The Meanings of Democracy: The Shadow of Confucianism

Issue Date October 2010
Volume 21
Issue 4
Page Numbers 123-130
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Scholars have been puzzled by the high level of support for democracy, as well as the high level of support for the authoritarian regime, in China, as revealed in numerous surveys. In this paper, Shi and Lu argue that people in different societies may understand democracy in distinct ways. Confucian culture defines democracy in terms of Minben, which is different from the procedural understanding of democracy following the liberal tradition. These two definitions generate different expectations for the government, provide varying standards for assessing political legitimacy, and define distinct functions of participation. Their findings suggest that meaningful comparative studies of support for democracy require scholars to be sensitive to culturally embedded understandings of democracy in different societies.

About the Authors

Tianjian Shi

Tianjian Shi is associate professor of political science at Duke University.

View all work by Tianjian Shi

Jie Lu

Jie Lu is Ye Chenghai Chair Professor of Political Science at Renmin University of China.

View all work by Jie Lu