A Confucian-Inspired Perspective on East Asia’s Future: Examining Social Cohesion and Meritocracy

Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 41:85-109 (2024)
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East Asia’s economy is leading the world into the new Asian century. While meritocratic practices in the educational and private sectors are often considered pivotal conditions for East Asia’s economic success, experts have pointed out that the path ahead requires new approaches to ensure social cohesion and stability, which depend on the quality of relations across social divides. These considerations raise multiple questions for philosophers: What forms of social meritocracy are necessary to sustain social cohesion? Moreover, how can the detrimental effects of meritocratic practices be contained? Is it possible to utilise some of the intellectual resources indigenous to East Asia to generate innovative solutions? This paper argues that the answers to these questions lie in the indigenous Confucian conceptual resources. Confucian ideas can inspire a more desirable societal ideal for the future of East Asia. In particular, the Confucian emphasis on cultivating reciprocal harmonious human relationships and others’ morality can guide new approaches to fostering social cohesion. As Confucian personal cultivation through harmonious relations is a process of social cohesion, these ideas inspire a) a multiple approach to policymaking that is not only grounded in economic redistribution, b) a richer understanding of societal progress, and c) a democratic approach to fostering social cohesion. Unlike Confucian meritocrats and scholars who defend the Confucian roots of East Asian forms of political and social meritocracy, this paper proves that Confucian conceptual resources can help formulate a societal vision that strengthens cohesion and mitigates the adverse effects of meritocratic practices.

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Elena Ziliotti
Delft University of Technology


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