Book review: The Great Equal Society, by Kim Young-oak and Kim Jung-kyu

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 8:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 8:49am

The Great Equal Society: Confucianism, China and the 21st Century
by Kim Young-oak & Kim Jung-kyu
World Scientific Pub
4 stars

Mark O'Neill

This well-written book explains how China could become a model for the world - setting the example the US has failed to provide - based on its ancient philosophy: Confucianism.

Co-author Kim Young-oak is professor of Korean studies at Hanshin University and a leading intellectual in South Korea. Kim Jung-kyu is director of ACA Investments, a private equity firm headquartered in Singapore and a former student of the professor.

"We hope that China seizes the Confucian vision and realises a society which can serve as an inspiration for the rest of the world," they write. "If China becomes just another America … with its materialist values, military expansionism and environmental degradation, then the world will have no reason to welcome its emergence. If China becomes a model civilisation … achieving a healthy and prosperous society [while] projecting a magnanimous and intelligent leadership globally - in a way that America is currently failing to do - then the world will surely laud and embrace its rise."

The authors set out how the mainland can achieve this in government, economy, education, diplomacy and the environment.

The key is a change in the way people think and behave, they write. A good example is industry: "Management-labour relations in China are among the most hostile in the world." Chinese companies should follow the example of firms in Japan which consider employees their most important stakeholders, above customers and shareholders: their CEOS are careful not to pay themselves too much, unlike those in the US and China.

Confucius was pro-market but insisted it be tempered by social and human considerations, they say. "He advocates a paternalistic state which protects the livelihood of people so that, to borrow a passage from Mencius, 'grey-haired men will not be seen on the streets carrying heavy burdens on their backs'."

The authors say eradicating rampant corruption on the mainland is not difficult: "If the party leaders actually practised what they preach, the rank-and-file would naturally fall in line. Creating a virtuous society begins at the top."

China should follow the Singaporean model of civil service, with high salaries and promoting talent from the private sector as well as from within the government.

"The [Communist Party] should introduce genuine freedom of the media. This will help maintain public trust, while allowing Beijing to effectively … respond to what is happening at the local level."

The West should recognise the legitimacy of the party dictatorship, they write. "What matters is not popular mandate per se but having able and selfless leaders. If the party can continue to produce such leaders, then the Chinese people will be only too happy to acknowledge its mandate of heaven."

This is an inspiring book, giving us a hope for the future of the mainland - but hard to imagine when we read of the events that happen there every day.