Confucian constitutionalism: Mencius and xunzi on virtue, ritual, and royal transmission

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23 Citations (Scopus)


By examining Xunzi's and Mencius's contrary reactions toward royal transmission by individual merit or "abdication" (shanrang), this article attempts to reveal the distinctive features of their respective political theories, which I reconstruct in terms of lizhi constitutionalism and dezhi constitutionalism. Resisting the conventional tendency to capture Mencius's and Xunzi's political theories in such dichotomous terms as idealism and realism, this paper draws attention to the complex mixture of idealism and realism found in both thinkers' constitutional political theories and identifies such common ground in terms of "Confucian constitutionalism." This paper presents Mencius's idealistic defense of abdication and his realistic resolution of the constitutional crisis latent in it, then it examines Xunzi's refutation of the three conventional rationalizations of abdication, and it concludes by recapitulating the common Confucian constitutionalist ground that Mencius and Xunzi shared and discussing its implications for the study of constitutional theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-399
Number of pages29
JournalReview of Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Jun

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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