Rural elections

A recent thread generated a lot of comments about whether or not the Chinese people are ready to vote, another hot-button topic that always arouses emotions. Some pointed to the rural elections instituted around 1989 as a positive sign, while others said the rural Chinese are not ready to vote. There’s a short but sweet must-read post about this very subject that hits several of the nails squarely on the head. Just go there.

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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: 60 Comments

It’s curious (other euphemism) that the same people that accuse whoever criticize CCP dictatorial rule (and of course not chinese people) to be anti-chinese, have no hesitation in insulting chinese people considering them “not ready”. The problem is dictatorship, not chinese people. It shouldn’t be so difficult to understand at this point of the history.

January 30, 2005 @ 11:52 am | Comment

Seems pretty obvious to me, too. What really stuns me is when bright liberal people stand up for the CCP, minimizing the bad things they’ve done and glorifying the good. And I know they’ve done some very good things, but they’re definitely a net minus.

January 30, 2005 @ 11:59 am | Comment

Some of us happen to be indifferent to whatever form of government China manifests itself in. The overriding goals should be prosperity, prestige, and power; whether these objectives are acheived via democratic or dictatorial means are irrelevant

January 30, 2005 @ 2:27 pm | Comment

But what if the power is abused? What if the prosperity is for a select few? What if the prestige is for party members only? This ends-justifies-the-means mentality is right out of Machiavelli’s The Prince, and is the logic behind many of the most destructive dictatorships. (Hitler kept a copy of Il Principe by his bedside.)

January 30, 2005 @ 2:31 pm | Comment

A while back I came across a very interesting posting about democracy and India and whether it’s a help or hindrance. I don’t know who is the original poster but I’m sure he won’t mind it being posted here.

SOMETHING ABOUT DEMOCRACY

It has also come to my attention that Indians, from the government down, without fail, like to boast to the world about India being the ‘WORLD’S BIGGEST DEMOCRACY!’ And the world, including Alex perhaps, like backup singers, would join in the chorus. In my opinion, democracy by itself is meaningless without more. It is only good as a means to a greater end. In this case, only and only if it can bring greater good to the people.

Democracy as a system of governance is synonymous with freedom and prosperity. But democratic India is synonymous with the shackled Dalits and the poverty of its teeming millions. While I am not saying that democracy is THE cause of these problems, it seems it is of not much help in solving the problems either. To the untold millions of the downtrodden and the destitute in India, like the poor and the hungry anywhere in the world, I believe, 3 square meals a day with a decent roof over the head and a comfortable bed below mean much more than whether Congress (I) party or BJP won the elections or that India carries the tag “World’s Largest Democracy!” For these people, democracy is the game of the privileged, the rich and the well-fed and the well-to-do as there are more pressing needs than freedom to choose John or Peter to be the leader if the resulting choice doesn’t bring appreciable change to their lives or the right to shout slogans on the road or to blare one’s dissenting view in the media. Maybe the Indians cannot see this or simply refuse to do so. Maybe the World, too. But I am not blind and is closely WATCHING! And thankfully, most Chinese are sensible enough to realize this.

Democracy as shown by India is not necessary the panacea of a nation’s ails and the solution to a man’s many miseries of life.

I have the highest regards for American democracy. While not saying it is the 100% true-blue democracy, basically I like what I saw and I only hope it could be practice in all other countries someday. (I have never ceased to admire America that in the conduct of its national elections, tens or hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the course of the elections. I have no quarrel with that. In fact, I am full of envy that America has so much excess cash to throw.) But I also realized democracy has its limitations and it has to suit the local conditions of each and every country. And many, many countries and peoples are simply not ready for it. To force it down the throat would probably end with choking the subject to death.

Take Japan now. This rich nation, in the name of democracy, can afford to have a change of government, every now and then, without actually hurting the average Japanese but for a poor nation with a poor hunger-stricken population that really needs a strong leadership and looks up to the government for salvation and as their only hope of a better tomorrow, it is a major disaster in the making.

Take China today. True, the Chinese may not have political and religious freedoms in that they may not have a direct say as to whom their leaders should be and have limited religious freedom. But the people can now earn their keep, are free to move within and without the country. Most importantly, they do not have to go to bed hungry, with a roof above and a bed below, something which many from the Western world tend to take for granted. To me, these are the most basic of human rights. I.e. the rights of a man living as a dignified human must foremost have. Everything else is secondary. Now can you truly say that those who are without these most basic rights in some so-called ‘democratic countries’ but with voting and shouting rights have human rights their safeguarded? If you could answer this in the affirmative, I would volunteer to the next ‘unknown hero’ blocking the tanks in Tiananmen Square!

Historically, China has no democratic tradition, being ruled by dynastic emperors for millennia. For hundreds of years, famine and poverty were the order of the day. After the communist took over, they managed to eradicate famine (though, admittedly they created some too, due to some over-ambitious policies like Great Leap Forward), to clothe and provide roof over the heads of its teeming millions. It was something not even the ‘democratic’ Chiang Kai-Shek supported by the world richest and most democratic and generous country, the United States of America could do. That is no mean feat. Many people are ignorant of this fact. Many more very conveniently chose to forget this fact out of ideological enmity. Again, my eyes are wide open.

Russia is next. They abandoned communism and dove headlong into democracy, with the world cheering along. And looked what they got. Not only Broken Country, but a Broken People. I have not finished yet – Broken Pride too! Fortunately, they didn’t ‘break their heads!’ so to speak. Is that what the well-intentioned peoples of the world have to offer to China? As the saying goes, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Einstein is no Chinese but the Chinese are no fool!

Truly, India and Democracy are a mismatch from the start and both are doing a disservice to the other. After more than half a century of tango, what has they got to prove? Two pairs of broken shoes and a dubious boasting right to India as a potential future superpower. No wonder, during the 50th Anniversary of Indian’s Independence, it was reported that the atmosphere was one of commemoration rather than celebration. While is it none of my business that Democracy had failed India, since it was their free choice, but as a believer of democratic system, I mind the fact that India had given democracy a BAD NAME!

January 30, 2005 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

wkl, I completely reject the underlying thesis of your comment, i.e., that only the CCP was capable of taking care of the people of China. For 55 years they’ve generally been a blight in their people’s lives, committing mass murder at whim and demonstrating utter contempt for their people’s rights as human beings. All you can say is that they’ve had some small successes, usually caused by their getting out of the way of their people, not by any great wisdom or strategy. China’s economic miracle started when Deng started to set up special administrative regions where free(er) trade was allowed; he gave the people an inch and they grabbed a mile and the rest is history. Finally, they (the CCP) are beginning to tend to the environment (way too little, much too late) and they are definitely focusing more attention on the poor than before, which is to say, they are being less awful than they were. But to credit them with any significant achievement — it just doesn’t pan out. They’re seen as a big success now because they finally let their people do light manufacturing for the outside world. Aside from that, the CCP’s failures are as miserable as George Bush’s. The one thing they did was abandon their ideology and let in Western-style capitalism. And therein lies their success (which is, ironically, evidence of their total failure as an ideology).

Democracy is very imperfect and is inherently based on compromise and deal brokering. That said, it’s still the best system we’ve seen to date. As I’ve said many times, China may not be ready right nor for full-blown democracy, but it’s maddening that some liberals are swayed by the CCP’s bullshit that they just “need some more time,” and they’ll offer democracy when the time is right.

Some of China’s brightest minds have spoken out in favor of democracy. Without exception, they have been harrassed and often imprisoned. One-party authoritarian rule sucks. You can defend it ’til the cows come home, but despite some very fine party members, the CCP remains an essentially roteen, corrupt repression machine that exists only for its self-preservation at the expense of the people it’s supposedly there to serve.

January 30, 2005 @ 6:38 pm | Comment

Richard:

RE:
But what if the power is abused? What if the prosperity is for a select few? What if the prestige is for party members only? This ends-justifies-the-means mentality is right out of Machiavelli’s The Prince, and is the logic behind many of the most destructive dictatorships. (Hitler kept a copy of Il Principe by his bedside.)

I disagree with the notion that these ideas (in China) come from Machiavelli. I think we should look much closer to home, i.e. Confucius. Though when it comes down to it, they’re not really that different. In the US we’ve got thugs pretending to have morals and thus hiding their Machiavellian aims. In China we’ve got thugs pretending they don’t use Confucianism to control society.

January 30, 2005 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

I didn’t say these ideas in China come from Machiavelli. But they are the same ideas asThe Prince, whatever the source may be in China. And it’s absolutely true that our leaders in Washington today embrace the same philosophy, which is why so much of this blog is dedicated to exposing the sins of my president.

January 30, 2005 @ 8:31 pm | Comment

OK, sorry for the misread. I’m on your side here, man!

For what it’s worth (not much), I’ve actually heard some Chinese say they think that Machiavelli’s ideas came from Confucius.

Also, the subject of this post being elections, I think we in the west could more effectively induce democracy in China if we chastised the PRC for being too “Confucian”, rather than being too “Communist”. The latter just hits a dead note among people on the mainland.

January 30, 2005 @ 8:44 pm | Comment

I’ll buy that.

January 30, 2005 @ 9:26 pm | Comment

Hmmm, It’s amazing that I’ve never heard anything good about village elections in China except from the Chinese government.

Everything that I know seems to suggest that the candidates who support the governemtn in every way always win, and that elected oficials rarely, if ever, defy regional officials or the government.

Village elections are just a window dressing in most cases. A few will change anything.

I idly wonder how many Han officials are elected in Hygar etc areas,

January 30, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

“Everything that I know seems to suggest that the candidates who support the governemtn in every way always win, and that elected oficials rarely, if ever, defy regional officials or the government.”

all candidates support the government, the difference is candidate A want to spend 1000 yuan to buy 2 cows, and candidate B want to spend that 1000 yuan to buy fertilizers. and villagers will choose A or B based on their judgement as which one – cow or fertilizer is better for them, not anything else.

you think village candidates will give speeches to villagers like GW Bush does to americans?

January 30, 2005 @ 10:53 pm | Comment

I think it was 2002 when Jimmy Carter went to China to overlook Chinese village elections. Regarding his report on the elections, everything was okay.

And bingfeng,

“you think village candidates will give speeches to villagers like GW Bush does to americans?”

is that good or not good?

January 30, 2005 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

One thing that seems to be left out of the discusssion about the mainland Chinese being ready for voting rights (as well as the big Mother in BJ slamming HK people about “not being ready for universal suffage) is that in 1776 the Americans had little education on the whole and little experience with democracy. I don’t think it takes a big brain to know who is honest and competent in a village or small town or to understand when taxes are proposed to be raised. All the stalling will not prepare the people to vote. A commitment to educate and doing it will get people aware enough to participate. No one can guarantee the outcome. With actual experience the people will see the effect and adjust their thinking. I think that is the only effective way forward for China if the CCP truly will institute democracy.. We will see what kind of results come from Iraq now the Iraqis have chosen the ballot and it seems rejected the bullet.

January 31, 2005 @ 12:46 am | Comment

okay, let’s make this very concrete.

a presidential election shall be held on april 1st (appropriately), 2005. it will be a winner-take-all contest in which all chinese adults are eligible to vote.

here are the obvious candidates:
Hu Jintao, current president
Li Hongzi, leader of Falun Gong
Wang Dan, exiled student leader
Chai Ling, exiled student leader
… plus 867 other less-known candidates.

who do you think will win this one? please remember that 1 billion out of 1.3 billion people live in rural areas, and they have been brought up their whole lives hearing only good things about the CCP and bad things about everyone else.

whoever wins this one is said to have received the popular mandate, and everyone else had better shut up thereafter.

my money will be on Hu Jintao.

to summarize — to ask for immediate elections is to hand the mandate off to the CCP. don’t kid yourself otherwise.

there are two project phases for democracy: one is to get democratic elections and the second on is to win the elections.

there is no point in getting the elections but be completely trounced because you haven’t prepared for it. you will be worse off than before because the other side now has the democratic mandate to do anything that they want.

January 31, 2005 @ 1:06 am | Comment

Dear ACB,

While I am quite critical of the CCP in many ways, I believe that they are nevertheless generally steering China in the right direction – in a progressive direction. Your argument that village elections are little more than a farce, is based on your ignorance. It is nothing more than mere conjecture on your part. And you assertion that Chinese villagers are not yet ready or capable of participating in local elections is patronising to say the least.

In fact, village elections in China have been quite successful, and I would even go sa far as to argue that the average Chinese villager has more influence than the average Westerner when it comes to having a political influence at the local level.

The average American, Australian or Brit, limit their participation in the political decision-making process to casting a vote once every four or five years. Many citizens of legal voting age, particularly in the US, do not even bother to take this much interest.

Compare this to your typical, adult Chinese villager. As Susan Lynne Tillou, coordinator of Asia Programs at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington has noted, after studying such processes first hand in the field, “In China, there are more than 100 million villages consisting of more than 900 million peasants. More than 75 percent of China’s total population lives in rural areas and votes for their village committees every three years. Yet, until recently, the elections have been one of China’s best kept secrets.”

So at the very least, Chinese villagers, like their cousins in the West, are in the habit of regularly casting a vote every so many years. But the average Chinese villager, I would argue, holds more political leverage by doing so than the average American or Australian does when casting a ballot at a State or National election.

As Tillou writes in her report: “The current structure of the village elections has evolved from the defunct commune system which allowed indirect participation in the selection of village committees. But elections are now more participatory and Party control has been dramatically relaxed. Peasants now directly nominate and vote for members on the committees and are involved with practical administrative issues. Candidates for committees neither have to be Party members nor approved by the Communist Party.”

Not only this ACB, but the CCP itself has actually shown a real commitment to making village-level democracy work, as one United States Institute for Peace Report clearly states: “The best of China’s village elections are very good” and are “recognisably competitive even with their distinctly Chinese characteristics. There is no obvious correlation between the level of economic development and the level of rural democratization. Rather, the villages that have staged the most successful elections are those that have received the greatest attention from higher-level officials most committed to making village democracy work.”

You can read the full report if you can track down a copy. It’s titled, “Muddling towards democracy: political change in grassroots China”. This report ACB, like all other reports that I use to support my arguments, is not the product of the CCP – in this case, the report is the product of US Government-sponsored researchers. Normally I use World Bank and United Nations studies to support my views, as you would know if you have been reading all of my commentaries about China carefully enough, since I always cite my sources when doing so.

The report also states that: “The competitive election of village committees is a major advance over higher-level appointments of village leaders, election by acclamation, and noncompetitive elections. The free and fair village elections now being fostered by the Ministry of Civil Affairs present rural people with choices they did not have before, give them a voice in the selection of their local leadership…and provide a sense of political participation and empowerment. At their best, village elections introduce the notions of competition, choice, and justice into local societies where submission to authority and domination by local emperors have long been the norm.”

The report also notes that democracy in China will, of course, develop into something which “will necessarily look very different from ours.”

A few years ago, Dr. Anne Thurston argued at a Nixon Center briefing that expanding village-level elections in China “have begun to resolve many pragmatic needs of ordinary citizens” such as the construction of roads, wells, and other quality of life issues through democratic means.” This ACB, is why I think that Chinese villagers generally speaking, exercise more (not less) politcal leverage than your average American or Australian voter!

Thurston also suggested that the implications of these developments “are likely more profound than most foreign observers recognise.”

Dr. Thurston has also noted that village elections have led to “significant tangible and intangible changes in local administration”. For example, she said, village finances “are now made public and are usually placed prominently on a community bulletin board.” Less obviously, while many pre-election era officials have retained almost identical positions after the introduction of voting, “they seem to have a new sense of responsibility to their constituents.”

Dr. Thurston, who has witnessed several village elections first-hand, also reports that “after a decade of experimentation with village elections, China has revised the organic law to make village elections mandatory. Four requirements have been established: (1) that elections must be conducted directly by the people of the village, (2) that the number of candidates must be greater than the number of offices available, (3) that elections be conducted by secret ballot, and (4) that candidates must win over 50% of the vote to prevail.”

And the prospects for extending democracy in China is, I would argue, not too dire. Dr Thurston for one, thinks so: “the new power and responsibility of elected village officials in China seems to be contagious,” Dr. Thurston argues. “As a result, this effort has already led to unofficial elections in some townships, the administrative level above villages. These less-structured elections typically involve polling to determine the general will of the township residents….[and] some officials are now advocating that democratic elections take place at higher levels of government, such as the provincial level, and some hope even to have national democratic elections.”

So you see, ACB, not all CCP officials, including many of the higher ranking ones, are inherently undemocratic or “evil”. There is clearly good room for optimism. And many millions of Chinese villagers exercise some considerable political leverage – more so, I would argue, than many Americans and Australians. By participating in village elections, and by raising issues that are directly relevent to their immediate lives as villagers, I would say, as many other observers have reported, that people in China at the village level have quite a considerable influence on political decision making. As Dr. Thurston concluded in her report, her interviews with villagers demonstrate that the concept of human rights is understood quite differently in China than in countries like the United States or Canada or Australia. “In a country where 900 million peasants live in conditions that have changed little since the Communist revolution of 1949,” she writes, “human rights are often equated with the rights to food, housing, and roads in China. In the minds of many Chinese, local democracy may be sufficient to guarantee those rights.”

ACB, the CCP, for all of its undeniable faults and limitations, is generally steering China in a positive direction, and they it is, despite what many like you might like to think, making some important and significant progress in not only economic reforms, but also in the area of social and political reforms. I am not alone in thinking this, and I have supported all of my views with evidence. I don’t base any of my arguments solely on conjecture or emotional hyperbole, nor do I view what is happening in this world of ours through ideological lenses.

All I am arguing in terms of the democracy debate is that (a) the CCP is making progress with its politcal reforms and that their acheivements so far give adequate cause for optimism, and (b), any form of democracy will not in all likelihood resemble the type of “democracy” we have in the already developed West.

Village elections in China definitely represents more than mere “window dressing” ACB. You need to do some more thorough research.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 1:49 am | Comment

ESWN, there are some serious flaws in your example. The first, and most serious, is the list of candidates. Of course, Hu Jintao would be there. But so what if he one? The other choices are a mix of nobodies, has-beens and cult leaders. Think they’d get any respect? Second, and second most serious, flaw is the assumption that Chinese peasants are incapable of thinking outside of the propaganda they have been programmed with. In my experience (granted, I have not met all one billion of them), the opposite is true. In that other thread I mentioned my in-laws as a good example. Thirdly, what happened to all the other political parties, both legal and otherwise, that currently exist in China? Surely if the CCP were to allow elections as you postulate, at least the legal parties would be allowed to participate.

And what would be so bad about the CCP winning, anyway? Firstly, they’re not so stupid is to fail to prepare for the elections. Secondly, they would have won a mandate in a perfectly legitimate manner. What’s the big deal?

January 31, 2005 @ 2:14 am | Comment

Jing:
From your statement above I would say you do not qualify as a “democrat” as I do not think the purpose of democracy is to gain power and prestige.

January 31, 2005 @ 2:20 am | Comment

chris:

i agree that i used some lousy examples of extreme individuals. i used li hongzi because he claims that he has 100 million followers, so he theoretically has the name recognition as well as some core votes. maybe Li will not stand up to careful scrutiny, but the point is you can use any ‘real’ slate that you care to and assess your chances.

these alternatives will be a list of people who are not very well-known and who have no track records in running the government, and they will be going up against a well-known group of experienced people with a massive propaganda machine, in the form of tens of millions of party members and their families talking to everyone that they know and doing negative campaigning (which is okay because it is exercising free speech).

so just make up your alternate list and estimate how many people know the names and would put the fate of the country in their hands.

i will bet on the CCP anytime.

next question, is it so bad if the CCP win the first open election? yes — what if they start changing the laws immediately afterwards? what if they decide that the president will be for life (by making up some national emergency)? what if they enact laws for detaining ‘seditionists’ indefinitely? they have the legislative votes given to them by popular mandate, so this must be okay. right? such are the histories of so many maximal presidents-for-life in the third world.

in the united states, elections are held in fixed periods. in the united kingkom or australia, elections can be called at the discretion of the ruling party — they will call elections at those moments when they feel it is to their advantage. nobody calls an election by choice if they think that they are going to lose it. why would you hand it all off to the CCP for them to do mischief?

January 31, 2005 @ 2:52 am | Comment

@ Mark Anthony Jones
Very nice and informative article, thank you.

Here is an excerpt from:
Experimenting With Democracy: A look at the grass-roots election in Yunnan Province, by FENG JIANHUA.
http://www.bjreview.com.cn/200452/Nation-200452(B).htm

“The final two candidates approved by the joint conference went to each village in the precinct to give speeches and answer villagers’ questions on the spot. Public speaking was a novelty to most of the candidates, and so was the participation in such a campaign to all villagers. Nevertheless, crowds came to listen to the stumpers, who were decked out in suits and ties. Everyone attending the speech received an allowance for being absent from work.

Finally, voters voted for the favorite of the two final candidates. The winner was then subjected to an examination by the local people’s congress. Official congressional approval is the last hurdle to assuming office as head of the township.

Each village set up a polling booth on election day. Staff working for these polling booths took ballot boxes to collect votes in remote villages or farms.

Villager enthusiasm was beyond the expectation of prefectural and county governments. According to official statistics, there were 70 villagers committees and 106,600 eligible voters in the seven pilot townships for the direct election in Shiping County. The official turnout was 103,500, or 97.1 percent, of the total eligible voters of these townships.”

January 31, 2005 @ 4:47 am | Comment

Two points China’s government stands steadfast:

1 More education is needed to make democracy possible;
2 Democratic experienment should start from grassroot level in rural area, not cities like Beijing or Shanghai;

They never even try to reconciliate the two contradicting stands. Or they just don’t care – no one is serious about what they say.

January 31, 2005 @ 4:56 am | Comment

eswn:

You mean Tony Blair can postpone the election indefinitely if the wind is not in the right direction, or wait until Brits are ‘ready’? Or round up all torries for ‘endangering state security’?

Your posts, in their uaual ‘thought provoking’ and sophisticated way, equate many things: Labour=CCP, democracy=dictatorship, censorship=free speech, etc, etc. It’s sophisticated, yes, sophisticated cynicism.

January 31, 2005 @ 5:09 am | Comment

bellevue:

let me make it really simple, by omitting all the analogies.

Postulate #1: You try not to have an election in which you will most likely lose.

Do you disagree with that?

Postulate #2: Whenever any party wins an election with a plurality, they will rig the rules in their own favor for the future. This is just self-interest, and every rational individual or party will do that.

Do you disagree with that?

I accept both postulates and therefore i conclude: if the present conditions seem to favor a CCP win in an open election, why do it? why give them the ‘mandate’ to rig the rules in their favor for all eternity?

if I play, I intend to win the whole thing. I will not be someone else’s war trophy. I will not be the sacrificial lamb for someone else’s popular mandate.

January 31, 2005 @ 7:03 am | Comment

In this instance I have to agree with eswn, and this is why I always say I don’t believe China is ready for full-blown democracy. There is no infrastructure to suppost a multi-party system. There are no controls on the media by anyone except the CCP so how can their be fair coverage and free air time for all? Rushing into elections without a foundation for making them meaningful will only strengthen the CCP, at least for now.

January 31, 2005 @ 7:17 am | Comment

It seems to me that you’re speaking about a surreal world. CCP and democracy are incompatible, CCP and elections (real election, not sham) are incompatible. As in every communist regime, when democracy arrives, regime and Party go. As in every communist dictatorship you won’t have democracy by reform. You only will have democracy after a radical change. If one day China will see a multiparty system, it will be beacuse CCP rule has ended for one reason or another. You’re speaking as CCP were looking for the best way to build a democratic China. No, CCP has always been and still is today the real enemy of a democratic China because where there is democracy, there’s no CCP. I really can’t understand how this point is systematically missed in your debate. Hey, you’re talking about a dictatorship, one of the worst on Earth, one of the five or six country with the worst record on freedom and human rights, a country with a bloody history of tiranny and persecution. And you are scared by democracy, not by CCP iron stick. Surreal.

January 31, 2005 @ 10:00 am | Comment

Whoever you are, thanks for the comment. I don’t miss this point in the debate, but a loft of people do. They argue as though the village elections are part of a timetable the CCP has for bringing free elections to everyone. Ha.

And I agree, the CCP will only fall when it is pulled down by its own weight, when it faces a calamity like a run on the banks, or a massive recession/depression/hyperinflation. I don’t expect this any time soon, however. The current leaders are good at protecting themselves by whatever means available (like corruption and SOEs, which are simply tools to keep the CCP in power).

January 31, 2005 @ 10:26 am | Comment

Richard, don’t underestimate the power of freedom. Democratic revolutions can happen suddenly and in every moment. At the beginning of 1989 nobody expected the end of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in November. At the beginning of 1989 nobody expected Tiananmen democratic movement. Silenced people can give big surprises. CCP has delayed that moment with repression. But it won’t work indefinitely.

Thank you.

January 31, 2005 @ 10:45 am | Comment

This is addressed to the poster who leaves no name. The collapse of the communist states in Eastern Europe was not exactly the greatest of surprises. While it may have shocked observers in the west, the atmosphere in Eastern Europe at the time was one of stagnation and decay. The moment the Soviet Union decided to not send in the Red Army to support the Eastern European governments, their collapse was inevitable. As for Tiananmen, it was only a matter of time before a large scale protest movement erupted in Beijing. During the initial wave of reform throughout the 80′s, China was rocked by numerous demonstrations and protests in major cities, the one that occured in Beijing in 1989 just happened to be the last real one. Not many would have expected the demonstrations in Beijing to have ended in bloodshed, but everyone knew that some manifestation of discontent was going to occur in the capital eventually. Even then, only a naive fool would actually have thought that Tiananmen could have toppled the Chinese Communist Party.

As for a spontaneous eruption of Democratic aspirations in contemporary China, it seems unlikely if not impossible. Such broad social turbulences that sweeped China in the late 80′s are observable, and they are not existant today. In fact I would say that the atmosphere China, compared to late 80′s Eastern Europe, is jubilant and if the socio-political inertia remains on its present course there won’t be any significant challengers to the communist party for years to come.

Also I might point out that you aren’t quite as knowledgeable about post-communist democratic nations as you believe. Post Soviet Mongolia was a democracy, yet the communist party was elected into power again and again. It wasn’t until last summer that the communist party of Mongolia finally lost its majority position, lasting well over a decade since democracy first arrived.

January 31, 2005 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

Jing’s point about the current mood in China (or at least much of China) being jubilant is correct. However, that doesn’t ensure the perpetuation of the party. I’m not predicting its imminent demise; as I said earlier, I think they’re too smart and too self-protective to allow that to happen.

But all they need is a crisis that would cause a run on the banks, and the system could conceivably crumble. Money talks in China more than anything else, and today’s jubilation is fueled purely by the improvements brought about by the relative prosperity — i.e., it’s all about money. But serious inflation or, even worse, deflation could take the air out of the balloon, and turn people against the government fairly rapidly, as it did in Germany in 1929 following the “roaring 20s.” It’s certainly the Roaring 20s in China; let’s just hope there’s no Black Monday anytime soon.

January 31, 2005 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

Well, ESWN, any alternative list of candidates for an hypothetical election is pretty much a moot point: Whoever appears on the list is facing an uphill battle. But while we’re pondering an hypothetical Chinese election, we must not forget the many other perfectly legal political parties that exist in China. They may well be little more than a collection of rubber stamps and a convenient method of showing the world how liberal and democratic the PRC really is, but they could still form the nucleus for an Opposition, or at least established alternatives to the CCP.

And I suppose Myanmar provides a perfect example of what the current manifestation of the CCP would likely do in the event of losing an election. But Jing mentioned Mongolia: Perhaps a CCP that had changed it’s outlook so much as to allow elections in the first place might choose to follow the Mongolian model, in which case there would be plenty of time in which to develop a legitimate and viable Opposition.

But Bellevue has made a very good point which you dismiss out of hand, and unnecessarily so: It has been said many times by many people that democracy is not something that can be taken for granted; it must be fought for and constantly defended. Tell me, what happened to the Weimar Republic? Granted, the circumstances are entirely different, but a CCP that won a mandate in an election (legitmate or otherwise) and then reverted to type would hardly be the first case of people voting themselves out of democracy. What’s to stop W.’s Republican Party from doing exactly what you describe? Nothing but the vigilance of brave American people like Richard. The same goes for any democracy. WE, the People, must fight for and defend it. This one principle applies everywhere.

Then again, the recent ‘revolutions’ in the Ukraine and Georgia present two more possible scenarios for a post-election China.

None of this really matters, though. It’s all purely hypothetical. We all know the CCP in its current form is not going to allow an election, anyway.

Mark Anthony Jones, you should be careful in the evidence you present. The CCP has a long, long history of showing foreign observers, researchers, journalists and other important visitors around a few ‘model villages’ and persuading them that what they see is representative of the whole country. I suspect the truth of the grassroots democracy is a spectrum with your position and ACB’s cynicism at either end and most villages lying somewhere in between.

And what’s all this jubilation? Most people I know hate the Party, the Government and all the rich, jubilant people. Hell, most rich people I’ve met feel the same way. My partner is a Party member, and even she hates the Party! The Great Collapse of the CCP may be a bit closer than people think, which could explain all those crackdowns on freedom of speech and people mourning Zhao Ziyang. Don’t look to the students for leadership, go talk to the peasants, laid-off workers, people who’ve been kicked out of their homes and paid minimal compensation to make way for fancy highrises available only to the Party, Government and other assorted rich bastards and the many, many millions of other people struggling to make ends meet.

When New Zealand went through similar, but less extreme, economic reforms in the ’80s and ’90s, the government told us the ‘trickle-down theory’, whereby the increasing wealth of the rich would gradually filter down through to the lower levels of society, would guarantee a fair slice of the pie for all people eventually. Those of us with a bit of common sense and intellectual honesty quickly realised the real ‘trickle-down’ was the rich pissing on the poor. I suspect many Chinese, including those peasants so many people tell us are too stupid to be able to think outside of the propaganda they were programmed with, are starting to realise the same thing. I regularly see groups of people gathered at the gate of the District Government, and I always wonder what their particular beef is. The potential instability that could be unleashed in just a fraction of a second terrifies me, which is the major reason I support the ‘softly, slowly’ approach the Government seems to be taking. And it might not even take another Black Monday. Just one more corrupt official stealing the redundancy payments for the workers of a bankrupt SOE may well be all the spark that is needed. We must not forget that the anti-corruption campaign is more about preserving stability and CCP rule than stamping out a social evil simply because it is a social evil.

I should stop ranting now.

January 31, 2005 @ 8:47 pm | Comment

Chris, you didn’t rant at all — that’s a great post.

About the jubilation, please read this old post of mine, in which a former flag bearer during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations (in Shanghai) tells how now the people are jubilant and love the CCP. There’s a lot of truth to it. A lot of people hate them to hell, and the disenfranchised peasants aren’t their greatest fans. But those who have benefitted from the capitalist economic model ushered in by the “new” CCP are definitely grateful and jubilant — as long as the money flows.

January 31, 2005 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

Dear Chris,

Your point is a fair one – you are right to question my evidence.

I never claimed that village elections are working well in every single village though, and neither do any of the researchers whose studies I have quoted from – I have claimed only that village elections are now wide-spread, are becoming increasingly popular with villagers themselves, and that in many villages, this grassroots form of democracy is providing a means by which villagers can address issues that are relevant to them, to their lives – and the corruption of local officials is certainly one of these issues.

My point is that these village elections represent more than mere “window-dressing”, and that they are evolving. If people want a more democratic China, then they need to start somewhere. Most of the population remain rural dwellers, villagers, and so village-level elections represent an ideal first step.

My fiancee, Gao Ying, is also a Party member, and she too, well, I wouldn’t say she “hates” the Party, but she is certainly very indifferent towards it. She is a paper member only, and I doubt whether she will even bother to renew her membership when her fees are next due.

I do disagree with your assessment that “most” people in mainland China “hate” the Party though. This is not the impression that I have received from all of my travels. Many people do say they hate the Party, true. But when you go to the villages, and you speak to villagers (and I have done so on numerous occasions, with the assistance of my fiancee as translator), it seems as though many of them direct their anger and frustrations not at Beijing, back at local officials. They often refer to the Party’s own laws and regulations when challenging local corruption, and they often appeal to higher officials in Beijing for support. Their attitudes towards the Party are far more complex and ambivalent, most do not hold simple love or hate sentiments.

The impression that you give in your last two paragraphs is that China is a tinderbox, and one that could explode into flame at any given moment. This is not my impression. True, in some areas of the country such instability is real, but not to the degree that CCP rule would ever be threatened. China is far more stable than what you appear to be suggesting.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

Mark Anthony Jones, I agree completely with most of what you say. I was simply trying to balance the two views put forward by you and ACB.

On the ‘tinder-box’, well, I was going a bit over the top, I’ll admit. But I do think things could turn very nasty, indeed, in a very short period of time. There’s a lot of anger out there.

Richard, I’m reading that old post right now. Actually, I agree with most of what he says. My rather more pessimisstic view, perhaps, may come from my rather different position. Within a two minute walk from my apartment, I can see China as it was, and still is for the majority, and China as it will be, and is now for the small minority that has won most from the economic reforms. That is, within a two minute walk from my apartment I can see fancy new apartment blocks and the rundown remains of the villages they’ve replaced. It’s a similar story when I walk out of the gates of the school I work at. Add to that all the stories of heard from friends and loved ones and the situations they face in their everyday lives. I noticed the guy you interviewed now lives in Singapore. It is perhaps easier for him to be more optimistic, as it may well be easier for you to loathe the CCP with the passion you seem to do, looking at the situation from a greater distance than I have the luxury of. This is not to demean any other view of China; I think my situation is just as limiting as yours. That, I guess, is the greatest value of debate: Somehow, amidst all the noise, we might find the truth.

Add to that certain other commenters saying things that really pissed me off, and you get the posts I’ve written of late, which is why I said I’d stop ranting.

I should probably bow out of this debate. I have too much personally invested in the issues discussed to continue to approach it rationally. But just for the hell of it, I’m going to throw in one more thing:

A government’s first and greatest responsibilities should be to ensure that its people have enough food in their bellies, adequate shelter from the elements, access to a decent level of education and healthcare, and security from crime and war. These are the greatest and most important human rights. Democracy and freedom of speech can, and perhaps in some cases, should wait until those most basic requirements have been fulfilled. What’s the use of a vote when you can’t feed your child? Not all of China is as rosy as some people seem to think. Then again, not all of it is as bad as others seem to think. Although I hate, loathe, despise with all the depth of my being the abuses of power committed here, I do agree with the general approach to democratisation the Chinese Government says it is following.

February 1, 2005 @ 3:01 am | Comment

Well look Chris, we really do seem to be very close in our views here. if you check out the debate that richard and Patrick and I had in the November 14th archive – in response to John Pomfret’s views on China’s future, you will see that Richard and I are not really all that far apart either.

Richard, like Pomfret, is a “cuatious pessimist” when it comes to China. I am a cautious optimist.

If I am reading you correctly here, then it would seems as though you too, am a cautious optimist.

I certainly believe that the CCP, for all of its undeniable faults and past “evils”, is generally sterring China in a progressive direction – even when it comes to issues and policies of “democratisation.” See the December 14th thread in the archives, “The Stainless Steel Rat” for my views on democracy in China.

We seem to have very similar views when it comes to China at least.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

February 1, 2005 @ 3:16 am | Comment

Dear Chris,

Sorry, one more quick thing.

I’m sorry if I appear to rant too much. I do, I know, tend to be a little too verbose at times.

But I don’t think I really rant. A rant is little more than a vehemently wild narrative. My views might appear to be radical some some, bit I do support them with empirically verifiable evidence so that people can challenge me in a scientific manner – that is, through the use of conflicting empirically verifiable evidence.

I hope you won’t stop posting your thought-provoking insights on this website because of me! That is to say, I hope I am not the commentator who you say has been “pissing you off” of late.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

February 1, 2005 @ 3:32 am | Comment

Dictators in Beijing, moved, thank you.

February 1, 2005 @ 3:51 am | Comment

eswn:

Let’s put your rationals aside for a moment. In the real world, even if CCP’s evaluation is that they could win the election tomorrow, they won’t do that.

To subject itself to an free and fair election, and face the theoretical possibility of losing power, even if far from reality, will violate CCP’s own rule of game. Note, not any Communist Party works that way, in fact most Communist Parties in today’s world accept election. Only in China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos, the ruling communist party does not accept free election as their source of power. (In Poland, former communists are comfortably in power and work with the White House quite well.)

So, to CCP, it’s not the possible defeat at ballot box so terrible, but the idea of election itself. I may think your justification sounds cynical, but they surely beat you on degree of cynicism.

February 1, 2005 @ 5:45 am | Comment

thank you all for your great comments

please allow me to see it from another angle

what’s your proposal to democratize china? i mean the “roadmap”, the implementation plan, step 1, step 2, step 3, … say for example in Sichuan province

February 1, 2005 @ 5:59 am | Comment

i postulated that the CCP will win any open election right now because there is no other party or person who is well-known and who has qualifications to run the country.

agree? (if not, you can name any party or person that you wish and we will see how many people recognize the name and think they are qualified to run the country, including trade, defense, transportation, agriculture, etc).

let us say that we agree.

as a current ruling power, and in the name of the good of the people and the country, do you think you should give unqualified people any chance to assume the rule?

after everything that you have done so far to bring the country up to his stage, should you let someone else play with textbook neoliberal economic theories? and to start a war when the economy falters? and so on.

this is going to seem to be a very unfair and inequitable thing to say, but let me assure you it happens all the time in various aspects of life (inside your family, within corporate boardrooms, etc).

i am not saying that the CCP can rule forever with this rationale. but it is up to the opposition to use the increasing space given to them during the reforms to become known and to acquire and demonstrate the competency to rule.

without that, you don’t deserve to be handed the whole plate and experiment with everyone’s livelihood.

a good example might be the publishing system in this post:
http://www.zonaeuropa.com/02281.htm
the CCP thought they controlled everything, and then they woke up to find that a large number of independents has seized de facto control of all the operations. at this time, there can be no objecdtion to the full opening of the industry unless they want to go back to the stone age.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:16 am | Comment

“but it is up to the opposition to use the increasing space given to them during the reforms to become known and to acquire and demonstrate the competency to rule.

without that, you don’t deserve to be handed the whole plate and experiment with everyone’s livelihood”.

Opposition? Which opposition? Are you speaking about China or what?
I have to repeat myself: surreal.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:19 am | Comment

the opposition? what opposition?

that is exactly the point.
there isn’t a viable opposition at this time.

and that is why all this mumble about holding direct elections in China is surreal.

but some people can’t grasp that simple fact, and insist on holding direct elections. it is surreal.

within my post, i used the opposition to all those who don’t want to be in the CCP and who want to see the country adopt a different political system. there is no unified front right now, but that doesn’t mean that they are not there. if they want to effect changes, they should take concrete little steps that are highly visible and obviously valuable.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:37 am | Comment

eswn:

I agree (they will win election if happens tomorrow). That’s exact where you contradict yourself.

If you are right in postulates, then they should hold that election right away, and rig the system later to remain in power, through elections one after another, like Lee Kuan Yew did and PAP does.

They won’t. Their point is not in those 2 postulates.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:47 am | Comment

“that is exactly the point.
there isn’t a viable opposition at this time”.

You miss again the point. There’s no opposition because China is a dictatorship. There will be no opposition until China will be a dictatorship. And China will be a dictatorship until – for one reason or another – CCP despotic rule won’t end. Then you’ll see the birth of an opposition that today, as in every dictatorial regime, is silenced and – of course – no organized. It’s unbielievable that you put the “burden of the proof” on the shoulders of an opposition that doesn’t exist because can’t exist, due to the repression. Let freedom ring. In the present situation all your thoughts about elections are speculations without any real meaning.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:50 am | Comment

I also agree on your evaluation of opposition. To my knowledge, the greatest opposition is within the Party itself. They are waiting for the right timing for a regime change. The problem is, even they are still unorganized except for the party itself. But you might underestimate their majority status.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:51 am | Comment

So your idea of reforming China is to smash the CCP and crown whatever political force that emerges triumphant from the chaos as the legitimate “opposition”. Sounds like a plan to me! Afterall, its worked so well for Iraq.

February 1, 2005 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Democracy as “chaos”. And why not “blind alley”? Hu Jintao would subscribe.

February 1, 2005 @ 12:11 pm | Comment

Mark Anthony Jones, relax, it’s those who characterise the peasants as being too stupid to take part in democracy who got me all fired up. I enjoy your posts because unlike a few too many people, they are free of invective and presented as a rational argument with the evidence to back your position. We need more people like you in this world.

And yes, I’d characterise myself as a cautious optimist, but with a strongly pessimisstic streak.

ESWN, Mongolia would seem to provide a concrete example of the process you speak of. This could work if we’re all prepared to give the Party time, and the Party gets its shit together.

And to this anonymous poster, whoever you may be: This discussion certainly is surreal. But you’ve forgotten or ignored one important fact: China is not a dictatorship, at least not in the classic sense, for the simple reason that the Party is not a monolith and there is no one single person, or even clique, holding absolute power. At least, not anymore. There is a very good reason why, at least in the circles I move in, Li Peng is generally loathed, Wen Jiabao is generally loved, and Hu Jintao is, well, better than some of the alternatives and potentially good. The Party, if it were transplanted into any Western democracy, would probably splinter into several different parties ranging from hardcore Maoist to Western European-style Social Democrat. There are many among us who see the Social Democrat wing of the Party ever so slowly and cautiously managing to liberalise society and even start some experiments with democracy at the grassroots level, and that is why we are so surreally optimistic for the future of China.

February 1, 2005 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

Yes Chris – once again, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have said on numerous occasions already on this website, that the CCP is not some monolithic organisation – but this just does not seem to sink in with most people!

And I agree that people like ACB are really quite out of order in trying to argue that Chinese rural dwellers are not intelligent enough to be able to participate in informed ways in village level elections. This is just nonesense – mere conjecture on the part of ACB and others.

Where about in China do you live, incidentally?

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

February 1, 2005 @ 7:15 pm | Comment

I think most of us know the CCP is not monolithic, and I’ve written on this topic many times. That said, I see them as a net negative and a net bad thing, with lots of splendid people belonging to the party. Tragically, it’s too often the Li Pengs who get ahead, while the Zhao Ziyang’s are either marginalized or locked up.

February 1, 2005 @ 7:21 pm | Comment

Richard:

More often than not I can make no addtion to your comment. You just see evertyhing. Do you think you are a fair representative of Western media folks stationed in Beijing?

February 1, 2005 @ 10:49 pm | Comment

“Richard:

More often than not I can make no addtion to your comment. You just see evertyhing. Do you think you are a fair representative of Western media folks stationed in Beijing?

Posted by bellevue at February 1, 2005 10:49 PM ”

LOL!!!

February 1, 2005 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

Dear Posted By At,

Please adopt a pseudonym. “Anonymous Poster” just doesn’t swing…

February 2, 2005 @ 12:18 am | Comment

One Party dictatorship. Doesn’t sound? This is what every communist regime was and is. The whole power in the hands of a Party-State. No opposition, repression of the dissent, no basical freedoms, human rights violations and so on… It should’t be a new concept…
Of course even in a Party-State every person is different fron another but it doesn’t matter until the Party-State official line is only one.

The definition of dictatorship is not “one single person holding absolute power” because in that case we would have seen very few dictatorships along the history. Try again.

February 2, 2005 @ 1:54 pm | Comment

Off topic, but for the love of god would you please use a name? It doesn’t have to be your real name, anything will do.

February 2, 2005 @ 3:33 pm | Comment

Off topic, no problem to use a name but… if almost every name is no a real name, why to use a name?

In any case I thank Richard for the space but I don’t think I’ll be a regular contributor.

February 2, 2005 @ 3:37 pm | Comment

perhaps it’s just someone already here with a name, but s/he wants to say something different, so s/he doesn’t want to use another name

February 2, 2005 @ 7:31 pm | Comment

Or perhaps it’s only someone thinking that the contents are important even without an alias or much more important than an alias. In any case I don’t think this is a problem.

Thank you Richard again.

February 3, 2005 @ 12:25 pm | Comment

I appreciate your posts, and it’s certainly up to you to use a name or not. However, it would help us all to know it’s you, so please consider using a name.

February 3, 2005 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

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April 15, 2005 @ 5:44 am | Comment

American democracy is a joke. Its citizens are too lazy to take an active part in the democratic process. They expect their ‘patron’ to take care of them. Lobbyism, electoral votes, what a joke.

I am surprised by the yanks utter ignorance of the 50 years of progress India has made since 1947. Democracy means checks and balances, accoutability, which is why things take time. That’s the whole point.

Do we have any accountability and transparency into how CCP runs the state of affairs? Let’s not forget Enron.

July 24, 2006 @ 3:27 am | Comment

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