.”  Racism or sexism will be understandable, but both would tend to undercut moral tradition respect for modern Western Europeans. Conversely, we might spontaneously admire some values that we ourselves do not stress. Chinese respect for elders and the Confucian emphasis on special relations[14] and the orderliness instilled by its child-rearing practices should contribute to moral tradition respect. Some values are controversial enough in our own tradition that a cultures making a different choice would be prima facie worthy of respect. If a moral tradition rejected retributivism, we would not dismiss it summarily, given our own historical and fruitless struggle to come up with a good justification for punishment.[15]

The role of skepticism in moral tradition respect helps explain the third condition. Knowing about an alternative moral tradition is more likely to induce reflective disequilibrium when the other tradition has a conceptual structure that challenges our understanding. If the tradition's moral concepts are enough like our own that its reasoning is easily accessible and the community moral consensus is different from ours, we are more likely initially to dismiss the differences as bad reasoning. We understand their arguments but are not swayed. Our confidence in our own inferences using the familiar concepts allows us, without disequilibrium, to simply reject theirs as "bad" arguments. Just as we experience little to no disequilibrium when we contemplate "fringe" communities within our own culture (polygamists), so we experience only slightly more when closely related cultures (Islam) make "wrong" moral judgments. The "mystique" of the China (the Orient) contributes intelligibly to a mild skepticism contributing to moral tradition respect.

These features suggest that reflecting on the Chinese and Indian cases might induce a different degree of disequilibrium despite the roughly comparable "length" of their philosophical traditions. We have an underlying awareness that Indo-European languages and ancient religions are "cousins," and that India's metaphysical and linguistic conceptual structure are relatively familiar and accessible. (For example, they share a conceptual mind-body dualism, concepts of truth, meaning, sentence, belief etc.) These recognitions, coupled with the perceived inegalitarianism of the caste system,[16] make it unlikely that any European liberal, merely on hearing that India has such a moral practice, would be inclined to doubt the value of moral equality.

Even given the mystique of China, when we put a case for authoritarianism in our own terms and give familiar reasoning, we seldom hesitate in dismissing it. We recognize the translated justification as one we have already considered and confidently rejected.  When the reasoning is the same as that offered by "domestic" authoritarians, the mystique disappears. 

IV.   Use and Misuse of Moral Tradition Respect

The above example just given illustrates one way "Asian values" arguments might quickly squander the legitimate appeal for moral tradition respect and lose the normatively valid insight underlying it. Other ways are familiar to anyone who follows the debate in Asia. 

Philosophical Ethics v Religion

The most common misuse in relation to China is trying to claim the respect for Chinese moral tradition as respect for Confucianism in particular. When appeals to Chinese values simply cite the authority of a religious or traditional practice, they undermine the basis for MTR.  A traditional scheme of discourse (discussion, argument, resolution) is crucial to our viewing the scheme as highly evolved. In uncritically reporting the attitude of one religion or school in a tradition, these apologists implicitly dismiss the native critics of that orthodoxy and the internal calls for moral reform.

The appeal for moral tradition respect works because we can appreciate the possibility that a rival system of moral reasoning might have a structure of warrant or a different way of achieving reflective equilibrium among values. It should reject merely citing the fact that something is traditional.  Especially where a sizeable portion of the community rejects or questions the values, merely reporting a Confucian dogma or characteristic attitude undermines moral tradition respect. It does not show how the norms of moral reasoning in that tradition warrant that attitude in the face of local doubts. Our presentation of the Chinese point of view can hardly ignore that millions of Chinese are calling for democratic and liberal reforms. Any justification of present authoritarianism must still be a justification, albeit in Chinese terms—which as we noted above, do not accept merely citing a traditional practice.

Moral tradition respect contemplates the possibility that a widely different system of moral discourse might justify different moral judgments. That such and such a judgment is actually made in a community is not the point. As we noted above, moral tradition respect is partly based on the idea that a community's discourse if successful over a long period will have evolved a complexity in reasoning and argument that will have made arguments for moral reform acceptable—they would not take the mere fact of social acceptance as evidence that a moral judgment was right.

What is too rare in all the discussion of Chinese values, then, is a plausible  account of how a justification from widely shared, higher Chinese norms gets one to the authoritarian conclusion. It should not aim merely to demonstrate what is a popular view--even a consensus.  It must show authoritarianism is plausibly a subjectively right conclusion– right from that shared community perspective. I know of no published work in which authoritarian apologists who appeal to "Chinese values" successfully do this. They seldom undertake careful analysis of broad Chinese cultural norms. Aside from assertions about what Confucians or Chinese actually believe(d), the most familiar argument for the crucial claim is a non-sequitur. Freedom and democracy are Western values, therefore they are not universal values. They may not be universal, but the crucial missing demonstration is the one that shows that the values cannot be validly derived from Chinese higher norms. How would the Western apologists demonstrate to Chinese liberals (throughout history) in their own terms that they have been wrong to call for liberal, democratic reform in China.

Defenders of Confucian values do frequently addressed an aspect of this issue for Confucianism or for Confucius himself.[17]  The latter is less challenging, but Confucianism is an extremely diverse movement that appears to have had strong liberal and conservative wings from the outset and has resurrected itself repeatedly in intellectual waves. What has been labeled "third wave" Confucianism, beginning with Kang Youwei, certainly includes a liberal tendency and encompasses a great many thinkers who advocate liberty, democracy, equality, and the rule of law.  We find a great many explanatory accounts of why such arguments failed to sway the political elite or the majority of the population.  Producing a sound argument that even Confucian, let alone broadly Chinese, norms of warrant rule out these moral attitudes, however, is a still unmet challenge.

A shortcut for a defender of the Chinese values position is the claim that Chinese norms of warrant are such that what is right follows from what Confucius (or the sage kings) actually believed or intended. An alternative is that the norms warrant whatever is the dominant actual belief in the culture.  The problem, aside from the fact that these claims are almost certainly false, is that making them tends to undermine the case for moral tradition respect. It would lose the crucial norm underlying moral evolution that makes the first condition relatively appealing. The mere endurance of Chinese culture based on such "tenacity" would cease to be a reason for us to experience any reflective disequilibrium on contemplating their different moral judgments.

In the alternative, defenders of Chinese values launch their own attacks on liberty, democracy, and equality in contemporary philosophical terms.[18] This is a dangerous strategy, as we noted above. If the translated argument sounds like a familiar, easily rejected one, then the defender of Chinese values may actually undercut respect for Chinese tradition.  For our purposes here, whether these attacks are sound or not is beside the point. If they are sound, then no appeal to Chinese values is required. If they are not, on the other hand, an appeal to Chinese values may then be relevant for the epistemological line of argument. To make that case, however, is to answer the challenge of giving a sound argument from distinctively Chinese higher norms of warrant or to explain why a bad argument, in Western terms, would be a good one in Chinese terms.

Chinese Norms of Warrant and Substantive Norms

We need not dwell long on the venerable controversy about whether or not Chinese thinking is illogical. There are obvious differences in style and content of Chinese philosophy. It is certainly true that as a religious institution, Confucianism (like Catholicism in the West) has a greater commitment to conformity with a recognized orthodox tradition than does the culture as a whole. Given its rich and varied content, however, it is hard to show that that the purely logical features of Chinese culture’s norms of warrant in moral reasoning are decisively different from those of Western thought. 

A more accessible question starts from an assumption that is still consistent with the possibility of moral pluralism and moral tradition respect.  Assume that in reasoning about moral issues, Chinese thinkers, like Western thinkers, implicitly use reflective equilibrium. That is, we assume that any argument for moral reform (for changing the dominant moral attitudes of the society) must find some ground in existing values. We suppose that the metaphor of Neurath’s boat describes the development of Chinese values as well as Western values. Whether a reform argument works or not depends on how well it harmonizes with other moral values we still hold. When we come to reject an old value or norm, we usually do it on recognition that it clashes in some way with some other value.

As we noted above, we can easily entertain the possibility that separate cultures with different starting points could both achieve a high degree of reflective equilibrium without coming to agree on all substantive moral questions. The reconstructed boat may still resemble a junk more than a Clipper. This is the basis of moral tradition respect in the case of China. It is plausible for us to believe that its moral system reflects an alternative outcome of a relatively equivalent process of harmonization and evolution of social values that emerge from comparably long, rich, and sophisticated a tradition of moral discourse.  We anticipate that a culture's norms of discourse will enjoin a member of the community to reflect on the coherence and consistency of values in the course of addressing conflict and disagreement.  Some distinction will mark certain ways of moral judgment as epistemically responsible. What we are committed to respect is not any belief a person from such a tradition has, but the epistemically responsible ethical beliefs.

Chinese Warrant for Liberalism

I illustrate the point here by presenting example of how different Chinese lines of thinking favoring certain liberal values would go.  I will give historical examples of patterns of justification drawing from indisputably Chinese thinkers as far back as the Classical period. They argue for liberal values long before any contact between China and the West. We find no reason to reject the arguments as invalid given Chinese norms of reason.

Rule of Law

I have argued in a separate paper[19] that some legalists did develop arguments favoring the rule of law. It starts from the Analects criticism of government by punishment/coercion and its insight into the problem of interpretation—rectifying names. Mozi follows on the interpretive argument by introducing the notion of a relatively objective fastandard to guide the application of terms in guiding discourse. He argues that the standards that guide discourse should be accessible "to the eyes and ears of the people" not merely to the cultivated intuitions of Confucian "gentlemen." 

The legalist, Shang Yang, used this point in concluding that public proclamations, ordinances etc. should be operationally clear so people can know in advance how to avoid punishment. Such rules, he argued, and widespread knowledge of them would mean that people would not fear officials and that officials would not dare punish except where such an explicit, clear violation had taken place.

Here I adumbrate a more complex argument[20], but it illustrates the important point that the norms that govern discourse in the Chinese moral community certainly provide the resources for arguments against authoritarianism and for protecting people from arbitrary government rule. Such arguments manifestly are accessible to someone Chinese just as they are to someone from Western Europe. The conceptual details may be strikingly different. This case illustrates that we do not need the concept of a ‘right’ to appreciate that the rule of law can serve to restrict arbitrary government actions and to give greater security and freedom of choice to people.

Humiliating, Cruel and Capital Punishment

The root of the ancient argument lay in a Confucian opposition to punishment as a technique of rule.[21]  Hence, an epistemically responsible Confucian could not simply endorse the authoritarianism of modern rulers who appeal to “Asian values” to justify their coercive regimes without further argument.  The widespread use of torture, incarceration and mistreatment of political opposition offends Confucian moral sensibilities as much as it does those of Western liberals.

Chinese thinking, on the contrary, exhibits a strikingly lower attraction to retributive intuitions than does most Western thinking. Most extant attempted justifications of punishment in China are consequentialist. Given the Analects’ impressive consequentialist argument against punishment, one could hardly claim that Chinese values make acceptance of consequentialist justifications for inhumane treatment easier. In the absence of powerful retributive intuitions, the consequentialist case requires overwhelming evidence. Where the case is consequentialist, a Chinese reasoner, like his Western counterpart, hostage to the facts.  The norms will justify Chinese practices of a bullet in the head only if the empirical evidence that it prevents crime is everwhelming. Further, the Chinese thinker has familiar, traditional, and respectable appeal to consequentialist argument attributed to Confucius himself that institutions of punishment are less effective in achieving social order than is education. Nothing uniquely Chinese can make the consequentialist argument come out differently and Chinese thinkers have less reason to fall back on strict retributive instincts.

Control of Discourse and Thought

The closest Confucian model of the attitudes modern Asian authoritarians and Western apologists take to be "Chinese values" might be Xunzi.  He does indeed try to make a case for banning philosophy (patterns of speaking that question Confucian tradition) and for cruel and corporeal punishment (mutilations). The question, of course, is if it is a good case—if someone committed to Chinese norms of reasoning should conclude with Xunzi that government coercion should be used to prevent philosophical reflection on norms and “linguistic innovations.”  Again, no treatment with which I am familiar has taken on board the requirement to make such a case except from Xunzi’s own assumptions.[22] I have argued in some detail that Xunzi's case simply ignores the Daoist and Mohist challenge to Confucianism's claim that its traditional "rites" are correct in virtue of being traditional.[23]  I do not deny that it is a sincere attempt to prove this point to native Chinese skeptics, but I do deny that it is sound—as judged by the standards of reasoning in effect in ancient Chinese philosophical discourse.


The classical Chinese case for democracy is far better known. Confucianism adhered to the famous doctrine of the mandate of heaven. Even in its earliest formulations, it was a broadly naturalistic, normative idea—that   tiannature:sky mandated ( mingdestiny is also used as the verbal "to name") the rule of the best (the most competent) person.  While, no doubt, an anthropomorphic religious interpretation of this claim conceivably might have been part of folklore, the philosophical treatment of this doctrine does not warrant such an interpretation. The elaboration of the mechanism by which the mandate was manifest ranged from luck to the dedication and commitment of the supporters of the victorious rebellion. And this interpretation was strengthened by the explicit normativity of the original doctrine—its use to justify rebellion.

Mencius, famously, took the mandate to be manifest in the affiliation choices the people made. His moral psychology attributed an equal moral potential to every human. We all have the inborn ability to make correct moral distinctions and to identify moral models. So, Mencius suggested, people’s acclaim, loyalty and commitment to a benevolent ruler gives a perfectly natural mechanism and explanation of the efficacy of the mandate.  He thus transfers the source of normative legitimacy from heaven to human agency.[24]

Mohists were no less committed to the notion of equality, though they comparatively stressed more an equality of concern.  It is widely alleged that Mohist groups selected their leaders in some unspecified democratic fashion. Daoists, of course, are even more radically egalitarian and, were they were not anarchists, would surely have insisted that any judgment about who is the best person to be leader would have to be answered from all different points of view.[25]

We cannot ignore the counter that ancient China never developed any institutional patterns built around open, free elections, but that is not at issue here. Chinese values arguments occur in the context of proposals to adopt the institutional arrangements familiar in liberal democracies.  The issue is whether or not Chinese values are such that Chinese should conclude that free choice of the people is a legitimate criterion of leadership. Manifestly they are.

Apologists are fond of appending "American style" to their statements of their positions. So they might grant all these values point while insisting that Chinese have no reason to adopt "American style democracy" or “American freedoms.”  The issue is whether to have a real democracy, where the 'real' distinguishes between an objective and reliable means of determining the preference of the population. If the value is there, then Chinese thinkers have adequate reason to adopt whatever institutional arrangements best realize that value. Its origin would be irrelevant to a responsible Chinese normative thinker.

The Chinese Communist party is fond of the doctrine that it embodies the real will of the masses. It is easily missed that, besides implicitly endorsing the value that legitimacy comes from the will of the people, the doctrine is a classical case of an ideological import from the West.  I know of no indigenous antecedent.[26] 

The experience of Hong Kong and Taiwan surely shows that open and free elections do as effectively and quickly confer a powerful community sense of legitimacy on election winners as they do in the West.[27] The call for elections in China and for greater openness and freedom in Singapore surely express sincere value judgments, not merely a naïve aping of the West. Chinese people want their political institutions to respect people’s choices and show concern for their interests. They are not necessarily merely calculating that democracy will lead to economic wealth.


This, too, has been a relatively non-controversial value throughout the history of Chinese thought.  It started with more egalitarian origins (Confucian assumptions that anyone can become a sage compared to Plato's and Aristotle's rationalist elitism) and most recently led to the radical Maoist experiments in hyper-egalitarianism and the “mass line.” The classical Confucian formula, "anyone can become a sage," is prominent in both the Mencius and the Xunzi, despite their disagreement about virtually everything else in Confucianism. As we noted, Mohism is famous for rejecting Confucianism's doctrine of "graded concern" for others in favor of equal, universal concern. We regard Chan (Zen) Buddhism as a uniquely Chinese development in part because it rejects the elitism Chinese perceived in traditional, esoteric Buddhism. The rejection reflects a manifest pattern in Buddhist transmission to China. The Mahayana sects, seen as more egalitarian, inevitably dominated the “Hinayana.”

The combination of the Mohist doctrine of "equal concern" for people and a Mencian attitude of equal moral respect for people, gives Chinese values the normative underpinning of Dworkin's[28] reconstructed “derivation” of Rawls’ principles of justice. As we saw, the ancient tradition had little trouble arriving at a justification of rule of law that essentially rests on how law facilitates freedom of choice. 

The modern translation for ‘freedom’ is ziself youfrom, which was not a common phrase in Classical China. The Daoists, however, did argue for a core value of ziself ranso which we translate as 'naturalness' or 'spontaneity'. The main difference from the modern doctrine is that the Daoists seemed to be concerned not merely with freedom from government interference but with freedom from the social conditioning that interferes with our spontaneous or natural inclinations. This reflects the same impulse as the Western notion of freedom because the dominant Confucian conception of the role of government is paternalistic “education” or “character shaping.”  Daoism’s view is, in effect, a blend of positive and negative freedom.  Unconscious manipulation and shaping by rigid authoritarian traditions (e.g. Confucianism) was to be avoided as much as coercion by governments—perhaps more because it was unconscious and insidious.

Daoists are famously tolerant—in classical liberal fashion. As it does with liberalism, the basis for this open-mindedness lies in a mild skepticism born from the recognizing the relativity of justification to presupposed values, past situations and historical experience. We cannot be sure we have the only correct way to live, so we best be open to, tolerant of and respectful of others. The Daoists, again, do little to construct a political or institutional theories emboding these attitudes.[29]  Classical Daoists were not fans of government precisely because the dominant conception of government was a Confucian one—paternalistic “education” instilling moralistic attitudes.

In this context, the failure of Daoists to advocate liberal governmental institutions is subject to the same reflections as above.  The question is whether or not Chinese thinkers have a sound route to liberal values by drawing on the resources within their own norms of discourse. If they do, and they discover in Western political practice an institutional structure that helps to achieve those values, they surely have a good reason from their own value perspective to adapt features of that structure. Again, the point is not that they must choose "American style" liberty—just that they choose the value of liberty and thus have reason to adopt any available effective institutional structure that will help realize it.[30]

The issue is Chinese values. If the question is, "Do Chinese people have the resources in the norms governing their moral discourse to warrant appreciation of the values of liberty, equality, democracy and the rule of law?" then the answer is "yes."  If the question is "Do Chinese people have norms of moral discourse that validly warrant denying these calls for liberty, equality, democracy and rule of law?" the answer, I complain, is "not proven."[31] 

Are There Universal Values?

Much of the Asian Value rhetoric is directed at denying that there are any universal values—that values are different in different cultures. I have said nothing so far to contradict this. In fact, I have assumed that the norms that govern discourse about values are different. However, one outcome of this discussion is that one could claim that, as between Western Liberals and Chinese liberals, there are shared values. We share the values of liberty, equality, democracy and the rule of law.  We do not share the value of deontological individualism or of a hypothetical contract justification of government.

Thus, I agree with what may be the Asian value position that we do not share these liberal values because we share a universal morality.  That is, a Chinese thinker does validly conclude that we should show equal concern and respect for people in the design of social institutions.  She does not, however, draw that conclusion from the Kantian view that we must respect rationality for its own sake, nor does she start from the assumption that individuals have a kind of metaphysical priority or ultimate dignity. She may come to the shared conclusions in a variety of ways starting from the quite different assumptions about human nature, practical reasoning, the nature of norms and the relation of man to the cosmos. 

Manifestly, the dominant Chinese notions of moral and epistemic psychology are very different from Western notions. Psychological egoism is almost totally absent in Classical thought and its presence in "elementary" Buddhism is an almost invariable source of criticism of that "Barbarian religion."  Chinese forms of Buddhism focus on to the "higher awareness" abandonment of egoism in the recognition of our embeddedness in society and our inevitable conditioning by the conventions and traditions of our community.

Chinese theory of meaning is also far less individualistic. One searches in vain for a classical counterpart of semantic individualism. Meaning (what gives language a life) is almost invariably taken to be historical tradition.  There is no "native" ancient concept of belief as a subjective, individualistic counterpart to knowledge.  'To know' usually functions as a measure of skill, know-how, or know-to along with our familiar knowledge by acquaintance (know-of).[32]

Chinese “folk psychology” has no counterpart of the practical syllogism or of reason as a source of action.[33]  Moral enquiry does not take the form of searching for first principles from which other moral judgments can be justified. Moral attitudes are term-attitudes more than propositional attitudes—they take the form of a disposition to use a moral term of some person, action or thing (e.g. 'good', 'beautiful', 'moral' etc.). As we saw above, Chinese thinkers dispute about the interpretive standard guiding attribution of terms and guiding their use of the terms in shaping desires, commitments, and action.

Given these differences in the ground for reasoning about humans and value, it remains striking that both Chinese and Western liberals agree in recommending equal concern and respect in the context of thinking about social institutions. That is far from showing such values are universal. Many cultures, including those more closely related to Western culture in their views of moral psychology, epistemology and theory of meaning, are less egalitarian—Hinduism most famously and arguably Islam.

There is similarly wide gap in the conception of a well-ordered society and of the place of humans in the cosmos. Chinese religion has no close counterpart of the "God's plan for humans" picture of the cosmos and our purpose in it. The cosmological views, like the dominant metaphysics, are naturalistic and monistic. Humans are one of the creatures living in relations/competition with other animals. We are not distinguished by anything like knowledge, intelligence or rationality (which, given the Chinese conception of knowledge, many higher animals share) but by our tendency to morality, to adopt, share, transmit and learn distinctions that guide our behavior and to use these distinctions socially as a means of coordinating our actions and attitudes. 

The Confucian conception of a well-ordered society is, as we noted above, not that of a rule of law, but that of an extension of the natural family. The role of government is moral education. However, this conception is controversial in China. First as to the content of the education to be directed by leaders (the Mohists) and more radically as to whether this is appropriate to political leadership to deal with morality at all (The legalists). 

It is, again, striking that the core value of democracy (tying legitimacy to popular approval) should be shared by Mohists and Confucians (not much evidence in the Legalists).  The argument for the rule of law, though eventually repudiated, crucially draws on attitudes developed in Confucianism and Mohism.

In sum, the core values (as opposed to developed institutional forms) of liberalism (liberty, equality, democracy, and rule of law) appear to be legitimate cases of shared value conclusions at least as between the Chinese and Western liberal traditions. The fact that in both societies there are conservatives and authoritarians is not evidence that the contrary values are correct for either moral tradition.  That, historically, the authoritarians have tended to dominate in China may lead us to suspect that the balance of norm-based reasoning supports this outcome, but it cannot substitute for a norm-based justification directed at Chinese liberals who are calling for democracy and freedom.

There certainly are important differences between the two civilizations and philosophical traditions and the routes to these value conclusions start from different assumptions. It is that very difference that makes the surface agreement on these core liberal values significant and worthy of our attention. Modern Chinese thinkers who call on China to abide by the rule of law, to adopt democracy, to preserve and guarantee basic freedoms, and to ensure equal protection of the law are not implicitly adopting Western values. These two traditions share the value outcomes, although both may have reason to doubt their respective routes of justification for these values are either universal or absolute.




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[1] On its face, the value claim is paradoxical for one target of criticism of this paper—those who use Confucianism as the model of Chinese values in arguing against Rawlsian basic rights to liberty. Traditional Confucianism was arguably anti-materialistic. It placed commerce and mercantilism outside the list of acceptable careers—after scholarship, political and military service, farming and crafts. That, famously, explains why traditionally Chinese trade was dominated by Chan (Zen) Buddhists—who ignored traditional norms.  This gives an air of parody in the current celebration of Confucianism as the Chinese "Protestant ethic." 

[2] While these are tempting lines of argument in the Chinese case, I do not mean to imply that the factual case is proven so that such cultural limitations are relevant in the Chinese case.

[3] Note how in David Wong's account of ethical relativism, considerations of truth-conditions of ethical statements require accounts of how their truth is determined. (Wong 1984:19) Similarly, Gibbard's relativistic analysis of rational gets off the ground by asking what it is to judge something as rational. (Gibbard 1990:8)

[4]. The familiar "refutation" of relativism undermines even this demand for equality of status. If normative statements are true relative to X, then when the advocate of Chinese values argues that the Westerner ought to treat Chinese values equally, the Westerner appears to have implicit permission to reject the demand. He can cite and conform to the announced commitment to relativity of normative judgments. Surely, the relativist position entails that the Westerner should treat Chinese values according to a Western norm system—hence ridicule and decry them. See the dispute between Peerenboom  and Rorty (Perenboom 2000:73) for an example. Rorty maintains that criticizing China is consistent with his "ironic" liberalism. It is simply being sincere.

[5] Note here my argument that classical Chinese linguistic thinkers did not work with a concept of truth. (Hansen 1985) If Chinese tradition did not have a semantic concept of truth, then relativism might explain some related attitude in Chinese thinkers, but, strictly speaking, there would not be an authentic Chinese tradition of truth-based ethical relativism without a traditional concept of 'truth'.  I do not, however, suspect that any modern Chinese person would have troubling following the distinction I am making here.

[6] I do not intend here to deny that it does rationally place more emphasis on history and social convention in its account of meaning. The emphasis on history is not accidental. See my argument in my Introduction to Hansen (1992). The Confucian tendency to accept the social, conventional and historical as right has been argued particularly strongly by Fingarette (1972) and Rosemont (1991)

[7] The details of the case suggests Mozi invented his anthropology since its rhetorical force seems quite clearly tailored for Confucian attitudes of near worship of the first-born son.

[8] See Rawls (1971) for this formulation. It evolves to "comprehensive view" in his (1977) and (1993).  The latter is a more convenient formulation for our purposes since it may more naturally be taken to include the norms of warrant which function in this argument.

[9] Barry (1995:168-188).

[10] For an especially apt example, in this context, of thinking of epistemology in this way, see Miller (1996).

[11] Blackburn (1984). His discussion, obviously, is more general. He is not addressing the Chinese case in particular nor does he necessarily agree with my assessment of Chinese moral culture as deserving of this kind of moral tradition respect.

[12] Gibbard (1990)

[13] Peirce "The Fixation of Belief" in (1964).

[14] This natural appeal is well exploited by David Wong in a series of articles starting with his 1969.

[15] This ambivalence is exploited by Mackie in his 1977.

[16] We may explain the ”justice" of the caste system by reminding ourselves of the religious assumption of reincarnation. (See Donagan 1977) but given our rejection of that as a superstition, the explanation may not alleviate the problem for moral tradition respect that the system fosters.

[17] Rosemont (1976) (1988) and (1991) had paid most attention to this issue—focusing mainly, however, on the question of whether Confucius could have been persuaded by Western arguments for rights. I think he is probably right about his skepticism (although like most such thought experiments, it would depend on how we filled out the counter-factuals).

[18] Some examples include Perenboom (2000), Rosemont (1988, 1991), Bell (1996) and Ames (1988).  Roger Ames (personal discussion) insisted these arguments are mainly intended as challenges to Westerners to realize that it is possible to think differently about democracy and liberty. I suspect that might understate the force of some of the arguments which often present live and unsettled challenges for Western liberal theory. I would not deny that it is important to make them. I simply insist that offering them as reasoning warranted by Chinese epistemic norms requires a step these authors fail to take.

[19] In “The Rule of Law: Chinese Substance or Western Function?”  Forthcoming publication of my 1998 Inaugural Lecture. Hansen (1993) forshadows some of this later argument.

[20] A more complete account has to deal with the reasons for subsequently repudiating the rule of law in China. The argument pivots, paradoxically, on the interpretive hypothesis that they did not have a clear concept of the rule of law. The argument justifies having something like the rule of law--something a full-fledged rule of law would provide better.

[21] That Confucius actually opposed punishment is controversial.  Ames (1983) and Schwartz (1985) question the claim that the famous Confucian argument against punishment expresses Confucius’ real position on the rule of law. I give a partial reply in Hansen (1993).

[22] Rosemont’s classic exposition in his 1971 is worth careful study in this regard.

[23] Hansen 1982 and 1992.

[24] Alternately, one may argue that he sees   tiannature:sky legitimation operating through human agency.

[25] Daoists, Zhuangzi at least, would not have accepted the naïve democratic justification that if everyone agreed on something, we could know it was right.

[26] I do not mean to deny that something in Chinese tradition explains their greater tendency to Hegelian and historicist ideas when borrowing from the West. However, it is not obviously because their utilitarianisms betray any hint that the whole is something over and above the parts. There is, however, rather less tendency to think that the parts must be what Dewey called “atomic  individuals.”

[27] I suggest the same is true within China, where the Communist party itself has found “well-controlled” local elections an effective way both to restrain corruption and restore legitimacy to local leaders.

[28] Dworkin 1977.

[29] This attitude in Daoism has been noticed by David Wong (1984) and developed by Liu Xiaogan in a series of recent presentations.

[30] I have been drawn to the speculation that some Legalists may be the “political wing” of Daoism. I note that the “classifications” are “imposed” on these thinkers by later historians, not a matter of self-conscious affiliation among the thinkers themselves.

[31] Defenders of the Chinese values position use the actual dominance of authoritarian attitudes to suggest the case has been made. I insist the question is the soundness of any proposed reasoning in support of them. I put the matter this way because we must leave open the possibility that the eventual case against liberalism may be such that, given the totality of Chinese norms, it more easily overcomes the indigenous case for these liberal values. That they are not deontological individualists is relevant in this regard. The Dworkin-Rawlsian justification of liberty gives it a priority (rights as trumps) that is relatively immune to cost-benefit analysis. The Western version is not, as we saw above, totally immune and we have not established how much priority the Chinese egalitarian attitude would convey on these liberal values. Even if we assumed that there was no priority of liberty, Chinese values advocates need to make the cost-benefit case for authoritarianism. They cannot merely assume it.

[32] Here I will simply be asserting conclusions. The arguments for these analyses of Chinese theory of language and mind can be found in Hansen (1992) and (1993).

[33] See Fraser (1999) for a more complete development of this idea. Also see Hansen (1991) and (1996).