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The China Model:
Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy
Daniel A. Bell
With a new preface by the author

A Financial Times Summer Books Selection
Selected as one of Financial Times ( Best Books of 2015
A Guardian Best Holiday Reads of 2015 selection

Paperback | 2016 | $19.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691173047
360 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400883486 |
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Reviews | Table of Contents
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Appendix 1: Harmony in the World 2013: The Ideal and the Reality
Appendix 2: A Conversation between a Communist and a Confucian

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Is Chinese Democracy Inevitable?

Democracy, Meritocracy, or Both?

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.

Daniel A. Bell is dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University in Qingdao.


"[I]t is part of the job of academics to ask fundamental questions that challenge conventional thinking. Bell performs this role admirably in lucid, jargon-free prose that leads the reader back to some of the most fundamental questions in political philosophy - refracted through the experience of contemporary China . . . I found the questions that Bell raised consistently stimulating."--Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

"Bell . . . has written a fascinating study. Open-minded readers will find it equips them with a more intelligent understanding of Chinese politics and, no less valuable, forces them to examine their devotion to democracy. . . . [The China Model] isn't just for those who want to better understand China. More than anything I've read for a while, it also forced me to think about what's good and bad about Western systems of government. From start to finish the book is a pleasure and an education."--Clive Crook, Bloomberg View

"Bell makes a solid and worthy case for why the outside world might want to think about the Chinese experiment in governance a bit more deeply. . . . This is a very clearly written book."--Kerry Brown, Asian Review of Books

"The China Model . . . is as important for us as it is for China. If the book brings us some humility about the ways in which an undemocratic model like China's can be deeply rooted in history and culture, it will have done good work. But it will do something better if it can remind us that our own history isn't over."--Rob Goodman, POLITICO

"In careful, clear and measured prose, [Bell] works hard to overcome prejudice, defuse emotions and discuss the pros and cons in the cool language of political philosophy. This, perhaps, is the book's greatest contribution."--James Miller, Literary Review of Canada

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Table of Contents:

Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
Acknowledgments xxi
Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Is Democracy the Least Bad Political System? 14
Chapter 2 On the Selection of Good Leaders in a Political Meritocracy 63
Chapter 3 What's Wrong with Political Meritocracy 110
Chapter 4 Three Models of Democratic Meritocracy 151
Concluding Thoughts: Realizing the China Model 179
Notes 199
Selected Bibliography 283
Index 307

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