Latest books

The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy


Westerners tend to divide the political world into “good” democracies and “bad” authoritarian regimes. But the Chinese political model does not fit neatly in either category. Over the past three decades, China has evolved a political system that can best be described as “political meritocracy.”The China Model seeks to understand the ideals and the reality of this unique political system. How do the ideals of political meritocracy set the standard for evaluating political progress (and regress) in China? How can China avoid the disadvantages of political meritocracy? And how can political meritocracy best be combined with democracy? Daniel Bell answers these questions and more.

Opening with a critique of “one person, one vote” as a way of choosing top leaders, Bell argues that Chinese-style political meritocracy can help to remedy the key flaws of electoral democracy. He discusses the advantages and pitfalls of political meritocracy, distinguishes between different ways of combining meritocracy and democracy, and argues that China has evolved a model of democratic meritocracy that is morally desirable and politically stable. Bell summarizes and evaluates the “China model”—meritocracy at the top, experimentation in the middle, and democracy at the bottom—and its implications for the rest of the world.

A timely and original book that will stir up interest and debate, The China Model looks at a political system that not only has had a long history in China, but could prove to be the most important political development of the twenty-first century.

(Description from Princeton University Press – see book website and endorsements here)

The East Asian Challenge for Democracy: Political Meritocracy in Comparative Perspective (Edited by Daniel A. Bell & Chenyang Li)


The rise of China, along with problems of governance in democratic countries, has reinvigorated the theory of political meritocracy. But what is the theory of political meritocracy and how can it set standards for evaluating political progress (and regress)? Can meritocracy be reconciled with democracy and if so, how? What is the history of political meritocracy and what can it teach us today? How is political meritocracy practiced in contemporary societies – in China, Singapore, and elsewhere – and what are its advantages and disadvantages in terms of producing just outcomes and contributing to good governance? To help answer these questions, this volume gathers a series of commissioned research papers from an interdisciplinary group of leading philosophers, historians, and social scientists. The result is the first book in decades to examine the rise (or revival) of political meritocracy and what it will mean for political developments in China and the rest of the world. Despite its limitations, meritocracy has contributed much to human flourishing in East Asia and beyond and will continue to do so in the future. This book is essential reading for those who wish to further the debate and perhaps even help to implement desirable forms of political change.

(Description from Cambridge University Press – see book website and endorsements here)

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Yan Xuetong, edited by Daniel A. Bell)

The rise of China could be the most important political development of the twenty-first century. What will China look like in the future? What should it look like? And what will China’s rise mean for the rest of world? This book, written by China’s most influential foreign policy thinker, sets out a vision for the coming decades from China’s point of view.

In the West, Yan Xuetong is often regarded as a hawkish policy advisor and enemy of liberal internationalists. But a very different picture emerges from this book, as Yan examines the lessons of ancient Chinese political thought for the future of China and the development of a “Beijing consensus” in international relations. Yan, it becomes clear, is neither a communist who believes that economic might is the key to national power, nor a neoconservative who believes that China should rely on military might to get its way. Rather, Yan argues, political leadership is the key to national power, and morality is an essential part of political leadership. Economic and military might are important components of national power, but they are secondary to political leaders who act in accordance with moral norms, and the same holds true in determining the hierarchy of the global order.

Providing new insights into the thinking of one of China’s leading foreign policy figures, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in China’s rise or in international relations.

(Description from Princeton University Press – see book website and endorsements here)

The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age (Daniel A. Bell & Avner de-Shalit)

The Spirit Of CitiesCities shape the lives and outlooks of billions of people, yet they have been overshadowed in contemporary political thought by nation-states, identity groups, and concepts like justice and freedom. The Spirit of Cities revives the classical idea that a city expresses its own distinctive ethos or values. In the ancient world, Athens was synonymous with democracy and Sparta represented military discipline. In this original and engaging book, Daniel Bell and Avner de-Shalit explore how this classical idea can be applied to today’s cities, and they explain why philosophy and the social sciences need to rediscover the spirit of cities.

Bell and de-Shalit look at nine modern cities and the prevailing ethos that distinguishes each one. The cities are Jerusalem (religion), Montreal (language), Singapore (nation building), Hong Kong (materialism), Beijing (political power), Oxford (learning), Berlin (tolerance and intolerance), Paris (romance), and New York (ambition). Bell and de-Shalit draw upon the richly varied histories of each city, as well as novels, poems, biographies, tourist guides, architectural landmarks, and the authors’ own personal reflections and insights. They show how the ethos of each city is expressed in political, cultural, and economic life, and also how pride in a city’s ethos can oppose the homogenizing tendencies of globalization and curb the excesses of nationalism.

The Spirit of Cities is unreservedly impressionistic. Combining strolling and storytelling with cutting-edge theory, the book encourages debate and opens up new avenues of inquiry in philosophy and the social sciences. It is a must-read for lovers of cities everywhere.

(Description from Princeton University Press – see book website and endorsements here)

China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society

What is it like to be a Westerner teaching political philosophy in an officially Marxist state? Why do Chinese sex workers sing karaoke with their customers? And why do some Communist Party cadres get promoted if they care for their elderly parents? In this entertaining and illuminating book, one of the few Westerners to teach at a Chinese university draws on his personal experiences to paint an unexpected portrait of a society undergoing faster and more sweeping changes than anywhere else on earth. With a storyteller’s eye for detail, Daniel Bell observes the rituals, routines, and tensions of daily life in China. China’s New Confucianism makes the case that as the nation retreats from communism, it is embracing a new Confucianism that offers a compelling alternative to Western liberalism.

Bell provides an insider’s account of Chinese culture and, along the way, debunks a variety of stereotypes. He presents the startling argument that Confucian social hierarchy can actually contribute to economic equality in China. He covers such diverse social topics as sex, sports, and the treatment of domestic workers. He considers the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, wondering whether Chinese overcompetitiveness might be tempered by Confucian civility. And he looks at education in China, showing the ways Confucianism impacts his role as a political theorist and teacher.

By examining the challenges that arise as China adapts ancient values to contemporary society, China’s New Confucianism enriches the dialogue of possibilities available to this rapidly evolving nation.

(Description from Princeton University Press – see book website and endorsements here)

Confucian Political Ethics (Edited by Daniel A. Bell)

Confucian Political Ethics

For much of the twentieth century, Confucianism was condemned by Westerners and East Asians alike as antithetical to modernity. Internationally renowned philosophers, historians, and social scientists argue otherwise in Confucian Political Ethics. They show how classical Confucian theory–with its emphasis on family ties, self-improvement, education, and the social good–is highly relevant to the most pressing dilemmas confronting us today.

Drawing upon in-depth, cross-cultural dialogues, the contributors delve into the relationship of Confucian political ethics to contemporary social issues, exploring Confucian perspectives on civil society, government, territorial boundaries and boundaries of the human body and body politic, and ethical pluralism. They examine how Confucianism, often dismissed as backwardly patriarchal, can in fact find common ground with a range of contemporary feminist values and need not hinder gender equality. And they show how Confucian theories about war and peace were formulated in a context not so different from today’s international system, and how they can help us achieve a more peaceful global community. This thought-provoking volume affirms the enduring relevance of Confucian moral and political thinking, and will stimulate important debate among policymakers, researchers, and students of politics, philosophy, applied ethics, and East Asian studies.

The contributors are Daniel A. Bell, Joseph Chan, Sin Yee Chan, Chenyang Li, Richard Madsen, Ni Lexiong, Peter Nosco, Michael Nylan, Henry Rosemont, Jr., and Lee H. Yearley.

(Description from Princeton University Press – see book website and endorsements here)

Other books

Click on covers for more information and to buy

Beyond Liberal Democracy          The Politics of Affective Relations          Confucianism For The Modern World          Forms Of Justice

East Meets West          The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights          Towards Illiberal Democracy In Pacific Asia          Communitarianism And Its Critics

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