Category Archives: democracy

“Lunch with the FT: Chen Guangcheng”

FT sits down with Chen, who has now been in America for a few months:

Lunch, ordered in by Chen’s minders, is an excellent, enormous Italian meal of pasta, pizza and salads from Otto Enoteca Pizzeria on nearby Fifth Avenue. Before we start eating, he asks if he can hold my digital recorder. “I have a deep fondness for audio recorders,” he tells me, as he examines my device with his fingertips. “I was given one in 2005 that I used to document accounts of the government’s violent family planning practices. It survived countless confiscation raids on my house and I still have it today.”

When I ask whether he’s worried about becoming irrelevant back home, as has happened to other dissidents once exiled to the west, he disagrees forcefully. He can, he says, still communicate with people in China. “When I was in prison I couldn’t even call my wife on the telephone, except for once a month,” he says. “But did I have more influence when I went into jail or when I came out? Do you think my communication with friends in China will be easier or harder now than when I was in prison? I believe I’ve answered your question.”

Chen’s “first demand”, as he calls it, is that the Chinese government obeys its own laws and its own constitution, which ostensibly guarantees human rights, freedom of speech and many other values that are taken for granted in the west. “When you read China’s constitution, you realise that if we could only fulfil those basic requirements then China would be a great country,” he says. “China’s laws themselves are not the problem, the problem is that they are not properly enforced in real life.”

This is both what makes Chen’s case poignant and what makes him so dangerous for China’s rulers – his activism is based on simply asking the authorities to live up to their own pronouncements.

He continues, emphatically: “China will see democracy, I’m one hundred per cent sure – it just needs time. If everyone makes an effort to build a more just and civil society then it will come faster and if everyone stands by and does nothing, then it will come slower but is still inevitable. Whether the authorities wish it to or not, the dawn comes and the day breaks just the same.”

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Filed under Chen Guangcheng, democracy, exile

“Communist China’s Perilous Phase”

Minxin Pei has a new op-ed in the WSJ claiming that the end of single-party rule could well be nigh based on a few different factors. It’s optimistic, to say the least:

To appreciate the mortal dangers lying ahead for the party, look at three numbers: 6,000, 74 and seven. Statistical analysis of the relationship between economic development and survival of authoritarian regimes shows that few non-oil-producing countries can sustain their rule once per capita GDP reaches $6,000 in purchasing power parity (PPP). Based on estimates by the International Monetary Fund, Chinese GDP per capita is $8,382 in PPP terms ($5,414 in nominal terms).

So the socioeconomic conditions conducive to a democratic breakthrough already exist in China today. Maintaining one-party rule in such a society is getting more costly and soon will be utterly futile.

This brings us to the second number, 74—the longest lifespan enjoyed by a one-party regime in history, that of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1917-1991). One-party rule in Mexico had only a slightly shorter history, 71 years (1929-2000). In Taiwan, the Kuomintang maintained power for 73 years if we count its time as the ruler of the war-torn mainland before it fled to Taiwan in 1949.

The Chinese Communist Party has governed for 62 years. If history offers any guidance, it is about to enter its crisis decade, and probably has at most 10-15 years left on its clock.

One possible reason for the demise of one-party rule is the emergence of a counter-elite, composed of talented and ambitious but frustrated individuals kept out of power by the exclusionary nature of one-party rule. To be sure, the party has worked hard to co-opt China’s best and brightest. But there are limits to how many top people it can absorb.

The odds do not look good for those in Beijing who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely. They must begin thinking about how to exit power gracefully and peacefully. One thing the party should do immediately is end the persecution of potential opposition leaders like Mr. Chen and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner now in Chinese prison. The party will need them as negotiating partners when the transition to democracy eventually begins.

Like I said, optimistic…

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“Nationality: Democrat”

Foreign Policy tracks the footholds democracy is gaining in and around China, despite the CCP’s racist claims that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy:

But Beijing’s fury reflects a much deeper problem for the Party: any list of factors contributing to the development of a distinct identity among Hong Kong people would have to include civil liberties, independent courts, press freedom, and political parties. When Beijing concluded negotiations on Hong Kong’s return with the British, it promised a “high degree of autonomy” and agreed that democracy was the “ultimate aim.” Beijing, however, gave itself the right to interpret these terms, and since reassuming control of the territory it has repeatedly pushed back the date when Hong Kong people might choose their leader and legislature.

Hong Kong’s people have energetically defended their civil and political liberties. To Beijing’s chagrin, that includes holding demonstrations held each year on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. In 2003, a massive march, estimated at 500,000, defeated plans to enact legislation outlawing subversion according to Article 23 of the Beijing-drafted Basic Law — “a people’s victory over their Hong Kong puppet government and the dictatorial Chinese Communist Party,” Liu Xiaobo wrote in a 2007 essay, recently republished in a collection of his essays and poems. An uptick in the number of protestors at last summer’s July 1 demonstration has been attributed at least in part to opposition to the government’s proposal to do away with by-elections.

Taiwanese, too, have developed their own distinct identity tied to democracy. Polls show a steady climb in the percentage of people who consider themselves “Taiwanese.”

Perhaps worse, from Beijing’s perspective, as Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College writes, Taiwanese people’s “commitment to democracy is stronger than their determination to achieve a particular outcome.” A civic identity that prioritizes democracy is an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party, which peddles a brand of nationalism based on chauvinism, xenophobia, and great power pretentions.

The democratic identity developing among Tibetans in exile is also a challenge for Beijing. Communist propaganda presents the Dalai Lama as an “evil splittist,” the representative of a backward, aristocratic elite from which the Party has emancipated the long-suffering Tibetans. In fact, the Tibetan spiritual leader long ago abandoned independence as a goal, opting instead for “genuine autonomy” within the People’s Republic. He has led the India-based Tibetan government in exile through a democratic transition. Last March, he completed the project by separating his religious duties from his political ones, turning over the latter to a prime minister elected by eligible voters among Tibetan exiles in South Asia, Europe, and the United States. The Dalai Lama has said that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama continues is up to Tibetans, and he pursues dialogue with ordinary Chinese citizens. All of this is extremely threatening to Beijing.

Like the pictures yesterday in the Atlantic, perhaps something to help reassure people who lose heart in the face of the machine Beijing has assembled to defend itself- it is at the same time beset from all sides and within by forces for change. Containing these forces is becoming a larger task every day, and I for one don’t subscribe to the notion that Beijing is infinitely powerful. Change is inevitable.

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Filed under democracy, Hong Kong, Orientalism, Taiwan

“What Hong Kongers Need To Know”

Shanghaiist has a good quote from a Hong Kong blogger named Wen Yunchao, obviously inspired by the recent locusts/running dogs spat:

“If only Hong Kongers knew this: that if the mainland does not have democracy, Hong Kong will not have democracy, and there will be no changes in its circumstances. If Hong Kong does not have democracy, then there will be no security for Hong Kong’s liberty and rule of law, and there will be no change in its circumstances. If Hong Kongers took their dissatisfaction and anger, and used it to push for democracy in Hong Kong and the mainland, then Hong Kong would stand to gain from it, and so would the mainland.”

I can understand their anger about hospital beds and public defecation, but this seems like a much more sensible direction for them to put their efforts. Naturally, how much influence Hong Kong can have on the mainland is also a question worth answering…

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Eyes on the Wukan Election

First, Malcolm Moore files another report:

The first poll took place on Wednesday, in the village school, and, despite a small scuffle at the beginning over access for Hong Kong journalists, unfolded smoothly.

Orderly queues formed as villagers negotiated a complicated three-step voting procedure, designed to lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings.

The vote was to elect an eleven-man committee to organise the main election in March, but for most of the participants it was the symbolism of the event, rather than its purpose, that counted.

“We had to make a big thing, a big show, out of it to underline its importance and to guarantee that it was all fair and transparent,” said Yang Semao, one of the chief organisers.

“Wukan has been in the dark for so many years; its elections always manipulated. It is the first time we have done this so we want to do a good job,” he added. In the past few days, several academics and students have also arrived in Wukan, partly to observe the proceedings, and partly to offer advice to the villagers.

Mr Chen filled in his ballot, a sheet of A4 paper, at a table covered by a bright red tablecloth and deposited it in one of seven shiny aluminium ballot boxes. According to an official press release, he was one of 7688 eligible voters, with 1043 voting by proxy.

Another voter, 32-year-old Wang Huibing, said he hoped the new village administration would pay him the disability benefit that he has never yet been able to claim and would improve the village’s medical facilities. “We do not ask for much, and I am not sure what the outcome of this election will be, but I suppose it will be more fair and open.”

The oddly-named 818Hi has a report about Chinese reactions to the Wukan elections. I’m curious about how the Communist Party intends to allow Wukan to hold real elections, while still meddling with every single local election in the entire country in the future:

“This is a model,” Chinese real-estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang said Wednesday via the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo, where searches for Wukan were producing nearly a million posts.

“The start of something new,” observed another user of the service.

For many, the election brought to mind one of Mao Zedong’s favorite revolutionary slogans/sayings: “If you want freedom and democracy, you have to fight for it yourself,” wrote one Internet user in the popular discussion forum Maoyan Kanren. “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”

Others saw in the elections a rebuke of people, like martial-arts star Jackie Chan, who’ve questioned whether Chinese culture is compatible with democratic government.

“After this, whoever says Chinese people aren’t good enough for democracy, I’ll sue the bastard,” one particularly excited blogger promised on Sina Weibo.

Not everyone saw the election as the harbinger of a democratic China. Some dismissed it as a show, saying Wukan’s election, like elections in other villages, would be bought. Others tried to temper expectations.

“This is an election supported by detailed regulations in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” Yang Hua, a fire control engineer from Shandong province, wrote on his Weibo feed. “It’s not new and it doesn’t count as reform, but it is a symbol of the implementation of the constitution.”

Still others found time to poke fun at makeshift quality of the vote. “That’s unique,” one Weibo user wrote in response to a photo of several people crammed into a single pink voting booth. “Are they a family?”

Still, the mood among those who took the time to comment was overwhelmingly optimistic.

“History always moves forward. This is something no one can change,” read one post in the Maoyan Kanren forum. “Congratulations to the people of Wukan!”

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“Rebel Chinese village prepares to hold extraordinary elections”

Could this possibly be a happy ending for the Wukan saga? There will be a lot of eyes watching, and Malcolm Moore is there to file reports:

On Wednesday, it will hold what the villagers believe is China’s first wholly transparent, completely open, democratic election, in which any one of Wukan’s 10,000 registered residents can run for office.

At the local school, seven desks have been arranged on the basketball court, a shiny aluminium ballot box behind each one. On Tuesday, villagers collected their voting slips from the village’s government headquarters, and scrutinised candidate lists pasted on the walls.

As the sun shone, a carnival spirit was in the air, as villagers let off firecrackers and beat drums.

“We have seen a flame of democracy here and we have seen other places follow suit, in a domino effect. Other villages are learning from us. So we have to make sure that all the elections are open and fair,” said Mr Zhang.

The glee in the village over the vote did not seem to be shared by a group of local Communist party officials who arrived from Lufeng, which administers Wukan.

Pulling up in black limousines, their number plates covered, they scowled at journalists and held a summit with Lin Zuluan, the protest leader who has become the local Party secretary, in order to “clarify some guidelines”.

“I’m pleased we are having an election, but this is for the very lowest level of government and they will not be able to resolve our problems,” said Xue Jianwan, his 21-year-old daughter. “Even if we hired lawyers, we have only a dim hope. The government still holds all the cards.”

Miss Xue said her extended family had been put under pressure by the government to sign forms saying that her father had died from natural causes, something they strongly dispute. The local government has said it will not release Mr Xue’s body for fear of stirring another protest.

In addition, there is still no sign of any resolution about the land that the village says was illegally seized, the root of its complaint.

“There is still an arduous journey ahead of us,” said Mr Zhang. “We succeeded, where tens of thousands of other villages have failed, because we were so strongly united, and there was no division between us. We had a clear target. I hope, going forward, the villagers do not think too much about their small, private, interests, but keep thinking about our long term gain.”

There’ll definitely be more about this as the elections proceed.

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“Is Democracy Chinese?”

Why does the New York Review of Books occasionally have great China articles? If I recall correctly they’re all from Ian Johnson, who interviewed CMP fellow Chang Ping about his past and whether or not China is suited to democracy:

Q: So you thought everything was great. You heard about the developments in Beijing and were excited.

A: Yes and I was doing well in school too. When you’re personally successful, you tend to think that things are going well. You’re optimistic. I thought things were going well but in some ways I was an angry youth. There’s no contradiction there. You believe, but you want to improve things. During the 1986 student movement, people like Liu Binyan, Fang Lizhi, and Wang Ruowang criticized the party and Deng Xiaoping. I remember hearing about it on the radio and felt in my heart that they were heroes.

At the time I loved literature. In the 1980s, literature was at a peak. I subscribed to a lot of magazines like Harvest and People’s Literature. I remember reading Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum and thinking, Wow, someone can write like that. I remember vividly that I was sitting outside and was so moved by that story. I didn’t quite understand everything but was influenced by it. Also Yu Hua’s short stories, for example. But you know that at that time I was still a complete believer. The books I wanted to read the most were the original works of Marx and Engels. I wanted to learn German to read them.

[Later] Q: So you’re a pragmatist?

A: Actually, many people think I’m more of an idealist. I still think China needs democracy, that it needs to change. I really oppose several arguments [that are commonly made] about why China can’t have democracy, such as the argument that China is unique—that Chinese people need to wait because their “quality” [a Chinese term, suzhi, that implies everything from educational level to manners] isn’t high enough and other ridiculous things like that. Some people said that democracy wasn’t part of Chinese culture, and then Taiwan became democratic. Then they said that Taiwan was a special case. Now look at Wukan. They had their own elections. People say it’s special, but in fact Wukan is really typically Chinese. It’s a Chinese town but they organized everything. So what argument are you left with? If Wukan can have democracy so can other parts of China.

I’m not saying that China should have western-style democracy. In fact, there’s not a single western model. What do they mean? Germany didn’t copy America and America didn’t copy Britain. The issue isn’t copying. It’s do you or don’t you want democracy? Of course democracy has a lot of problems but it’s a way forward.

Since the 1980s, Chinese have been pragmatic. The question since the Cultural Revolution has been: can it work? This was Deng Xiaoping’s biggest influence on Chinese people. They ask if it’ll work or not. Now China has the world’s second-largest economy and could overtake the US. So in terms of market economics it’s been successful and I support this. What we lack is justice. There is no justice in the current system. It’s a practical issue. We need justice. Democracy is a way to bring justice. This is why democracy is necessary.

The government doesn’t discuss rule of law much anymore. It’s become more and more a hooligan way of ruling. They just arrest people and throw them in jail or mental asylums. So the past decade has seen a hooliganization of the political system. Many of the old virtues are destroyed by this. The virtues of humanism, responsibilities of the government—the bottom line is things are disappearing.

Q: What about the writer Han Han’s recent blogposts arguing that democracy may not be well suited to Chinese people? This seems to echo some of the other critics who say that China isn’t read for democracy.

A: He mentions that people have a “low quality” and that democracy could become a problem because it could lead to violence. This is a view the government has propagated for a long time. It’s like saying you can’t practice swimming until you can swim and you can’t swim because you can’t practice. Also, the arguments aren’t new. Many were made publicly last year, around the time of the centenary of the 1911 revolution.

The rest of the interview is here.

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“Han Han’s U-Turn?”

The latest to chime in on Han Han’s three essays is NYT blogger Eric Abrahamsen, who looks at the suzhi argument and writes that:

In this he’s exactly right: China’s deepest problems are cultural and social in nature, problems best addressed by reform, not revolution. It’s not that the Chinese are “not ready,” it’s that this will be a slow process.

“When the drivers in China turn their high-beams down as they pass each other on the road, they will be ready for revolution,” writes Han Han. “Of course, by then, revolution won’t be necessary.” Instead, he argues, the process will be a gradual one, in which the cultural values conducive to democracy evolve along with democracy itself. “Democracy is a long process of negotiation.”

Anyone who’s sat in on a Chinese primary school class, or a management meeting in a Chinese company, or witnessed authority being wielded at nearly any level of Chinese society, knows how long this process may be. An unhealthy deference to power is taught from an early age, as is a deep reluctance to pass on responsibility downward. The “not ready” argument is employed constantly within Chinese society, from parents who won’t let their children run in the park, to judges who aren’t allowed to make independent rulings. Many Beijing driving schools don’t include on-road training, because it would be “dangerous”— never mind what happens after the license is issued.

Sure, reform would be better than revolution- but both Abrahamsen and Han Han seem to ignore the Communist Party’s consistent sidelining of political reform. If reform is better, but it’s off the table, why are we talking about reform?

I still dislike the insinuation that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy, too. The argument that Chinese people leave their high-beams on while driving seems fairly irrelevant- people all over the world do stupid things to each other. If China’s greatest problems really are cultural and social, is the CCP doing anything to address these problems?

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Filed under democracy, interview, Jasmine Revolution

“Democracy Taiwan’s ‘best gift’ to China: Ma”

Haha, ok, if Ma is going to troll China like this then I guess it’s ok that he beat Tsai:

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou said this month’s presidential vote was the island’s “best gift” to China, hailing the potential for the poll to show the path to democracy on the mainland.

Ma has said hundreds of millions of people in mainland China watched Taiwan’s presidential candidates debate live on television last month for the first time through the Internet.

The poll, which saw Ma re-elected, could inspire Chinese democracy supporters, he said in a statement released by the Presidential Office.

“The peaceful election, a sign of democracy taking roots and bear fruits on the soil of a Chinese community, will make them feel that this will also happen on the mainland,” the statement said.

“I believe this is the best gift from us to the mainland.”

He added that the January 14 vote will demonstrate to the mainland that “headcount is the best way to solve differences between the two sides”.

If you define ‘best gift’ as ‘gift that fills the CCP with deep, instinctual dread’ then yes, I suppose Taiwanese democracy is a great gift indeed.

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Taiwan Elections: Ma Wins

First, from Daniel Lynch at Foreign Affairs:

In presidential elections this weekend, Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s incumbent president from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, decisively defeated Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). With about 52 percent of the vote (compared to Tsai’s 45.6 percent and the third-party candidate James Soong’s 2.8 percent), Ma will be able to govern with a clear majority of popular support. His margin of victory was far higher than most opinion polls had predicted. Many Soong supporters seem to have decided in recent days that by voting for their preferred candidate, who is almost politically identical to Ma, they might hand Tsai the victory.

For their part, voters seem to have accepted Ma’s contention that reducing cross-strait tensions improves the country’s economic well-being. Indeed, more than ever, Taiwan’s economy is dependent on China’s. This is partly a result of market dynamics (Taiwanese capital flows across the Taiwan Strait in search of lower production costs) and partly a result of the KMT and Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to facilitate integration. By the end of 2011, some 80,000 Taiwanese firms had invested up to $200 billion in mainland factories, research and development centers, stores, and restaurants. And annual trade between the two sides exceeded $150 billion. Meanwhile, out of a total population of 23 million, one million or more Taiwanese live in China. Directly or indirectly, the majority of Taiwanese households depend on Chinese economic dynamism for their livelihood.

Next, Bruce Jacobs from Taipei Times writes about what the DPP should take from the defeat:

Whether Taiwan gains more international space will remain to be seen. Will Taiwan gain better status in the World Health Assembly? Will Taiwan gain access to other international organizations? Will China continue to belittle Taiwan with terms such as Taipei China (中國台北) instead of Chinese Taipei (中華台北) or the Republic of China on Taiwan? Will Ma’s “diplomatic truce” continue to be respected by both sides so that Taiwan’s diplomatic allies do not switch to Beijing? Will Taiwanese gain visa-free status to the US? Will the US and other nations provide more ministerial-level visits?

The DPP won only 40 legislative seats, well under the 45 that the leadership privately hoped to gain. Even with the TSU’s three seats, the pan-greens have only 38 percent of the seats, an improvement on 2008, but still insufficient for a party hoping to win back control of the government. This poor result clearly indicates that the DPP must reconsider how it determines its nominations for legislative seats, a process that has failed in the past three legislative elections.

Although the DPP has made some gains, it still has a considerable distance to go before regaining the presidency. This campaign showed some substantial difficulties with the DPP and its campaign organization.

Tsai initially did not listen to advice. Thus, for example, her performance in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) debate with Ma was disastrous. After that, she improved her debating performance, but her key aides, who controlled access to her, remained limited to three young women. These aides were overworked and blocked access to Tsai herself. On several occasions her aides proved they weren’t up to the tasks facing them and the DPP.

Tsai’s nomination enabled the DPP to begin a generational change among its top leadership. However, such a leadership change has yet to be completed. Many new leaders will emerge over the next three years, including vice presidential nominee Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全). However, in addition to a leadership change, the DPP needs to listen to a much wider range of people. The party has large numbers of people capable of making major contributions. These willing and able people must not be cut off from contributing to the party and to party decisions.

Finally, Shanghaiist translates the web commentary from mainland web users reacting to the election:

When I saw Sinopec’s 12 million RMB chandelier, I was not jealous; When I saw Guo Meimei’s Maserati, I was not jealous; When I saw the 3,000 square metre luxury apartment bought by the former chief engineer Zhou Shuguang of the Ministry of Railways in the US, I was not jealous; When I saw that the former Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun had been sleeping with actresses from the Dream of the Red Mansion, I was not jealous; When I saw the son of an official trample upon the law saying “My dad is Li Gang”, I was not jealous; When I saw the people of Taiwan elect their own president under a one-man-one-vote system, I was jealous.

If it’s at all possible to assign scores for democracy, then today’s Taiwan is probably a lot more democratic than many of the more established democracies of the world. These people are like you and I — yellow skinned, brown-eyed, speak Mandarin, and eat Chinese food. Those people that think democracy is not suitable for the Chinese people can now shut up. Those people that say democracy is not possible because the Chinese people are not well-educated enough, or that China is too unique for it, can now shut up. Those people that are still going on about how socialism is superior — please, either go to North Korea for a taste of real socialism, or shut up.

In the re-election of Ma Ying-jeou, 18 million Taiwan voters were co-stars, while another 1.3 billion mainland residents became a captivated and openly envious audience. The shouts of democracy and election that have rung day and night are like a big tight slap across our face, one that leaves our cheeks burning and our ears ringing. There is hope for democracy on the mainland. Come, everybody, let’s talk about democracy and elections on Sina, Tencent, NetEase an

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“Promoting democracy means more than exposing darkness”

Yang Hengjun in CMP:

In the eyes of some Chinese, democracy is like a roundabout. The best thing is not to talk directly about democracy, but rather to work one’s way around to it.

I’ve had young readers pipe up in conversation and lump me together with various contemporary writers or rights defense heroes. “Those of you who pursue democracy . . . ,” they begin. And I head them off by interjecting: “Look, the way I see it, this character you’ve just mentioned isn’t really someone who pursues democracy!”

At the risk of sounding curt, I’ve had enough of this blurring of lines. In China today, one of the biggest errors we fall into constantly is to assume that someone who opposes social injustice, or advocates for common livelihood issues [like education and healthcare access], or someone who opposes autocracy and the over-concentration of power must necessarily be a champion of democracy.

Over the years I’ve come across many people who oppose autocracy but haven’t in fact the least notion of democracy. In many cases they actually uphold autocracy in order to oppose it.

It would be a challenge these days to find anyone who says they can stomach corruption. The vast majority of people loathe unchecked power. But few people actually understand that democracy is the means by which such scourges can actually be removed.

A great number of academics and experts in China, including quite a few opinion leaders, are first-rate at exposing the dark corners of our society and ferreting out corruption. But deep in their bones they have little notion of democracy. Some think that we simply need to change out emperors. Some think we would be better off if they themselves were promoted to the top. Some believe we should return to the Qing Dynasty. Some believe we should turn the clock back to 1949. Others believe we should back-step to 1965 . . .

There is a clique of cynicism now emerging in China that wants to drag our people back to some beautiful past. For various reasons (for example, not wanting to be branded as traitors or slaves of the West), they refuse to move forward. They refuse to stride into the future.

I’ve said before that my favorite essay writer is Lu Xun (鲁迅). His laying bare of Chinese nature and his lampooning of rulers are unmatched to this day. But in terms of his thinking on democracy and his conception of the future Lu Xun has little to offer, whether one sets his work against his Western contemporaries or against Chinese writers and thinkers of his day.

Lu Xun’s satire cut to the quick of the Chinese character. And his vision begs the question: if the Chinese people are nothing more than a handful of Lu Xun characters, how can such a people possibly be suited to life in a democratic society? Lu Xun’s answer in the end is to hope that a master much stronger than the ineffectual Kuomintang can take the stage, a master that can help the Chinese people stand on their own two feet.

In time, China’s new master would take Lu Xun and elevate him as one of humankind’s intellectual greats. But Lu Xun is ultimately no more than a great man of letters. He is not so different from any of those many writers in Chinese history who exposed China’s darker corners and the wickedness of human nature.

I don’t mean to gainsay my own love and admiration for Lu Xun. I simply want to drive home the point that while we do need people like Lu Xun to go and expose the darkness, we also need people who can point the way to the light. The problem in China today is that so many people see the darkness even as they are absorbed by it. They are unable to see the light and step beyond the darkness.

In China today, we can choose to carry out rights defense actions, we can work to expose corruption and oppose injustice. But if we fail to see beyond this to democracy, none of these actions will carry us very far. Believe me when I say that our only advantage today over the ancients lies in our modern values and democratic institutions.

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“Neither Independence nor Unification”

Time has another piece on the Taiwan elections, which are now just more than a week away:

There’s a more crucial, cosmic element to Taiwan. It is worth defending, if not as a territory, then as an idea: that freedom is compatible with the Chinese world. Taiwan could do a better job strengthening rule of law and fighting corruption. But in many stellar ways, it is the un-China: a vigorous democracy; an alternative fount of Chinese language and culture; an arena of fiercely competitive (and partisan) media; a crucible of creativity (tech, film, food); a haven of environmental consciousness (you’ll find recycling bins on remote hilltops). Heck, even the people are nicer — literally a civil society. China has muscle; Taiwan has soul. It’s the true people’s republic.

Taiwan’s voice, particularly during elections, is strong enough to reverberate even on the mainland. The islanders take politics very seriously — it seems to suffuse their lives — because they know their votes really count. In the presidential contest, the 99% figure a great deal: Tsai and her opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) accuse Ma and his ruling Kuomintang (KMT) of pandering to Big Business and ignoring income inequality. But beyond livelihood issues, the giant shadow of the mainland looms largest. The elections are, in truth, a referendum on China.

Ma, Beijing and Washington all want the current peace to keep. Ma believes that in a globalized world, no economy can be an island. Engagement with China “carries risk,” he told me, but “it’s in Taiwan’s interest.”

Tsai, 55, demurs. She says she is willing to do business with China — on Taiwan’s terms. She thinks Ma has given away too much to an authoritarian state. “We [should] treat China as a normal trading and economic partner,” Tsai told me. “A lot of people are concerned that we are moving so close and so quickly to China that we would at some point pass the point of no return, meaning the only option is to be with China in the future rather than being on our own.” That sounds perfectly reasonable. But because the DPP advocates de jure independence for Taiwan (an extreme red flag to China), many interested parties — most notably Beijing and Washington — worry about a Tsai victory. One scenario: a return to the cross-strait cold war witnessed during the DPP’s eight years in office before Ma’s election in 2008. It’s clear to all that China and the U.S., which seldom agree on much, both prefer Ma over Tsai — Beijing because it sees him as friendlier, Washington because it doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of any new quarrel between Taiwan and China if Tsai wins.

The planet’s two strongest nations don’t have a vote, however, and neither Ma nor Tsai can impose their will on Taiwan.

Given that Taiwan is its own political, economic, military and cultural master, it’s surreal, and somewhat tragic, that such a discrete and open society cannot be a normal nation. While much of the blame lies, of course, with Beijing — which, through its clout, blocks any meaningful overseas role for Taipei — much is also Taiwan’s own doing. Two polar illusions, rooted in misguided hope, have governed the island: that Taiwan will win back the mainland and unify the two as a noncommunist state (the KMT’s raison d’être) and that Taiwan will be formally recognized as an independent country (the DPP’s cause). For too long, Taiwan has been defined by the struggle for one or the other. But now there’s a growing realization that both unification and independence are impossible dreams, so much so that you don’t hear those words mentioned in Taiwan anywhere as often as before.

Having never been to Taiwan I do wonder about the people being nicer- it’s been my experience that mainlanders are mostly very friendly. Anyone have an opinion on that one?

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“Wu Jinglian: China must move on reform”

CMP has a translation of Chinese economist Wu Jinglian’s article here, claiming that economic and political reforms are both vital to China’s future:

What drives the gap between rich and poor? I believe there are two things, the first being corruption and the second being the monopolization [of riches, resources and opportunity]. Both of these have to do with government power. The type of monopoly we have [in China] is not the outcome of free economic competition but has been generated instead by political power. Chen Tonghai (陈同海), the former CEO of Sinopec Corp, China’s most profitable enterprise in 2009, was subsequently arrested for taking bribes, and it was later found that he had on average personally used 40,000 yuan (US$6,350) of public funds a day. This should not happen according to economic reforms as they were originally intended. But inadequate reforms created this situation.

In recent years there has been a tendency in thinking that easily misleads the public, and that is that the polarization of rich and poor has resulted from the market economy. But the root of resentment against the rich (仇富) is in fact anger over corruption (仇腐). I believe entirely that certain people have willfully redirected the target, deflecting the disgust people feel toward corruption onto the shoulders of run-of-the-mill rich. Some who are rich have amassed their wealth through diligence and hard work, because they are good at what they do. Others have relied on power and position, turning public power to private advantage. Diverting public anger onto the shoulders of the wealthy not only does a disservice to general prosperity, but also has serious social consequences.

If we want to allow ordinary Chinese to prosper, moving the country in the direction of democracy, civilization (文明) and harmony means relying on economic reform, but also on political reform. We must realize the proposals made by Comrade [Deng] Xiaoping, who said in the 1980s: “Political reform and economic reform should be interdependent and coordinated. If we seek economic reforms but do not seek political reforms, then economic reforms will not work out.”

Further, I would like to emphasize the importance of building a nation of rule of law. This issue has come up against certain difficulties of late, whether one is talking about the legislative side or the judicial side. On the question of democracy and constitutionalism, we must find a path forward. The first order of business on this front is enabling a fair environment for discussion. Not only do we need to allow ordinary Chinese to seek prosperity — we must also give ordinary Chinese the courage to speak.

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“Ties to China Linger as Issue as Taiwanese Prepare to Vote”

The NYT has an article about Taiwan’s elections, which are now less than ten days away:

But when voters go to the polls on Jan. 14 — only the fifth time they have done so since Taiwan threw off single-party rule in 1996 — they will also be guided by their views on a separate, overwhelmingly important issue: whether this vibrantly democratic island of 23 million should speed, slow or halt its wary embrace of China.

Mr. Ma, 61, a Nationalist, has overseen a raft of agreements that have revolutionized the way ordinary Chinese and Taiwanese interact. There are now direct flights, postal services and new shipping routes between Taiwan and the mainland, and a landmark free trade agreement has slashed tariffs on hundreds of goods.

The agreements opened the gates to the deluge of Chinese tourists — 213,000 arrived in November, 30 percent more than in November 2010 — who buoyed the local economy with more than $3 billion in spending last year. Other firsts include a pair of giant pandas from China, an early reward for Mr. Ma’s Beijing-friendly gestures, and nearly 1,000 mainland students who now study at Taiwan universities.

The burst of contact has reawakened old sensitivities and raised new ones.

Business-minded Taiwanese know where the money is: the million or so Taiwanese now working and investing in China appear to be backing the Nationalists and Mr. Ma.

“We certainly don’t want to jeopardize the status quo,” said Liu Chia-hao, a spokesman at Taipei 101, an iconic green-glass tower that dominates the Taipei horizon. Mr. Liu said that mainland visitors packing the building’s observatory and high-end shops helped the $1.8 billion project break even three years early.

“We’d like this vibe to continue,” he said.

But warming ties have also stoked deeply rooted fears, fanned by Ms. Tsai and her party, that the island is becoming too cozy with the authoritarian behemoth next door.

“Let’s face it, China wants nothing more than to devour us, and the K.M.T. is giving us away,” Zhou Zhu-zhen, a retired nurse, said last month during a rally.

The front-runners dance gingerly around the issue of China. It emerges mostly in the form of debate on the so-called 1992 Consensus, a nebulous pact between Beijing and Nationalist Party leaders that allows both to recognize the principle of one China, bypassing uncomfortable details. Ms. Tsai, a former minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, which helps set cross-strait policy, says the arrangement is a fiction. She wants the voters to determine how Taiwan defines itself in future negotiations with China.

Although she has dialed down her party’s stridency on independence, Ms. Tsai warns that Nationalist policies are eroding Taiwan’s sovereignty. In an interview, she offered a simple example of distasteful compromise: “When Chinese visitors come, we have to put away our flags,” she said.

Mr. Ma waves off such complaints, saying that détente has strengthened the island’s global standing.

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“Han Han and the “Suzhi” Argument”

Anyone still thinking about Han Han’s three essays should swing by ChinaGeeks, where Custer gets into the claim that Chinese people are somehow unsuited to democracy. Taiwan should provide as vivid of a counter as you need to that argument, but for some reason some people (Chinese, no less!) still make the claim. As Custer says:

Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, but I don’t think that many people in the 1700s would have been particularly optimistic about the nascent American democracy if they shared Han Han’s belief that its quality would be impacted by the suzhi of its people — a people that were literate but poorly educated, preposterously religious, and dedicated to the belief that owning slaves was totally cool. Certainly, this picture of Americans at the turn of the 19th century makes the complaints most often levied against Chinese people’s suzhi — they spit in public, they can’t queue properly, they only care about watching TV — seem benign in comparison.

The history of other countries could likely provide counter-examples, but that’s not the point. I am not arguing that China could easily implement a democracy, rather my point is just that the argument that China couldn’t implement democracy because its people still spit on the sidewalk or leave their high beams on at night is total horseshit.

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“Taiwan Elections: Chinese netizens praise democracy”

One of the things that must make Beijing angriest about Taiwan is that it disproves their weird racism in insisting that Chinese people are somehow unsuited to democracy- and that it does so in their language, right off their shores. The Taipei Times reports on mainland Chinese internet commentary on the elections:

Data mining conducted last week on various Chinese social media platforms seems to indicate great interest in the first presidential debate on Dec. 3 between Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).

On the Baidu platform alone, more than 880,000 Chinese–language searches for “uncut television debate for the 2012 Taiwan Area leadership election” were recorded, with several variants also producing a high number of returns. Two combinations had more than 1 million searches.

Searches for “Taiwan Area/TV debate,” meanwhile, featured some revealing tweets from Tencent and Netease.

One, written under the handle Sipai, read: “When I was a child, I used to get real excited when I heard all that jazz about taking Taiwan back. After watching the debate video, I’m thinking when the heck is Taiwan going to take us back.”

In another post, user Li Fangjun wrote: “While watching this debate over the lunch break I suddenly thought about what two colleagues said last week during a drive. According to them, if it was not for the Cultural Revolution and its extirpation of thousand-year-old traditions, the obstacles today’s China faces in its transition toward modernity would be even worse — almost unimaginable. Is it true that a beautiful future can only be drawn on a blank sheet of paper? Are Chinese people only fit for despotism and totalitarianism? Just take a look at Taiwan.”

On Sina weibo, a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, the hash tag “Taiwan presidential election” brought 154,000 results, with one tweet, whose authorship could not be ascertained, rebroadcast several thousand times.

Titled “What the Taiwan Presidential Election Tells Me,” the entry read: “1. Chinese people are actually able to be democratic and it’s got nothing to do with race; 2. Elections are actually supposed to be debated and to depend on getting the approval of the people and it’s got nothing to do with ‘getting represented’; 3. Electoral platforms are actually supposed to be broadcast to the people first and they’ve got nothing to do with grand theories; 4. Democracy actually requires multiparty competition and it’s got nothing to do with one-party rule; 5. The people actually are able to choose and it’s got nothing to do with supporting or gratitude to the leadership; 6. The powerful are actually to be held accountable and criticized and it’s got nothing to do with their greatness and unfailing wisdom.”

According to one US analyst who could not be named in this article, some Chinese Internet users have written that they want Taiwan “to stay Chinese” not because of territorial sovereignty, but because Taiwan stands “as a shining example for China’s democratic future.”

While it might be that some in China have always held this opinion and were merely censored before, the analyst said that opinion had discernibly grown as exposure to the facts and realities in Taiwan have increased.

The Chinese government, which maintains a tight grip on media, has allowed coverage of the presidential election to be discussed and covered on social media to an unprecedented, if not altogether complete, degree.

As of Friday night, Sina weibo, one of the most popular microblogging platforms in China, with more than 250 million registered users, had not blocked the search term “Taiwan Presidential Election.” This indicates that the terms are not on the platform’s list of blacklisted keywords, such as “human rights” and “Liu Xiaobo” (劉曉波).

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“Mao namesake believes China will be set free”

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interview with Mao Yushi, whose irrepressible optimism about the future of China makes a nice break from all the doom and gloom elsewhere:

You might think that after enduring a mass hate campaign, including threats of blackmail and brutality, it would be time for an 82-year-old intellectual to consider taking a backward step.

But that would underestimate the fortitude of Mao Yushi, an important mentor for several leading liberal economists, as well as the conviction he shares with thousands of other active Chinese liberals that history is on his side.

Mr Mao lamented China’s backsliding on economic reforms and its recent surge of political repression.

He dismissed the country’s incoming leaders as being beholden to the current ones and for being focused only on protecting the Communist Party regime.

And he said officials and wealth have fused together into formidable vested interests that resist reform.

But he is nevertheless convinced that the country is on the brink of democratic change. ”I don’t know how it will happen but I feel confident,” he said. ”We will witness reform in the next five to 10 years.”

Mao Yushi’s recent cycle of trouble started in April when he wrote an essay about another Mao, the former god-like chairman, titled ”Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form”.

The Chairman’s ”thirst for power dominated his life, and to this end he went entirely mad”, he wrote.

Mr Mao’s own family had suffered greatly under Chairman Mao and he was appalled that such realities were being submerged by a tide of neo-Maoist nostalgia and leftist activism. Mr Mao posted his essay on his Sina blog and censors immediately took it down. He reposted it, they deleted it, but others reposted it on thousands of sites, including the progressive media platform Caixin Online.

And yet in contrast with some other nations, Mr Mao said China ”is not likely to see civil war”.

”Whether things improve when China’s dynasty changes depends on the maturity of the people,” he said. ”Thanks to the internet, the level of people’s awareness and knowledge has improved a lot.”

Last week, Mr Mao appeared on a panel at the Central University of Finance and Economics, in what was his first public appearance since being blackballed earlier in the year.

”During the break lots of students surrounded me and showed their support for me,” he said. ”They shouted ‘down with Mao Zedong’.”

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“China’s independents find it hard to get on ballot”

The wave of independent candidates has been pretty completely crushed by now- the Communist Party has done whatever it needed to destroy their campaigns. Via LA Times:

At least on paper, the Chinese Constitution permits any adult citizen without a criminal record to run for the office of people’s representative. In practice, however, those without the blessing of the Communist Party say they are thwarted at every pass: harassed, detained, followed and threatened. If that fails, they say, they’re simply kicked off the ballots.

Although a few independent candidates have won, they tend to refrain from criticizing the government openly and avoid campaigning, especially on the Internet. Activists, however, draw immediate scrutiny from a government that tends to not brook dissent.

“The independent candidates could destroy the current system by soliciting votes on the Internet,” the party-run Global Times newspaper warned in May as the campaign season was opening. “Instead of pushing forward political development, the deviation is likely to create political risks in society.”

The positions of people’s representatives are not terribly elite: 4,349 seats for district or county level representatives are up for grabs in Beijing alone, and nearly 2 million nationwide in elections staggered over the course of the year. None of them are picked for the National People’s Congress, the country’s rubber-stamp legislature. For the most part, the job involves mundane matters such as recycling and pooper-scooper rules for pets.

Guo Huojia, a 60-year-old farmer from Foshan, in Guangdong province, is one of the few independents to win an election. Campaigning against land confiscations and home demolitions, he received a stunning 7,000 out of 9,000 votes in his district in a Sept. 28 vote.

He was arrested the following day. He remains under house arrest.

A Shanghai writer dropped his plans to run after being hit by a tax audit. A real estate mogul who wanted to run for mayor of Zhengzhou says he was so harassed by tax authorities that he went into hiding and left politics behind.

“What they hate about independent candidates is that they reveal the true nature of the system,” said Xue Mengchun, a businessman who has been advising Han Ying on her campaign. “It is all about ‘face.’ The Chinese government is trying to show the world they have democracy.”

There is almost no coverage of the elections in the Chinese media, and you would hardly know they are going on except for red propaganda banners strung around town reading, “People choose the people’s delegates. The people’s delegates work for the people.”

The reality is that candidates mostly have been either Communist Party members or people handpicked by the party. Li Sihua, a former schoolteacher from Jiangxi province, said that when he went to sign up as a candidate in May, officials of the local election committee refused to give him the form.

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“At 105, Chinese Linguist Now A Government Critic”

Zhou Youguang, whose involvement in developing pinyin took Chinese romanization methods into the modern era, is in the news again. Now the man who put a stop to linguistic madness like saying ‘Peking’ for a city roughly pronounced ‘bay-jing’ is in trouble, though. From NPR:

Zhou has published an amazing 10 books since he turned 100, some of which have been banned in China. These, along with outspoken views on the Communist Party and the need for democracy in China, have made him a “sensitive person” — a euphemism for a political dissident.

When Zhou was born in 1906, Chinese men still wore their hair in a long pigtail, the Qing dynasty still ruled China, and Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. That someone from that era is alive — and blogging as the “Centenarian Scholar” — seems unbelievable.

In the late 1960s, he was branded a reactionary and sent to a labor camp for two years. In 1985, he translated the Encyclopaedia Britannica into Chinese and then worked on the second edition — placing him in a position to notice the U-turns in China’s official line.

At 105, Zhou calls it as he sees it without fear or favor. He’s outspoken about what he believes is the need for democracy in China. And he says he hopes to live long enough to see China change its position on the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989.

“June 4th made Deng Xiaoping ruin his own reputation,” he says. “Because of reform and opening up, he was a truly outstanding politician. But June 4th ruined his political reputation.”

Far from shying from controversy, Zhou appears to relish it, chuckling as he admits, “I really like people cursing me.”

That fortitude is fortunate, since his son, Zhou Xiaoping, who monitors online reaction to his father’s blog posts, has noted that censors quickly delete any praise, leaving only criticism. The elder Zhou believes China needs political reform, and soon.

“Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party any more,” he says. “The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy. Look at the Arab Spring. People ask me if there’s hope for China. I’m an optimist. I didn’t even lose hope during the Japanese occupation and World War II. China cannot not get closer to the rest of the world.”

The elderly economist is scathing about China’s economic miracle, denying that it is a miracle at all: “If you talk about GDP per capita, ours is one-tenth of Taiwan’s. We’re very poor.”

Instead, he points out that decades of high-speed growth have exacted a high price from China’s people: “Wages couldn’t be lower, the environment is also ruined, so the cost is very high.”

Zhou’s century as a witness to China’s changes, and a participant in them, has led him to believe that China has become “a cultural wasteland.” He’s critical of the Communist Party for attacking traditional Chinese culture when it came into power in 1949, but leaving nothing in the void.

Someone really should compile a list of old men who terrify Beijing.

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“Mr. Science, Mr. Democraxi?”

An excellent blog post by the talented Mr. Carrdus from ICT, who first talks about Xi Jinping visiting Lhasa and then goes into some history about the first great ideas of the Chinese Communist Party:

This idea that science provides salvation has its roots in the May 4th Movement. In 1919, China was going through wrenching changes following the collapse of the millennia-old dynastic system, and struggling to forge a path in a hostile modern world. The rallying point for China’s nationalist intellectuals was the stinging indignation that came when German colonial interests in China were handed to Japan – without even consulting Beijing – under the terms of the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I.

A small band of highly influential Chinese intellectuals concluded that China needed to modernize; and to modernize, China needed science, but it also needed democracy, concepts they introduced as “Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy.” Mr. Science would empower China’s industrial and economic growth and Mr. Democracy would harness her intellectual and spiritual forces. “Only these two gentlemen can save China from the political, moral, academic and intellectual darkness in which it finds itself,” wrote Chen Duxiu, one of the figureheads of the May 4th Movement.

Chen Duxiu, of course, was also one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party.

Ninety years later, and while “Mr. Science” is still (s)lavishly entertained in China, “Mr. Democracy” has long since been banished and exiled by the Party founded by Chen Duxiu. In his place stalks “Mr. Stability,” the Party’s Frankenstein creation who unflinchingly sends tanks against students in Tiananmen Square, who censors, pillories and imprisons critics by the thousand, and whose world-view is so far off-kilter that the Dalai Lama – of all people – is demonized with such ferocity that Tibetans are tortured and imprisoned for owning a copy of his portrait. What’s that if it’s not “political, moral, academic and intellectual darkness”?

The scientific development of “Mr. Science” now serves only to justify the Party’s continuing authoritarianism and absence of political reform, while the consequences of ostracizing “Mr. Democracy” are the huge imbalances and gathering discontent that are fast becoming the hallmarks of modern China.

Mr. Xi is heavily tipped to be President of China in the next couple of years, and in due course he too is likely to have his own slogan, his own ideological thumbprint—which is more the pity. Rather than another clumsy ideological club to snuff out reform, now more than ever the Party – and indeed all of China – needs a “Mr. Democraxi.”

Quite so.

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