Opinion: A fresh look at China’s road to democracy – the way ahead

Great Wall of China - Some rights reserved by radiowood2000
Is China now on the road to democracy? My answer is “yes”.

I began to observe China’s democratic progress on 5 April 1989. Now, 23 years has past. China is still at the starting point. We know in modern democracy, people can decide their own lifestyle and enjoy their own freedom. How about democracy and people’s freedom in China today?

I personally think today the country has some form of “Chinese-style” democracy. We Chinese must grasp that democracy takes time to understand and apply in a different cultural setting. Actually in China today, Chinese people enjoy more basic freedoms. Elections have started in local villages and in most cities.

New challenges ahead

What are the new challenges ahead? How can China’s democratic transformation be a success?

Firstly, I think China should promote citizenship education to every Chinese person. Today, every Chinese person must learn to respect the rule of law and the People’s Republic of China’s constitution.

Secondly, we must understand the differing adaptation of democracy in our particular culture. I strongly suggest China should develop her own “Chinese-style social liberal democracy” in line with her culture to care for the real needs of 1.35 billion Chinese. Democracy doesn’t mean you must stand up to fight your government on every minute matter. Chinese people should learn positive democracy in a liberal sense to accept wider individual difference and cooperation.

Thirdly, the Chinese government should respect individual differences, individual freedoms and human rights by birth. China should promote liberal open-minded education to young people, which can play a key role in creating a harmonious liberal society.

Fourthly, the Chinese government could open up the political party system to allow two or three political parties. In fact, we see in modern politics the government party can do better if there is another political party to watch it. This political transformation can help China, in line with the rest of the modern world.

The Road Ahead

China’s political reform goes ahead very slowly. Let’s remember a Chinese political reformer, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. In a democratic modern society, it is right that the Chinese government should release him.

On 14th September 2011, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in the World Economic Forum in Dalian:

China must change its system of absolute power and introduce more Chinese democracy.

Wen’s reform points to move China forward are:

1. Adherence to the rule of law.
2. Promoting social justice.
3. Safeguarding justice.
4. Safeguarding the Chinese people’s democratic rights under the constitution.
5. Combatting corruption.

I agree with Premier Wen’s five vision points for pushing China in the right direction towards a fair and democratic, open, modern society.

In modern politics, we know that a single party system does not function satisfactorily. My vision is that the success of China’s road to democracy requires two new strategic elements:

1. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must promote further liberal political reform towards social democracy under the rule of law.

2. In the near future some Chinese liberal intellectuals should set up a new liberal political party promoting social democracy, safeguarding social justice and human rights for the Chinese people, such as a Chinese Social Democratic Party or a Chinese People’s Democratic Party. I think this would be correct and big step forward, helping our motherland China go towards social democracy in line with the modern world. In fact, the Chinese constitution encourages and allows a multi-party democratic system in China.

To my mind, the right time has come for China to take some big steps ahead towards a modern democratically developed nation. I believe this beautiful peaceful dawn of people’s democracy will come to China in around 2020.

With courage and love inside our hearts let us go forward to our peaceful beautiful future. Let us be brave and continue ahead towards the joyful destiny of our Chinese people’s freedom in unity!

Best wishes to our motherland China and to all the 1.35 billion Chinese people a happy prosperous New Year!

* Andy Yau is a political observer and researcher on China's peaceful rise since 1990. Andy is a life member of the Chinese Liberal Democrats.

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7 Comments

  • Andy,

    “I began to observe China’s democratic progress on 5 April 1989.”

    I assume you are referring to the anniversary of the 1976 Tiannemen incident that occurred following the death of Chinese Premier Zhou Enla earlier in that year and the attempt by the Gang of four to remove Deng Xiaoping from office.

    You ask “Is China now on the road to democracy?”

    To answer that, I think we need to consider the Legacy of the Tiannemen Square protests of June 1989?

    Has the Chinese government made progress in advancing human rights since 1989? The past 20 years has seen democratic reform sweep all over the world. From the emergence of democratic movements in Africa to the Arab Spring. Yet, China still has a great deal of distance to travel in following the world’s lead on human rights and democratic reforms. As China becomes a leading economic force in the world with the second largest economy, there needs to be a recognition that China’s past does not reflect the future. Brutal repression of human rights and individual freedoms in Tibet and across China cannot be a feature of democracy. If China is going to be seen as a world authority, then China must embrace Liberal democracy and all of the baggage that comes with it.

    The legacy of Tiannemen was to make the Chinese government turn inward, becoming fearful of democracy and dissent. The Chinese people, understandably, are reluctant to express any dissent because they know they may well be crushed as were followers of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline .

    Tiananmen Square had a negative impact on human rights and freedom of protest in China. More recently, we have seen the Chinese government applying evermore restrictions on freedom of access to information on the internet and the Shanghai Olympics were used as an excuse to forcibly evict thousands, China has become more closed politically since Tiannemen.

    “Tankman” is an iconic picture of an individual standing against the full force of a military state. .For people around the world it is a symbol both of heroism and oppression. Very little has changed in China, but for the rest of thw world
    this picture of a individual exercising the right to protest represents the dream of what China’s future could be in a liberal and tolerant democracy.

    I hope you are right when you say”I believe this beautiful peaceful dawn of people’s democracy will come to China in around 2020.” However, If that is to come about, we need to see some movement in that direction in the very near future, starting with UN security council resolutions on Syria and both political and religious freedoms in Tibet.

  • There is no such thing as the government, only people are conscious. If we say that the people shouldn’t oppose the government on every matter, or shouldn’t be able to oppose the government on every matter (of course there will be many areas where any individual will agree with government policy), then you really mean that one subset of the people (those closest to power) should have carte blanche to decide in certain areas and the will of the people as a whole is only relevant in other areas. It is not clear to me why that should be the case, whether in China or Eastern Europe (about which the same bogus cultural arguments were made), or in Arab countries. If the cultural differences are really there in the people as a whole then they will be reflected in the will of the people as expressed democratically.

  • Its certainly possible for a ruling communist party to volountarily give up power because it happened once, in Hungary in 1989. Against that single example stand all the other states where the communists clung on till they were forced out.
    There are no signs that the current leadership plan to follow the hungarian route, perhaps they are closet liberals longing to come out but I doubt it.

  • Alex Matthews 18th Dec '12 - 8:24pm

    While this was an interesting read, I fear that China is a long way from the reform you hope to see, heck I would say most countries, including my own, are. I think one of the major problems is highlighted by this line:

    “Democracy doesn’t mean you must stand up to fight your government on every minute matter.”

    It reminds me of the line by the Historian Fitzgerald who suggested that Democracy should not work in China because the Chinese culture was one which demanded an unquestioned ruling elite. However, this is not truth, despite what many Chinese people like to believe, they are not so different from us, their culture is not of alien design and they are still just basically human. Now, I am suggesting China is or should be considered the same as say Britain (note I did not use the term west, I hate that term), but I merely wish to highlight that Chinese people should not use the differences as a proxy justification of failings in their system. When I was residing in China I was shocked and dismayed to see so many students suggest to me that they could change the things they disagreed with in society because though they thought these things were wrong, they also considered them part of their culture , which meant they had to do them anyway, If reform is to be realised in China, this where it has to start, your youth have to be taught to break the taboo that you do not break taboos.

    Now, maybe I talk out of turn, but from my limited experiences the reason for this strange acceptance of failings in the system in China comes from 3 traits the government seems determined to instil in all people in China through the education system and other forms of socialisation.

    1=Pride=Now, Chinese culture culture like just about every culture on the planet is raised to be proud of itself and to think it has the best grasp of how things in everyday life should be done. I know in every culture is this something we all like to claim is not true, but I believe it is something. The nationalist government in China is very quick to utilise this as a way to get support by playing loose with historical facts and by ensuring that :
    a-If waiguo-rens (outsiders) question something which is considered ‘Chinese’ they are wrong and do not/cannot understand the Chinese way of doing things and they must be indigently refuted. This is clever because it makes people more isolationist and less likely to look to other cultures for rebellious inspiration.
    b-If a Chinese people questions something ‘Chinese’ then they are made to feel they lack pride in themselves and more importantly their family.

    Fatalism=The government in China is very good at making itself appear very big and the individual appear very small. It always saddens me when I converse with Chinese students and hear how willing to give up on political reform they are before they even start. “It is just too big, I cannot change it, it is too hard.” I have hear these lines too many times, and it is something that must be overcome if China is to have real reform. Now this is not to say that the Chinese are the only people to have these self-defeatist thoughts, I see them all too often in the UK as well, but as this topic regards China, that is the group I will focus on.

    Conformity=As a I noted before the Chinese government is very good at making people believe ‘well, I disagree with it, but it is a part of the culture I live in, so who am I to question it?” This leads to conformity and conformity is toxic to reform because conformity leads to stagnation and when society stagnate, political movements and reform die.

    Is reform in China possible? Yes, of course it is, but I feel that there needs to be a massive grass roots movement for the reformists because during times of grow, reform is always hard to achieve and right now in the educated student class of China there is a growing cultural concious that things are good so long as no one ‘rocks the boat’ and no one does anything stupid, therefore campaigning for reform is not in our interest. Reformers such as yourself must show them the short-sighted failings of this notation and why they, far from hiding from reform, must be the driving force behind it. They will be the next generation of China’s ‘elite’ and so it will be up to them to look to the future.

  • Alex Matthews 18th Dec '12 - 8:30pm

    Sorry about the typos, I clicked send before I was finished and it seems my dyslexia is playing tricks on me again.

    I will not resend, but to avoid confusion, I will rewrite the worst mistakes below.

    “. Now, I am not suggesting China is ”

    “..that they could not change”

  • That’s an interesting analysis Alex. As a read it, I was reminded of the objections by the political elite to MacArthur’s democratic reforms and new constitution in post-war Japan.

    It is not surprising that a generation that has lived through the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution would be cautious of radical change and any propect of chaos. As you say, we must look to a new generation of reformers, such as the author of this article, to show the way in bringing a modernised China into the family of free democratic nations.

  • Alex Matthews 20th Dec '12 - 9:23pm

    Thank you Joe, and I agree whole-heartily with all your points, especially your point about the effects history can have upon a culture. However, as you noted, the fact we have people like Andy and Merlene campaigning for change is really inspiring and lets hope they can lead the way to a freer and more Liberal China/world.

    PS I love that Zi-You (self being) means both ‘free’ and ‘liberal’. Another word used for Liberal ideas is Kai-fang (open area), which means open mindedness. This to me proves that Chinese culture not only knows of Liberalism, but also truly understands it and is compatible with.

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