Can a Woman be a Junzi?

Women’s Leadership in the Covid Crisis


  • Dacy Wu
  • Dennis P. McCann


As Confucian teaching becomes more widely known in almost every corner of the world, accompanying the development of China’s economic and cultural influence through the Belt-and-Road (BRI) projects, the Junzi ideal is becoming more attractive as the preferred leadership style for new generations of businesspeople. However, the Junzi ideal tends to be stereotyped as a man acting within a supposedly male-dominant world. At the same time, Confucius has been criticized for his alleged sexism, assuming without much comment women’s subordination to men, as wives, mothers, and daughters, roles other than leaders. This case study starts with reports of women leaders’ early success responding to the Covid-19 crisis, compared to their male counterparts, which raise the question whether women’s leadership embodies the values enshrined in the Confucian ideal of the Junzi. Considering the evidence of both history and current experience, the case study is meant to explore the question whether the Junzi as conceived in Confucian teaching should be clarified, in order to demonstrate its openness to development for both women and men, and not just in China.

Key words: Covid-19 crisis and Chinese response, women in leadership, Junzi, challenging sexism in Confucian teaching.