Sep 13, 2022 in Political

Democracy in China

The Republic of China experienced extensive growth during the 20th and 21st centuries. While its chairpersons are aimed at economic reformation and openness, political democratization was limited by the authoritarian regime and developed in the opposite direction. Therefore, it is supposed that the political and economic factors affect democracy in China in different ways and do not depend on each other.

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The usurpation of political power by the authoritarians and total control over the society notably hampered the advancement of democracy in Chinese society. As stated by William Joseph, the transition from family-based dynasties to nationalist and communist regimes did not lessen the measure of dictatorship imposed on the population (as cited in Krieger et al. 646). Due to the consistency of organizational units and Confucian obedience to the government, Chinese society was easily exposed to anti-democratic political forces. Thus, during the changes of authorities, there was almost no serious opposition to the political grip, and the nation of Chinese people itself did not have the experience of fighting for independence. As the Chinese Communist Party controls each of its member for ideological affiliation and has both military and discipline commissions for ensuring ubiquitous control, democracy on the state level has a conditional and symbolic meaning (Krieger et al. 662). Therefore, it is reasonable to search for real democracy not on the national but on the local scope.

The prospective ways in which China can be said to endure democracy are municipal governance and elections, dispersion of political power from Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the increased level of ethical and religious tolerance. To begin with, democracy in terms of electoral power is strengthened by provincial governments, as the voters can elect their representatives directly. Due to the electoral reforms, the people obtained the chance to elect the deputies directly by themselves, which promised the political democratization and was referred to as democratic centralism (Howland 463). Such issue was investigated by Narisong Huhe and Min Tang, who state that in this way, the municipal citizens can have power to affect politics (as cited in Huhe et al. 6). Interaction among the local residents also plays a significant role in community-building and promotes democracy (Wang et al.). As researched by Wang et al., during the election process, the voters connect with each other and discuss the most efficient governors. The scientists call this phenomenon “democratic localism” and claim that the urban grassroots are in less measure imposed to state-dominant view (Wang et al. 129-153). In addition, William Joseph predicts rural elections to be the seeds of democracy in China (as cited in Krieger et al. 672). The scholar believes that direct elections on the local level are possible to spread to the higher institutions like PRC, where citizens do not yet have control over the politicians that affect their lives. By contrast, Peter Emerson in his writing argues that if the democratic multi-party system with direct elections was imposed, it would cause chaos and even political crisis with the country (127-128). The scientist instead offers to introduce in China preferential voting as a more inclusive and less radical policy (Emerson 128). In this dimension of democracy, the voters would elect their representatives by a matrix vote, and they would be grouped in gender, ethnical, or other unities to avoid the outside pressure.

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Another potential way of democratizing Chinese society relates to the growing role of National People’s Congress (NPC) in state governance, on the contrary to the Chinese Communist Party. The active involvement of deputies from NPC in the election of state leaders and each Congress session enables to detect some elements of democracy. Moreover, on the Fourth Plenum in 2014, NPC was put in the center of political affairs in China (Zhiyue 2-3). As a result, the upper-level politicians and governors are paying more attention to the decisions made in Congress, which allows to assume some level of democracy on the national level. However, Daniel Bell in his article argues that this process is nothing but meritocracy, and it did not deviate a lot from the authoritarian regime (112-113). Supporting the researcher, William Joseph also mentions that the annual Congress meetings have conditional power, as the candidates for deputy positions are appointed by Communist Party leaders in advance (as cited in Krieger et al. 670). To sum up, with the division of power between Chinese Communist Party and National People’s Congress, the level of pluralism and democracy could be slightly improved, while CCP still exercises control over NPC decisions.

When it comes to the cultural democracy, Chinese government seems to be more supportive than in the case of political democracy issue. With growing of cultural tolerance and ideological diversity, there are some evident increases in democracy levels. For instance, Baogang He highlights the different national identities of Chinese population (6). Various ethnic minorities are given a special status and have their representatives in governmental bodies (Krieger et al. 680). As it can be seen, the controlling bodies give minorities the conditional autonomy by allowing them to have personal representatives. However, in decision-making process, these people should obey the orders of CCP representatives, or otherwise, they would be substituted by more affable deputies. Apart from that, the religious democracy should be mentioned, which is also promoted in China. The politics of religious diversity, discussed by Robert Weller, tends to give Chinese more freedom of choice of the type of religion (Weller 137-138). Such action of the government is supposed to connect the state closer to society and satisfy the needs of immigrants and minorities. What is more, the government could address this policy in order to enhance the regional economic development. As proved academically, in the East of China, where the religious polarization level is quite high, the multi-religious society leads to better economic cooperation and development (Ying et al. 4-5). Thus, the Chinese authorities can allow some degree of the cultural democracy among the provinces only to get the favor of the local communities and stimulate economic growth.

Apart from the political advances described above, the economic changes in China also indirectly inspire democracy. The ways in which Chinese citizens may experience more personal freedoms are traveling, educational mobility, and expansion of the Internet access. At first, the outburst of the activity of corporations in China has led to the significant increase in the income levels of middle class. With short-term business trips, the average citizens got the opportunities to live in more democratic states and bring this experience back to China (Marandici 1198-1199). In this way, even the people who are not literate in politics can shape their viewpoint on exemplary democracy of the state. In addition, the economically active population may demand from the local authorities more political freedoms to protect their economic interests (Alpermann 89-90). Due to the recent survey, the majority of Chinese people are satisfied with their current level of democratic freedoms, but those who are discontented are more politically literate and adhere either to liberal or conservative values (Zhai 11). In this way, it can be predicted that the number of dissatisfied with democracy people would grow in the future. Thus, they would oppose state intervention into their business and, consequently urging for more democratic rights.

With regard to the tendency of greater outflow of students from China, most of them are likely to form a global view on the world affairs (Pearce et al. 3). Therefore, when these students return to their country, they would understand how the proper democracy operates and, on the contrary, how it is represented in China. The worldwide empowerment for change making would, probably, inspire them to develop some elements of democracy in Chinese society and make the lives of local citizens better. Apart from that, the new generation of young people was born and grew up without the strict ideological dogma of socialism. Such persons are more state-independent and appreciate their personal rights and freedoms (Krieger et al. 681). For these reasons, it can be forecasted that these students with international mindset are more likely to demand democratic freedoms from Chinese government and boldly advocate their position.

The final and most impactful tendency in democratization deals with both economy and technology. Internet expansion has led to positive shifts in Chinese e-commerce, financial flows, and information exchange. Along with these, the tightness of state control over the mass media has notably weakened, and the government attempts to restrict the anti-authoritarian information sources, such as The New York Times, and refuses them in licenses (Krieger et al. 677). Despite such prohibitions, the Internet affects the Chinese both directly and indirectly (Huhe et al. 759-760). The scholars claim that a variety of Internet articles directly shapes new political attitudes in Chinese society. In the same time, the indirect consequences of the Internet come from the online discussion forums, networks, and gatherings where participators from different countries express their opinions on democracy, which can serve as an incentive for democratization of China (Huhe et al. 765). To conclude on the Internet issue, the online connectivity of Chinese people with the outside world enabled them with more freedom of the word, gave access to foreign literature on democracy, and allowed to network with other people without the state supervision.

In summary, the political and economic changes affect the level of democracy in China differently. The shifts in political system have mainly advanced democracy through the direct participation of voters in the municipal elections, their cooperation, and mutual agreement of interests. Division of power between Chinese Communist Party and National People’s Congress also gives hope for pluralism, and the positive attitude of government towards religious and ethnical diversity promotes democracy on the local levels. The economic changes affect people’s freedoms in China independently. Economic integration of China into global business results into the increase of mobility of Chinese employees, who may travel to more democratic societies and expand their outlook. Higher educational mobility and absence of strong adherence to ideology among young Chinese make them grow as independent and “global” citizens who stand for justice and not follow the restriction of their freedoms. Finally, the growing role of the Internet made it impossible for Chinese government to control all the sources of information. With this, democracy in China can be promoted through discussion forums, cooperation in the Internet networks, and other means.

In accordance with all the arguments discussed in the paper, it can be stated that the positive changes in a democracy are not only affected by economic shifts. Along with economic freedoms, there are notable achievements in civic and political democratization that would grow with the deeper integration of China into international relations.

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