China warns Hong Kong it had better learn from Taiwan’s example

Predictably, the CCP is pointing to the Taiwan elections as proof that democracy opens the door to chaos, and warning Hong Kong that this is exactly why true democracy there would be a bad thing.

China’s official mouthpiece Friday warned Hong Kong for the first time of the chaos it can expect if it presses ahead with demands for speedy democratic reforms, using Taiwan’s election turmoil as an example.

“Democracy is promising as a theory, but in reality it is something entirely different,” the official China Daily said in a commentary written by Xiao Ping.

“If it is fostered in a radical way that is more than the local community can handle, the inevitable outcome is the disruption of the original social order while a new one is not yet established, resulting in the paralysis of governance and social chaos.”

There’s no question that there is a price for freedom, and the people of HK and Taiwan have made it perfectly clear that they are willing to pay that price. If only China’s leaders understood why this is so — why men are willing to march and riot and risk their lives for political freedom — they could save themselves an awful lot of trouble trying to convince people who are free that they’d be better off under the authoritarian rule of the CCP.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Richard, I think there are lessons for the CCP from the Taiwan election ‘turmoil’ – but they’re almost certainly not lessons that the CCP want to learn. The reason that Taiwan could get half a million people out on the streets on Saturday is nothing to do with democracy (gone wrong or otherwise), and everything to do with Taiwans history under martial law.

For a long time, Taiwan was a place where an unelected leadership where pushing economic changes as fast as they could go – but reluctant to give up political control (sound familiar?). The only way the people could push for political reforms was through mass protests – which they did with great enthusiasm. This, aligned with pressure from the US, was actually successful; Taiwan slowly reformed to the point it is today – a democratic nation where the original ruling party has lost the last 2 elections.

The protests here over the weekend were partly because the Taiwanese have got used to protests as an effective way to force change – and guess what? It worked 20 years ago, and it worked last weekend; they have got everything (almost) they’ve been asking for.

If the CCP is sincere in its wish to avoid these sorts of demonstrations, then they need to push through democratic reforms faster, not slower. Otherwise, people will learn that protesting on the street is the only way to force change – and they’ll keep doing it even after democracy has arrived.

March 29, 2004 @ 10:14 am | Comment

There is a lot of trepidation about the announced NPC review of Hong Kong’s Basic Law this week, but would you agree with folks like Hemlock that a lot of the bluster and chill winds blowing from the mainland to HK are from Jiang Zemin’s crowd, the “Shanghai Clique”?

March 29, 2004 @ 11:20 am | Comment

David, you are absolutely right. But since when does the CCP learn from history? And since when have they ever been sincere?

Tom, it’s a good question (about Jiang) and I honestly don’t know; it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

March 29, 2004 @ 2:03 pm | Comment

Welcome back Richard … you’re certainly back … from no stories last time I checked to a lot now!

As for this topic … I seriously doubt if Hu Jingtao is a “reformist” in the sense that many in the west would like him to be. He seems to be committed to the economic modernisation of China … but frankly I think that he’s as dedicated as the last lot to maintaining the political status quo, and I think it’s a mistake to blame the “old guard”.

I think David’s comments about the growth of mass movement in Taiwan are very interesting. It certainly fits with the lessons of why the Qing government fell in China even after it attempted constitutional reform … it simply waited too long and allowed popular feeling to grow too strong before it finally responded to it. Compare that to the response of the Meiji leadership in Japan, where Ito Hirobumi, that nation’s first prime minister in their newly created cabinet-style government said, on the subject of introducing a constitution (which would include elections to a national parliament), “at this time there is still great loyalty to the imperial house, and if we act now we may choose the form of the constitution, and the people will regard it as a gift. If we wait and vascilate, the feelings of the people will grow stronger, and we will be forced into granting a much more liberal system than we would desire, and the people will regard it as a thing they took for themselves.”
(Well … sorry I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the quote with me now, but that is what he said … just not word for word.)

I used to get my students to do a comparison between the introduction of a constitution in China and Japan … because, if you look at the practical things done, China copied Japan’s example almost exactly. The main difference was that they acted too late … just as Ito in Japan had warned against.

March 29, 2004 @ 2:38 pm | Comment

To be clear, I’m a big fan of what Taiwan has acheived in terms of democratization – to the point that I really don’t understand how the island has managed to transform itself from a vicious dictatorship in such a quick and (relatively) painless manner. So, what’s been going on in Taiwan recently is pretty much the best-case scenario.

Zhang Li En – Taiwan seemed to manage the timing you’re talking about well: the first presidential election gave Lee Denghui (the KMT candidate) about 70% of the vote, so the KMT clearly had a lot of goodwill then. Since then, they’ve lost support at an impressive rate (my back-of-the-envelope calculation comes out at 1,000 voters turning away from the KMT EVERY day since that first election!)

March 29, 2004 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

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June 21, 2005 @ 5:27 pm | Comment

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