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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Filed under Communist Party, democracy

“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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Filed under democracy, Hong Kong

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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Filed under democracy, Guangzhou Model

“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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Filed under democracy, Guangzhou Model

“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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