Meritocracy in China and The United States

Apr 11, 2023 | 11:00 AM


Zhu Huiling | Professor, Capital Normal University, HYI Coordinate Research Scholar 2022-23


Michael J. Sandel | Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government, Harvard University

Seating is limited. Masks are required for all in-person audience members.

In western society, meritocracy is an idea and principle of distributive justice, which distributes social wealth and opportunities based on the achievements one gets, that is, who contributes the most should get the most income and opportunity. This idea has greatly influenced America. In China, the idea of Meritocracy dates back to early Confucianism. However, it is much more complicated, and it is different from the western version. It cared little about the distribution of social wealth among people, it instead focused on how to distribute political power based on people’s virtue, and how to govern the society with virtue. When modern China has been influenced by the western countries and its own social structure has been greatly changed, the idea of Meritocracy of western societies has been working quietly. However, when talking about Meritocracy, it is still more likely for Chinese to take it as the ancient political version. Thus, it is important for us to clarify these different emphases of Meritocracy in the United States and China, and their differences within traditional China and modern China, in order to analyze the problems caused by Meritocracy in both societies and how to deal with it. Besides, the political dimension of Meritocracy in China could be supplement for the western version of it when we reflect on it.