Proof that it’s working: China’s great democracy white paper

The Financial Times takes a look today at the unintentionally hilarious book-length “white paper” Beijing is spreading around as proof of its successful implementation of democracy rich with those Chinese characteristics we all know and love.

The 74-page government policy paper entitled “The Building of Political Democracy” seeks to justify autocratic Communist party rule in much the same way that Asian dictators have defended their regimes since the 1950s.

Genuine democratic demands are portrayed as “anarchic”, in contrast to the party’s paternalistic guidance of the people towards prosperity and harmony. Echoing the “Asian values” popular with authoritarians in the 1990s, the paper says “China’s socialist political democracy has vivid Chinese characteristics”. It shamelessly defines democratic government as the Communist party ruling on behalf of citizens with a view to perfecting “the people’s democratic dictatorship”.

So what else is new? This is the kind of shit one hears with alarming and headache-inducing frequency on CCTV-9. I just want to know, does anyone — anyone at all? — believe a word of it? (Like, does anyone believe North Korea is literally the democratic people’s republic of Korea? Words often mean so very, very little.)

In fact, the paper is unlikely to convince anyone who lives in a free country. In Hong Kong, an autonomous Chinese territory enjoying free speech and a promise of eventual universal suffrage, there is a groundswell of opposition to similarly specious official arguments about the need for harmony rather than democratic elections.

A more likely reason for publication is that the paper is for domestic Chinese consumption. It consolidates justifications for Communist party rule in a single document and may provide comfort to embattled cadres trying to explain themselves to cynical peasants, factory workers and middle-class homeowners. After allowing tightly controlled elections at the local level, Communist leaders are alarmed to find that villagers want to exercise their rights to oust unpopular and corrupt officials.

The Chinese Communist party, in short, is on the defensive. Although it will use any means of repression to avert a repeat of the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989, it is clearly struggling to formulate a philosophy to justify its political pre-eminence.

Try as they might, Chinese policymakers cannot get around the unambiguous meaning of the word democracy; in Chinese, as in the English word derived from the Greek, it simply means the people are in charge. Everyone knows this is not the case in China. The party’s arguments are weak but at least it is continuing down the path from Maoism to pragmatic Asian authoritarianism and beginning to recognise that democracy is a subject worthy of debate.

That’s certainly a step forward, but China still has a ways to go even before it reaches the goalpost of “Asian authoritarianism.” Singapore it’s not; not even Malaysia. Meanwhile, stunts like this banal 74-page diatribe certainly won’t garner much praise for its publishers, and can only help perpetuate the impression of their being ham-fisted, bumbling propagandists desperately seeking respect from a doubting public.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

“Democracy with Chinese characteristics”….

…I have a confession to make. My real name is Ivana. I have a beard and a baritone voice and male naughty bits (trying to find an expression that won’t be blocked), but I am really a woman. I am a different kind of woman, with male characteristics.

I am a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, just like China is a democracy trapped in a dictatorship.

October 21, 2005 @ 5:15 am | Comment

Should the Chinese look at the US as a shining example of democracy? Look at what happened – A Chimp is elected president.

October 21, 2005 @ 9:29 am | Comment

If you want to be taken seriously, calling yourself “Stalin” is a pretty bad idea…

October 21, 2005 @ 11:46 am | Comment

Yes, but the chimp only lasts 8 years, tops.

Then we get to choose a different chimp.

October 21, 2005 @ 2:06 pm | Comment

Yes, I think our mystery poster rather let the cat out of the bag as to his attitude towards civil rights.

More importantly, is he saying the Chinese people are so foolish as to elect a George Bush? Because I hear nothing but “Americans are so stupid” from many Chinese forumites – so unless Mr Stalin-wannabe is saying Chinese people are idiots, perhaps he might want to withdraw his statement.


This paper isn’t really even a step forward – it’s a vain attempt at diverting criticism away from the serious social problems that are developing. Make a vague promise, cross your fingers and hope everything works out for the best. I think the CCP has take too much from the Homer Simpson solution to dealing with a tough situation:

“Iโ€™ve already got it figured out. During the test Iโ€™m going to hide under a pile of coats and hope that somehow everything works out.”

The clock’s ticking, Mr Hu.

October 21, 2005 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

Mr. Raj – “More importantly, is he saying the Chinese people are so foolish as to elect a George Bush?” No, you are the one saying this here. But then who really elected the Chimp?

October 21, 2005 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

Anyone who goes around calling himself Stalin and promoting totalitarianism can only be our narcisstic pal.
For a serious comment, have a read at the Toronto Mop and Pail that writes how “on the website of the People’s Daily, one person commented sardonically, ‘The place where there isn’t democracy issues a democracy white paper.'”
Better still is the conclusion to the Financial Times article that says “Try as they might, Chinese policymakers cannot get around the unambiguous meaning of the word democracy; in Chinese, as in the English word derived from the Greek, it simply means the people are in charge. Everyone knows this is not the case in China. ”
Pretty sure that if the Republican party committed a GLF or CR or TM every few decades and slaughtered 70 million? 80 million? of its own people, they elect the Democrats and publically criticise the former admin.

October 22, 2005 @ 12:49 am | Comment


You might be right. And in any case, I am personally offended by anyone plagiarising MY Stalin!

Go and find some other dictator to plagiarise! Leave my man Stalin alone!


October 22, 2005 @ 1:07 am | Comment

“Anyone who goes around calling himself Stalin and promoting totalitarianism . . . ” Wow! Are we trying to start another Cold War here? First of all, I’m not really a KGB agent or anything like that. But hey man, take it easy, I just came by this site and thought might have some fun on this post and recalled a British Paper headline after the Bush re-election: “How can 51million Americans be so stupid” or something similar. I just thought to drop something related to this on this post for fun. Lighten up! you’re trying to change the course of Chinese history here? They are probably too busy trying to get rich. Instead of beating-off on this site, maybe take their lead and start something like selling counterfeit DVD’s. . .OK, it was just a joke. I’ll leave now and go to the good old propaganda site of Xinhuanet – they have taken some cues from Madison Ave. and are feafuring some sexy stuff. This time is “Bai Ling on lingerie ads”. OK folk, just take it easy and good luck.

October 22, 2005 @ 10:51 am | Comment

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