4 replies on “Daniel Bell in the New York Times”

  1. Interesting phenomenon. I like this: “But parents need to accept that working with hands can be just as socially valuable as working with the mind. A bit of Maoism, in that sense, might need to be reintroduced to China.” (But I’m not sure it’s the parents who are paying the salaries or determining social status — so I guess the corrective seems slightly misdirected.)

    Bell cites this from Analects 15.38: “In education, there are no social classes,” Confucius said. (有教無類)

    But there’s also this bit from Mencius 3A4, which I’m sure has some influence, historically, on this problem:

    Great men have their proper business, and little men have their proper business. Moreover, in the case of any single individual, whatever articles he can require are ready to his hand, being produced by the various handicraftsmen – if he must first make them for his own use, this way of doing would keep all the people running about upon the roads. Hence, there is the saying, “Some labour with their minds, and some labour with their strength. Those who labour with their minds govern others; those who labour with their strength are governed by others. Those who are governed by others support them; those who govern others are supported by them.” This is a principle universally recognised.

    A bit of Maoism isn’t going to settle in so nicely under the covers with Confucianism.

  2. Good point, Manyul, and thanks for highlighting that claim by Bell – it’s an interesting one indeed. It can be read in many ways! By “socially valuable” does he mean contributing to society? Valued or honored by society? And is he thinking that parents’ choices for their children are motivated by what they think will contribute to society? What they think society will in the end be willing to reward? What they think society honors? And does he think that manual labor does in fact make an equal contribution (given the kind of intellectual work available in China these days)? Or is he saying parents should just pretend? Or, if he’s talking about honoring labor, is he thinking that changed expectations of what society values will automatically make themselves true?

    One kind of way for society to value and honor manual work is the practical way: for example by instituting adequate labor laws and moving away from the hukou system. But that kind of change is more likely to come from honoring than from valuing manual work, insofar as these are different. For if we merely value something, why make changes that might give us less of it? But if we honor manual work as part of honoring people in general on some equal basis, then we’re more likely to value equal citizenship (no hukou system), democracy, the rule of law, and the institutions necessary for all these, which in turn can bring better labor laws.

    That looks like one point for Mencius. But maybe not for Confucianism in general (state-, Neo-, New-):

    Huang Yasheng from the same NYT page: “The Chinese educational system is terrible at producing workers with innovative skills for Chinese economy. It produces people who memorize existing facts rather than discovering new facts; who fish for existing solutions rather than coming up with new ones; who execute orders rather than inventing new ways of doing things. In other words they do not solve problems for their employers.”

    And from a recent article by Jerome (pron. “Jeremy”) Cohen (a leading US figure in the study and improvement of the Chinese legal system): “The most formidable challenge to China’s establishment of a credible rule of law is neither the quality of its legislation nor the professional competence of its judges, prosecutors, lawyers and police. Laws and the skills of those who apply them have both witnessed substantial progress in the People’s Republic during the past three decades. The real challenge to the administration of justice in China is, rather, the undue intrusion of politics and, even more broadly, of ‘guanxi’, the network of interpersonal relations of mutual protection, benefit and dependency that is one of the enduring hallmarks of Chinese society.”

  3. If stablity is prioritized, I wonder if doing away with the 戸籍 system before other factors are put in place (ie raising GDP/PPP) to avoid the generaton of huge slums like you see in Africa or India isn’t in order?

    People have precisely the same complaints about Jpse education system too– though it seems to do a really fine job of turning out creative, innovative people (patent translation remains extremely lucrative since Jpse have the 2nd or 3rd highest # of US patents– and that is just in the US) There are so many factors involved but memorzing stuff is never a bad idea, in my opinion. (ie, Indian multiplication table memorization→ computer skills)

    Perhaps by “value” it is in the way Germans or Japanese value 職人? they call it in Jpse 職人文化– hence a cultural value. Didn’t read Bell’s piece, but I would imagine a cultural value would be the start of whatever he was getting at– if career choices are involved.

    Manyul, you’ll have to write about that book sometime you read on manual labor in the US… I’ve been interested in reading it. Was he a mechanic? Not a wood craftsman/furniture maker?

  4. Good points, Peony. I agree that he probably meant cultural valuing, which is what I meant by the honoring kind of valuing; though I think it’s unusual to use the word “valuable” in that connection.

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