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Jun 28

What is democracy and how does it relate to China?

Written by Raj on Sunday, June 28th, 2009 at 12:00 am
Filed under:Analysis, politics | Tags:, ,
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It seems that “democracy” has been a hot-topic in political discussions about China in the last year. We’ve seen the Beijing Olympics, the creation of Charter 08, the publication of Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen protest crackdown. However, it seems that whilst people on both sides of the debate will stick to their positions with determination, relatively few actually discuss what democracy means and what the consequences are for China.

Elections are the most common aspect of democracy that people will point to, but clearly having elections alone are not reflective of democracy. Saddam Hussein allowed elections. It was just that he was the only candidate and the results were fixed (winning 100% of the vote with 100% turnout in 2002). Clearly, then, the elections must be free and fair, as well as open to a wide range of parties and candidates. But how can an election be free and fair if all the media attention, often because it is State-controlled, goes on one candidate? Or some candidates are harassed and/or subject to legal action simply to get them disbarred from running, as has happened in Singapore? Clearly the overall system must allow free and fair elections to happen.

A working definition of democracy

Given dictionary definitions are severely limited in content and analysis, here are my main criteria on what constitutes a democracy.

1. Regular, direct elections for the legislative and, if the nation is a republic, the presidency.

Without them, a government can simply put off the next election indefinitely. Direct elections ensure that the process is open and less open to manipulation by special interest groups.

2. Elections are open to candidates and parties that the State does not have a right to block from participating.

There is little point in having an election if only one group (i.e. the ruling party) can choose who is eligible to stand. There may be internal discussion about what is best for the country, but there is no guarantee that it will produce as broad a range of candidates for voters to choose from as occurs in multi-party systems.

3. Universal suffrage.

Again, if the ruling party gets to choose who can vote or ensures that groups that are primarily friendly to it have a disproportionate amount of votes, the election result can be relatively easily.

4. Media freedom.

If the media is controlled by the State and reports heavily on its favoured candidates, it will make the job of others to get elected that much harder. Furthermore, if it hides criticisms of the ruling party then the electorate’s understanding of the problems facing their country will be reduced and accordingly they will let the State off easily. This extends to the internet given how many people rely on it for information.

5. Freedom of assembly, movement, speech, religion and thought.

These are some “personal” freedoms. Individuals also need to be able to speak out without fear of being arrested or harassed for expressing political views against the incumbent government, ruling party, political system, etc, so that they can make others aware of issues and points they feel are important. By forming groups (assembly) they can take action on matters they commonly decide need protecting and/or pursued.

Personal thought is hard to control, though some states try by forcing people to make self-criticisms or force them through propaganda sessions. If people find it hard to think freely then their actions will be affected as well. Being able to practice religion as people see fit is usually important to believers. If the State can control religion in various ways it can try to control thought.

6. Independent judiciary and civil service/public institutions.

Groups like the judiciary, civil service and police should primarily work for the people and not the government of the day/ruling party, though the latter may want them to be obedient. Of course the civil service should carry out instructions from the government, but it should not do things like punish individuals or groups because the government wants to limit the activities of its opponents. If the judiciary and police are not independent, individuals and/or groups can use them to unfairly punish their opponents.

7. Rule of law.

If there is no rule of law, the State can do as it pleases to those it considers a threat, regardless of whether they have acted illegally. This is a great problem because the abuse need not be authorised by any senior authority or official.

China and democracy

The Chinese Communist Party/Chinese government likes to say that China has democracy “with Chinese characteristics”. Although no form of democracy is exactly the same, those seven points I listed will normally generally be followed. When members of the CCP/government talk about “Chinese characteristics”, they are essentially trying to justify not having a democratic system by saying they get to decide what is democratic. That would be like a theoretical company “Meganet” arguing that a computer a customer found to be sub-standard according to marketplace norms was actually of “good quality with Meganet characteristics”. Whilst it is likely that China will have a political system that is not 100% the same as any other, for the Chinese political elite and its supporters to claim that China has any form of democracy is dishonest.

China is not completely without any democratic attributes of any degree. There is more freedom of movement that there used to be, even if there are still some limitations. The CCP does not seek to control thought as it used to do. In many respects it is happy for people to think whatever they like, provided they keep “politically inconvenient” thoughts to themselves. Both media and individuals have more scope to discuss issues as they see fit.

There are limits on most freedoms in any country, but in democratic states they are not as severe as can be found in China – the restrictions still in place on matters like freedom of the media and free speech cannot be described as being democratic. Furthermore, in other areas such as independence of the judiciary (which there is not), China is even further away from what can be regarded as democratic.

No one, on this blog at least, is advocating that China make a headlong rush towards democratic political reform. As the system is so heavily geared towards protecting the one-party state and the CCP, with organised opposition banned, it wouldn’t work. Furthermore I’m not especially interested in a debate right now as to whether China should even go down that route at a slower pace, given that it’s one we’ve often had before.

However, there are things that can be done to benefit China that won’t necessarily lead to an end of the one-party system but at the same time would make a change to a multi-party system easier. The key things that need to be done are to strengthen rule of law, increase judicial independence and separate public institutions and organisations from the CCP. It would make the ruling party less able to arbitrarily crack down on people even exercising their legal rights – which is of course not a bad thing but an option the CCP seems to want to have. But it would provide more justice to individuals and help reduce corruption by ensuring that officials couldn’t easily bully complainants by abusing the law and/or the power they wield.

I don’t believe that political reform can happen neither without an honest discussion on what democracy is nor the foundation to allow it to happen. It’s a good time to have the former debate and start/speed up work on the latter.


There are currently 3 comments highlighted: 40649, 40946, 40952.

150 Responses to “What is democracy and how does it relate to China?”

  1. raventhorn4000 Says:

    First, you working definition needs to account for historical exceptions.

    (1) Direct elections. Venetian Republic had no direct elections.

    (2) Open candidacy is not 100%. Even US in Cold War were able to lawfully bar members of Communist party from elections. (Or generally any parties that promoted rebellion or uprising.) Germany bars parties that preach racial hatred. So does Indonesia.

    (3) Universal Suffrage. Even US didn’t achieve this until early 1900’s. What was US before that? Non-democratic?

    (4) Media freedom. Not absolute. Even France and Germany censor internet and media.

    (5) Freedom of assembly, movement, speech, religion and thought. Similarly, US, France, Germany all make exceptions to these “freedoms”.

    (6) Independent judiciary and civil service/public institutions. Not 100% absolute. Judicial branch will consider “political questions” as non-justiciable generally.

    (7) Rule of law. Again, always exceptions, especially for time of “emergencies”.

    *unless one accounts for all the exceptions, “Democracy” is meaningless.

  2. Wahaha Says:

    LOL,

    I dont see many people tried to argue if China is democratic or not, it is about what democracy can do for China. (and what democarcy has done to US, UK and France.)

    Here is one of those typical “great” ideas ” that leads to nowhere.”

    *********************************************************

    John Stuart Mill said this in his famous Essay on Liberty:

    “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else.”

    *********************************************************

    To see what “leads to nowhere” means, read the following :

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_12/b4026001.htm

    http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2006-04-03-ohare-expansion_x.htm

    The prosperity since 1982 in West world is not cuz of their freedom. It was built on borrowed money and huge technology breakthrough (personal computer and internet.)Every person is an element of the society he lives in, therefore he has obligation to the society. The crap by John Stuart Mill is equivalent to that the only way to persuade a person to be submissive to his obligation to the society is money. IN OTHER WORD, LIBERTY IS BUILT ON WEALTH. Without money, government is not allowed to do what is necessary to help vast majority of the people IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM.

  3. Wahaha Says:

    Here is definition of communism from Wiki :

    Communism (from Latin: communis = “common”) is a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general.

    Isnt it a great idea that everyone should go after ?

  4. Wahaha Says:

    Also, let us talk about the concept “people” ?

    What kind of individuals consists of this widely used “people”?

    Have you ever been to shopping mall during sale season ? If you get into a shoe store or cloth store near closing time, those stores are always like a bed on which a couple just made love.

    That is, very unfortunately, how “people” act when they dont have to be responsible, Not saying most of them are not responsible people, but if there is one irresponsible, there will be two irresponsible, then there will be 4, there will be 8, and so on.

    Think of this applied to a country, get a clue how so many states and cities in US and Europe are deep in debt ?

    BTW, if most people could think critically, Hitler wouldnt be elected; if people could think critically, there would be no Culture revolution; if people could think critically, there would be no current financial crisis.

  5. Shane9219 Says:

    ” Universal Suffrage. Even US didn’t achieve this until early 1900’s. ”

    Blacks in US got the true rights to vote in 1960. Women in Sweden got them in 1971.

    Gradual eveolution is the universal true fact in all developed countries, include US which is often thought as the best example of western democracy, this is especially true for Universal Suffrage.

    Raj — when you can finish recycle old topic over and over again? LoL

  6. Otto Kerner Says:

    I’m not optimistic about this being implemented in China any time soon. Democracy is not compatible with having large portions of your territory inhabited by ethnic minorities who are not loyal to the state.

  7. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Raj:
    nice attempt. Though you can predict the usual detractors, and what their beefs will be.

    Like I’ve said before, nothing wrong with “democracy with Chinese characteristics”. The problem is that such a declaration would often be followed by “whatever that means”. So good of you to try to lay a framework (non-binding, of course).

    Unfortunately, you are sharing this with a crowd who had no time for a vision statement like Charter 08. So responses like #5 will be predictable. Like I’ve also said before, it’s like Pavlov ringing a bell.

  8. Wukailong Says:

    @Shane9219: “Women in Sweden got them in 1971.”

    Women in Sweden got the right to vote in 1921. It’s Switzerland you’re referring to. Incidentally, it’s 50 years across these events and 2 looks quite similar to 7, so I thought you had read some book with bad printing! 🙂

    Also, I wonder who’s seriously thinking of the US as the best example of democracy, except a couple of crazy neocons?

  9. Wukailong Says:

    As for the question asked above if the US was non-democratic before the blacks would vote, I would say yes. It was at least not fully democratic.

  10. Shane9219 Says:

    @Wukailong #8

    Thanks for pointing that out. It was Switzerland actually.

    In 1971: Switzerland adopts woman suffrage, and the United States lowers the voting age for both men and women to eighteen.

    In 1960: Canadian women win full rights to stand for election.

    US has been held as a beacon of democracy in the West because its form of republic and constitution was marked as the latest achievement on western democracy

  11. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To WKL #9:
    agreed.

  12. Raj Says:

    Wahaha (2 & 3) Given the Chinese government likes to say China is democratic (with Chinese characteristics) I thought it reason enough to ask the question. Certainly I suggested that we look at how certain aspects of democracy can benefit China, as I suggested with judicial independence.

    Shane (5) I have never made a blog entry on what democracy is, so I don’t know how you can think I’ve recycled the topic “over and over”! 😀

    Wukailong (9), absolutely – you can’t have a fully democratic country if groups are disqualified because of ethnicity, gender, wealth, etc. But you can still have something very close to overall democracy by having good freedoms in other areas. It seems that historically, most democratic countries’ “deficit” was over the size of the electorate, not so much the laws on matters like press freedom, personal freedom, etc.

  13. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Raj,

    So now it’s all very “close to overall democracy”.

    How close is “very close”?

    I have a criteria that would define “democracy”, which none of the nations follow.

    (I) People decide on the important decisions.

    Direct elections mean nothing, if People don’t get a say in whether a nation should fund for wars to invade other countries, such as Iraq.

    That’s the ultimate flaw in your theory.

    It’s fundamentally undemocratic, when governments can levy taxes for wars that the People are against.

    “Election” is just another “to the victor spoils” scheme.

  14. a netizen Says:

    The U.S. is not an example of democracy. Voting for some government official every few years has nothing to do with democracy. People need some means of actually determining who should be proposed as those government officials and of affecting what government officials do. The huge war machine in the US, while much of the population doesn’t have health care or see it constantly being cut back, is but one of many signs most of the American public have no control over who is put up for government officials or what the government officials do.

    The U.S. mainstream media promotes what the government wants to pursue with no real discussion or effort to oversee or question government actions.Just look at the way that media spread the myths of alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Or look at the hostile policy of the US government to North Korea or Iran ot Sudan, with the U.S. media demonizing those governments rather than exposing what the U.S. official actions are against those governments.

    Democracy requires a means for people to affect government decisions. It requires that the people have a means to participate in the affairs of government. It requires a means to oversee and control what government officials do so that their is an appropriate penalty for any misuse of power.

    We don’t at present in our world have any good models of democratic governments.

    At least we should recognize that, rather than putting up as a model the U.S. system which has led to such serious abuses of power as the invasion of Iraq, as millions in prison dometically for minor offenses while government officials have institutionalized bribery and call it campaign financing.

    Can the Internet help netizens create new forms of democratic institution or transform non democratic institutions? This is the challenge facing netizens in our time. See for example the online book “Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet” http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120

  15. Shane9219 Says:

    The last thing China needs is a “democratic” red tap at its high-level governments. That is one of the reason democracy is working in a very different way then the West.

  16. Wahaha Says:

    Raj,

    Let us categorize people in a society into three categories :

    1) The people who benefit most from the system and policies .

    2) The people who benefit more or less from the system and policies

    3) The people who benefit least or nothing from the system and policies

    Under a real democratic system, the conflict between group #1 and group #2, the conflict between group #1 and group #3 should be allowed. What is funny is that under western democracy, there is no conflict between #1 and #3 or between #1 and #2 onsurface. Weird, isnt it ?

    Then what causes that ? simple, the system put the government between people in group #1 and people in group #2, #3.

    So open your eyes to the real democracy under which people should be able to challenge the power in group #1. please dont talk to us about the benefit under democracy, we know that in 1980s. It is under which system is better for China, at least for the near future.

    About judicial system in China, I am with you on this one (maybe you should start a new thread about that), but dont connect it with democracy, as you have read on this thread, lot of us dont think your country has real democracy with the election.

  17. Shane9219 Says:

    @Raj #12

    This is surely an old topic. There is recently a thread on the subject of whether China is a democracy or meritocracy. In one of eariler discussion, I mentioned West’s definition on democracy is too narrow, since it is automatically equal to the definition of liberal democracy. What China has right now is an early form of consultative democracy under socialism.

    In order to maintain to be a socialism system, CCP’s majority on leadership has to be guaranteed in Constitution. The highest level governing bodies consists of well-regarded members representing the full range of Chinese society. This Chinese style consultative process often work much better with less cost then those open popular political contests in the West, which are often politically meaningless yet very costly, more style like a American Idle than substance — tell me how the ability to lead a huge nation has anything to do with hair style or face looking? If a leader is not good at verbal debate, does that makes him a unwise leader? The necessity to have a high-level debate skill has excluded many potential leaders in the West, such as those with business or engineering background.

    Prof. John L. Thornton wrote an essay on Foreign Affairs last year. It is one of those thoughtful and balanced view by a western scholar. Although I don’t totally agree with his writing, I would recommend it here, because his writing capture a good deal of China’s past history and current situation on the ground. There was a discussion thread on this forum last year.

    “Long Time Coming: The Prospects for Democracy in China ”
    partially from this link (http://www.reflectioncafe.net/2008/06/prospects-for-democracy-in-china.html)

    “China’s Leadership Challenge” is another essay from Prof. Thornton about China’s ongoing effort to develop its own style of leadership selection process.

    http://www.ccwe.org.cn/pic/2007/5/18/duNIM.f.pdf

  18. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Otto,

    “I’m not optimistic about this being implemented in China any time soon. Democracy is not compatible with having large portions of your territory inhabited by ethnic minorities who are not loyal to the state.”

    And I suppose your solution for implementing “democracy” is to crush the dissenting ethnic minorities?

    Shocking, positively shocking.

  19. Shane9219 Says:

    Prof. Yongnian Zheng, a renowned researcher, has written extensively over recent years about his opinion on China’s development. Here are a few:

    >>”Development options for China’s democracy”
    http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/updates/blog_posts/25_01_2008.php

    >> “Promoting Chinese democratisation by rethinking democracy”
    http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/updates/blog_posts/10_03_2008.php

    >> “China’s road to democracy: Building pluralism into the one-party system”
    http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/updates/blog_posts/10_06_2009.php

  20. raventhorn4000 Says:

    One can hardly say rationally that Western Democracies have “organized opposition parties”, since the few parties each country has pretty much all agree on policies most of the time. (Well, they like to sound as if they disagree with one another, but in office, they pretty much do the same things.)

    Just look at Obama, for all his campaign criticisms of Bush, has he closed Gitmo? Has he pulled out of Iraq?

    How can one call them “opposition parties”, when they only oppose each other in name only??

    Let’s get real here, USA should be called United States of Demorepublicraticans, because it’s all 1 big infighting party.

    Canada should just be called, the Northern Alliance of “Can’t decide if we are British, French, or Americans” Parliament.

    It’s common sense. Indecision is not “opposition parties”. Indecision is not “democracy”. Indecision is just indecision.

    *incidentally, funny theory about the name “Canada”.

    One theory suggested that the name originated when Spanish explorers, not having explored the northern part of the continent, wrote acá nada (“nothing here”) on that part of their maps. (which we now call Canada).

  21. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Raj:
    see what I mean. It’s like ringing a bell…for 2 people in particular, it seems.

    Some people like to have a plan before they build something. Others are happy to just start building, and see what happens…or maybe not build at all. To each his own, i suppose.

  22. barny chan Says:

    raventhorn4000 Says: “One can hardly say rationally that Western Democracies have “organized opposition parties”, since the few parties each country has pretty much all agree on policies most of the time. (Well, they like to sound as if they disagree with one another, but in office, they pretty much do the same things.)”

    Not for the first time, you seem to be the one struggling with rationality.

    It’s entirely rational that competing political parties have core values that are fundamentally similar because the majority of the electorate are familiar with the worst historical excesses of both the far right and far left. This doesn’t mean that there are aren’t significant and relevant options on offer as parties compete for the middle ground.

  23. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    I didn’t say their actions are irrational. I said calling them “opposition parties” is irrational, because frankly, they are not in “opposition” with each other in philosophy.

    You can really only call them “opposition parties”, if 1 party is the “Capitalists”, and the other party is the “Communists”.

    Those 2 would be “opposition parties”.

    Otherwise, what we have today in the West are “close relative parties”.

    🙂

    “Not for the first time, you seem to be the one struggling with rationality.”

    Maybe you should consider saving criticism for your own reading skills.

  24. raventhorn4000 Says:

    There is an old Chinese proverb, “Building a castle on air.”

    For those of you ignorant about that proverb, and building, It means you are BS’ing, when you make up fanciful stories of dream houses not grounded in reality.

  25. barny chan Says:

    r4000, your contributions are becoming increasingly irrelevant to any constructive dialogue. Why don’t you slow down, pause for breath, and leave behind the petty obfuscations? Both the tone and content of your posts are intended to stifle rather than open up debate.

  26. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    I answered you directly to your post, point to point.

    It’s only a dozen or so sentences, how much slower do you want me to go?

  27. barny chan Says:

    I repeat, your sequential and frenzied posts are intended to stifle the debate, but I’ll respond to #23.

    It’s a manifest absurdity to claim that “You can really only call them “opposition parties”, if 1 party is the “Capitalists”, and the other party is the “Communists”. I’ll accept that your particular world might boil down to these two fundamentalist positions, but my world, and that of many others, is more nuanced than this. Hopefully, one day you’ll join us.

  28. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    I gave 1 Chinese proverb in the follow up. Chill out!

    Well, if you want to call “democrats”, “conservatives”, “green”, etc. as “opposition parties”, be my guest. I don’t see them opposing much in substance.

    “nuanced” eh? 20 shades of “green” might be nuanced on wall paper, but most of us still call them all “green”.

    I like to see some “nuanced” understanding of the Chinese “red”, when you get around to that end of the spectrum.

  29. barny chan Says:

    r4000, why not leave your online fantasy world for a few days and engage with flesh and blood people? There’s a whole beautiful world of nuance and complexity out there. You might just like it…

  30. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I find enough truth in proverbs and reality.

    You should try expanding your “nuance” a little more. I have lived in 2 different nations. The world is far more “nuanced” than your little corner.

    🙂

  31. Wukailong Says:

    Barny and raventhorn4000, cool it a little. No need for name-calling. If this continues, comments will be closed by me and other moderators.

  32. raventhorn4000 Says:

    WKL,

    I have no problem with that.

  33. Shane9219 Says:

    >> “Political consultation is China’s contribution to world”

    “The Western academia, he observed, has been studying theories of “deliberative democracy” in recent years, mainly because the conventional, voting-centered system has fallen behind the people’s increasing demand for democracy.

    “The ‘deliberative democracy’ is similar to the Chinese political consultation system in many ways,” Li said, “but our system has been in practice for more than 50 years.”‘

    http://chinadaily.cn/china/2008-03/09/content_6520448.htm

    >> Book: China’s Communist Party By David Shambaugh Page 122

    On the three forms of democracy: 1) direct democracy, 2) democracy through negotiation, and 3) consultative democracy

    http://books.google.com/books?id=aMpj-MboMR4C&pg=PA122

    >> “Let a thousand democracies bloom” By David Shambaugh from NYT

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/06/opinion/06iht-edsham.1.6530408.html

  34. Shane9219 Says:

    >> Book: “China’s Rise: Challenges and Opportunities”
    by C. Fred Bergsten, Charles Freeman, Nicholas R. Lardy and Derek J. Mitchell

    An excerpt from the opening of Chapter 3:

    An open remark by China’s Premier Wen Jiabao

    “China should take its own path in enhancing democracy. We never view socialism and democracy as something that is mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, we see a high degree of democracy and well developed legal system as the inherent requirement of socialism and a key important feature of a mature socialist system. We are fully capable of building China into a country of democracy and rule of law under socialist conditions. We should explore ways to develop democracy with Chinese characteristics in light of China’s particular conditions. We should focus on efforts to promote economic development, protect lawful rights and interests of the people, fight corruption, increase public trust in government, strengthen government functions and enhance social harmony. And we should continue the reform in the political system by expanding democracy and improving the legal system. This will enable other members of the international community to better appreciate and accept the path of development taken by the Chinese people”

    Chapter 3: http://www.piie.com/publications/chapters_preview/4174/03iie4174.pdf

    More chapters from this book hosted by Peterson Institute for International Economics

    http://bookstore.piie.com/book-store/4174.html

    >> The original complete writing by Premier Wen Jiabao

    “Our Historical Tasks at the Primary Stage of Socialism and Several Issues Concerning China’s Foreign Policy”

    http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/ce/ceno/eng/dtxw/t301338.htm

  35. Wahaha Says:

    Some people like to have a plan before they build something. Others are happy to just start building, and see what happens…or maybe not build at all. To each his own, i suppose.

    SKC,

    When you said “To each his own”, it seems you were talking about youself, As you always try to apply the rules in a country of 0.033 billion people with rich natural resource to a country of 1.33 billion people with no natural resource.

    BTW, how do you think John Stuart Mill’s comment ? must fit your appetite very well, I guess.

  36. raventhorn4000 Says:

    And most people just end up buying something “Made in China”.

    🙂

  37. foobar Says:

    Who had which plan for what?

  38. Wukailong Says:

    @Shane9219: I’ve been looking forward to read the book by Shambaugh for a long time, and I’ll buy it the next time I go to the US (which incidentally happens to be this week). Also, Zheng Yongnian is indeed an interesting author and I’ve never been disappointed by his writings (I’ve read two of his books as well as most of the articles he publishes regularly in Lianhe Zaobao and the Nottingham China Policy website).

    @Raj (#12): First of all, great post. One of my hobby-horses is that we should clearly define the concepts we use, so as to avoid needless debate based on confusion. In the book “民主四讲” (Four speeches about democracy) by Wang Shaoguang, the author does make some points about what he considers “real democracy” that is left undefined, but when he has to make a more thorough description of it using statistics to prove some claims, he defines it in ways similar to the points you list above.

    I agree that democracy isn’t an all or nothing affair. Historically, democracy grew out of a need to calm simmering tension between various interest groups and classes in society (for a discussion about this, I refer interested parties to the first chapter of Wang’s book). That’s why the US and some European countries (Western and Northern) first instituted the system with voting based on income level. Later on, because of the worker’s movements, the suffragettes and other protest movements, this was extended until it was accepted as the right of all citizens in most places. Several countries, notably the UK, already had a very free press policy and a liberal framework before it became a full-blown democracy. Personally I think the most important thing in terms of democratic development is to gain more personal freedom (of expression and NGO:s) so that a transition to a more democratic regime comes easier. To quote Zheng Yongnian in one of the links Shane provided:

    “Another adverse effect of equating democratisation with “westernisation” is to mislead people’s understanding of democracy, especially in China and other developing countries. Many people have been unable to see democratic politics for what it is because they simply and mechanically dwell on some of the superficial forms of systems in the West, such as a multi-party system. Democratic politics is represented in different forms, and unique to each country. The form is important, but it does not represent the substance, which is made up by political competition, transparency, participation and accountability. Defined this way, democratic politics represents a value universal to mankind. As these qualities conform most to human nature, people necessarily aspire to a political system that is able to demonstrate such attributes.”

    Some of the points you raise at the end of the posting – “strengthen rule of law, increase judicial independence and separate public institutions and organisations from the CCP”, is something that has actually been seriously discussed in a book called “攻坚” (Storming the fortress) edited by Zhou Yongtian. I’ve been meaning to write a posting on some of the core tenets of that book, when I get more time… It’s conservative in some areas, far-reaching in others. One of the proposed reforms is to strengthen the system of the People’s Congress so that the CCP truly rules within the legal framework, under the supervision of the congress. Another point made in the book is that the government ought to further loose its power of society.

    The book is mentioned here:

    http://www.chinaelections.net/newsinfo.asp?newsid=19289

    It’s interesting to note that while the purpose of political reforms are mainly to remove obstacles to economic development, the book in itself is very critical of many aspects of the system. It’s quite different from many of the discussions here. 😉

  39. imagebilly Says:

    Jesus Christ! Why would we need democracy now? What China needs now is a Republic system built upon an ownership society (which is rapidly taking shape as observed by Pomfret)

    Many people say the USA is a democracy! They are wrong!

    See http://www.forwhichitstands.org/id45.html

    The word “democracy” is found neither in the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence. Listen to what the founding fathers of the USA said about democracy.

    “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” – John Adams

    “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” – Benjamin Franklin

    “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy… It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” – Alexander Hamilton

    “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.” – James Madison

    “The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.” – John Quincy Adams

    “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.” – John Marshall

    Let’s wipe out the liberals and turn the CCP into the Chinese Republican Party!!!

  40. Shane9219 Says:

    @Wukailong

    “It’s interesting to note that while the purpose of political reforms are mainly to remove obstacles to economic development, the book in itself is very critical of many aspects of the system. It’s quite different from many of the discussions here”

    There are some truth to that. Inside China, there have been active political debates (or what US like to call, policy debate) going for years since Deng’s era. These debates mostly focus on real and tough problems that need to be solved in short and long term, and often very critical of current system or policy. This is a self-strengthen and self-development process rooted deeply in Chinese culture.

    Western scholars paid sparse or little attention to these high-level debates until recently, and they are now playing a game of catching-up, as evidenced by various recent books on China from serious scholars, which, in my own view, are more robust than those superficial writing from some earlier causal travelers or journalists.

    Here I can provide you another interesting source for your personal review (in Chinese), in case you want to know the latest without waiting for someone’s book.

    燕山大讲堂_腾讯评论 : http://view.news.qq.com/ysdjt.htm

  41. Shane9219 Says:

    >> An overview on “Deliberative democracy”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliberative_democracy

    >> Research paper: “Deliberative Democracy in an Unlikely Place: Deliberative Polling in China”

    “This paper describes a local deliberative experiment in China. If deliberative democracy is unattainable even in advanced democracies, one might think it even further out of reach in modestly democratized or partially authoritarian systems like China’s. Yet the process and results we describe offer plausibly affirmative responses to all three questions. They constitute a kind of possibility proof, showing what might be attainable, even in a country like China, under favorable conditions.”

    http://cdd.stanford.edu/research/papers/2006/china-unlikely.pdf

    >> Book “The Search for Deliberative Democracy in China ”

    “This book investigates whether the theory of “deliberative democracy”–developed in the West to focus democratic theory on the legitimation that deliberation can afford–has any application to Chinese processes of democratization. It discovers pockets of theory especially useful to guide Chinese practices and pockets of Chinese practice that can, in turn, educate the West on possibilities for innovative uses of deliberative democratic theory”

    http://www.amazon.com/Search-Deliberative-Democracy-China/dp/1403974160

  42. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To R4000:
    “Those 2 would be “opposition parties”.”
    —are you this literal all the time? If you wanted to form a party that diabolically and geometrically opposed every government position, on this side of the pond, you’re free to do so. How much support would such a party have, do you think? In fact, there are communist parties in various provinces, though I’m not sure about nationally. But while the electorate is not unanimous in their philosophy, the majority share philosophies that are probably more similar than they are dissimilar. That a party may “oppose” the ruling party doesn’t mean they have to be the “opposite” of the ruling party. “Opposition” is derived from “oppose”, and not “opposite”. When the Penguins played in the Stanley Cup final, their opposition was the Red Wings. The Penguins are a hockey team, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings were a ballet company, or whatever the opposite of a hockey team would be.

    “fanciful stories of dream houses not grounded in reality.”
    —well, certainly not the CCP-sanctioned reality. Maybe someday, there’ll be alternatives to that.

    To Shane #34:
    that quote from Premier Wen sounds good. But it in fact leads right back to the purpose of Raj’s post here: how does China define democracy?

  43. Shane9219 Says:

    @SKC

    I have answered that question in my post #17. There are many types of democracy. There is no single consistent definition even among serous political scholars, including on the latest form so-called “deliberative democracy” (in Chinese term “consultative democracy”). Only God know how it is possible for Raj to come up one “gold’ standard definition.

  44. raventhorn4000 Says:

    SKC,

    Are your “Democracy” always so meaningless and irrational?

    If “Opposition parties” are not in “opposition”, then how do we even know your “democracy” is really “democracy”?

    Should I be less literal about “democracy” as well?

  45. Shane9219 Says:

    Earlier this year, China launched a three-year action plan to set up a new universal health-care system. This is another concrete example of deliberative democracy in action inside China.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/07/content_11145088.htm

    “Chan said health-care reform was “very complex and difficult,” and had different factors coming into play, which required efforts of both the public and leaders.

    She said central and local political leaders at different levels should consult with their people to try to find their own solutions.

    “One thing I have to say though… the level of consultation done by the Chinese government before they formally launch the health care reform is commendable,” Chan said.

    In the government’s early stage of deliberation and preparation, the WHO was among the agencies and organizations to provide advice and technical assistance, she said.

    The government also went held a major consultation process with the public by publishing the draft plan on health-care reform on the Internet for public debate.

    “Last year when they were doing the consultation, I actually went on the website to review some of the comments,” Chan said. “So this is already an indication of the commitment of the government to modernize their method of policy formulation.”

  46. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Seriously,

    The terminology of “opposition parties” in “democracy” is a complete misnomer, and suggests an inherent motive to deceive the People.

    Afterall, Communists in US, Canada, and Europe were hunted down and persecuted in the Cold War. The real “opposition party” was made to virtually disappear, and forced to hide underground in the West. (Forget about even trying to run for elections. FBI will come have a chat with you, even if there is a hint of “socialism” in your blood.)

    for what? “Sedition”, “treason”.

    India today outlaws “Naxalites”, even if merely suspected “naxalites”.

    *
    Perhaps we should be accurate about the terminologies. “Democracies” have list of “approved plural parties”.

    Here is a list from China of “approved plural parties”:

    The eight registered minor parties under CCP’s direction:

    Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang (Zhongguo Guomindang Geming Weiyuanhui). Formed by leftist members of the Kuomintang (KMT) who did not escape to Taiwan. 82,000 members. It is considered “second” in status to the Communist Party of China. Thus it has 30% of the seats in the People’s Political Consultative Conference.

    China Democratic League (Zhongguo Minzhu Tongmeng). Originally a league of pro-democracy parties. Formed by 144,000 members, mainly middle-level and senior intellectuals.

    China Democratic National Construction Association (Zhongguo Minzhu Jianguo Hui). Entrepreneurs from the manufacturing, financial or commercial industries, in both private and state sectors.

    China Association for Promoting Democracy (Zhongguo Minzhu Cujin Hui). Intellectuals, mostly in the education, technology and publishing sectors. Some 117,500 members.

    Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party (Zhongguo Nonggong Minzhu Dang). Most of its 65,000 members work in the fields of public health, culture and education, science and technology.

    China Zhi Gong Party (Zhongguo Zhi Gong Dang). Returned overseas Chinese, relatives of overseas Chinese, and noted figures and scholars who have overseas ties.

    September 3 Society (Jiu San Xueshe). Most of its 68,000 members are high- and medium level intellectuals in the fields of science, technology, education, culture and medicine.

    Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League (Taiwan Minzhu Zizhi Tongmeng). 1,600 people, most of whom are prominent people that are from Taiwan or are of Taiwanese heritage, but now reside on the Mainland.

  47. Raj Says:

    Wukailong (38)

    Out of curiosity, are both the books you mention fully accessible in China?

    I know that there is some debate about this subject, but it seems that the CCP is currently rather inflexible (at least officially) on going down even the gradualist route. I keep hearing about how it’s “impossible” to separate the CCP and the Army. I find it strange that a ruling party which was completely secure in its position would be so inflexible. Does it betray an underlying fear of what might happen if public institutions are separated from them?

    As for the People’s Congress, it would be a good step in the right direction if it acted like a real legislative (eg. actually sitting regularly each year rather than just a few weeks), but unfortunately I doubt we’ll see it anytime soon. At the moment the Politburo/elite is happy to have it as a bit of a joke. Was the last session some sort of record in terms of the brevity of the meeting/amount of time they actually discussed government business in the chamber?

  48. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Raj,

    “Inflexible” is relative to what the CCP has already done to separate the PLA and themselves. Complete separation between CCP and PLA is undoubtedly impossible, as it is any more possible for winning political parties in US to name the top military commanders.

    Prior to 1970’s, PLA has designated number of seats in the Parliament. Since 1970’s, with the establishment of the Constitution in 1984, the CCP has reduced number of seats available to the PLA.

    Thus, I find your characterization of “inflexible” rather baseless.

  49. Raj Says:

    Shane

    “Inflexible” is relative to what the CCP has already done to separate the PLA and themselves.

    Prior to 1970’s, PLA has designated number of seats in the Parliament. Since 1970’s, with the establishment of the Constitution in 1984, the CCP has reduced number of seats available to the PLA.

    That’s it?

    In any case, why should the military have any seats reserved for them? Soldiers can vote like any other CCP member.

    Thus, I find your characterization of “inflexible” rather baseless.

    Not if you consider that the full separation of the military from a political party to be the key issue and regard allocation of seats in what is essentially a rubber-stamping body small-fry.

  50. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Raj,

    the question is not what the system is, but rather whether it is changing “gradually”.

    If your argument is it is “inflexible”, then you should look at the change, not the merits of the system in 1 single point in time.

    *
    In any case, Military reserved seats in Parliament is not an unique feature of mainland China, under the general scheme of “functional constituency” also available in HK and Macau.

    Functional Constituency scheme was established by Great Britain in HK, to reserve legislative seats for members of each major professions in the society, by quota.

    While it accounts for a “double vote”, it is equivalent or similar to a “bicameral” legislative representation scheme. ie. 1 person can vote 1 time as a citizen, and 1 time through his professional capacity.

    *
    Indonesia also USED to have dedicated allotment of seats for military and police in their legislative body, up until 2004.

    *
    The Chinese Parliament system has a unique functional constituency for the PLA only, but PLA members can only vote through the PLA for their representative. It is not a double vote representation system.

    This is because PLA soldiers have no regular “residency” in any province, but rather they are mobile. To ensure their votes are captured, they have a dedicated allotment of representatives in the Parliament.

  51. Wahaha Says:

    ” …One of my hobby-horses is that we should clearly define the concepts we use, s….”

    “….Several countries, notably the UK, already had a very free press policy and a liberal framework before it became a full-blown democracy. …”

    WKL,

    So, in your opinion, the “free” world in west ALREADY set up the golden standard for democracy, I am sorry, we dont accept that standard.

  52. Wahaha Says:

    As I said, in “free” world, never do people have the power (or you never see people) to challenge the power and influence of the rich. I guess those rich are sort of saints, arent they ?

    Dont you think it is weird that in India, a billionaire dared to build a 2 billionaire dollar home and not worried about being bashed by politicians and media ?

    Dont you think it is weird that the so-called “free” media kept talking about why govenrment had to use taxpayers’s money to save those bankers but almost turned blind eyes on people’s angry ?

    Dont you think it is weird after all of the huge mess caused by the rich on wall street, the so called “people’s” governments, in US and in Europe, not only didnt punish those bankers, they tried to use taxpayer’s money to save them ?

  53. Shane9219 Says:

    @admin

    Why my post @ #45 got filtered? It is all about a simple fact and real event in China.

  54. JXie Says:

    If we stick to the classic definition of the word “democracy”, by the likes of Plato (in the book Republic) and the American founding fathers, none of the major nations today are really “democracies”. For instance, in a truly utopian democracy, people should be allowed to directly vote for issues such as abortion, gun ownership, interest rate, or even in the realm of criminal justice such as whether OJ Simpson should be convicted. The downside risk of such society, as one really thinks it through, is the tyranny of the majority and the lack of the protection of liberty and property rights of the minority. So instead of figuring out what you are willing to call what nations as democracy, the better approach is figuring out how democratic a nation is, i.e. in a scale of 0 to 100, China may be 45, Iran may be 30, the US may be 70, and the UK may be 65… The implication of such thought process is that it’s entirely possible for a nation to be too democratic to the detriment of the total happiness of a society, which is assumed as the ultimate goal of a society.

    That’s only half of the battle. The true battle, and it’s where the rubble meets the road, is how you convince China that it’s the best interest for the Chinese to increase their democratic score, so to speak, and at what pace. Many Chinese look at the idiots such as Gordon Brown and W. Bush these “democracies” produce (compared to Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao), the crumbing infrastructure, financial blackholes these once first-world nations facing, and can’t help but wonder, why? I am just wondering out loud here, is it possible that many of these nations are already in the zone of “too democratic”? China may be 45 and the US may be 70, but is it possible that the ideal score for China given the cultural background, may be something like 52?

  55. Shane9219 Says:

    @JXie

    I like your proposal, the question is how to quantify subjective ideological thing like democracy?

  56. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To R4000:
    (shaking of the head once again)
    “If “Opposition parties” are not in “opposition””
    —I didn’t say opposition parties are not in opposition? Which distorted version of my #42 were you reading to come up with such a goofy statement? What I did say was that opposition parties need not champion the exact opposite position of the parties they oppose. Do you need me to explain that last sentence to you again? Which is why these 2 statements (R4000 #23) (“if 1 party is the “Capitalists”, and the other party is the “Communists”.Those 2 would be “opposition parties””) are certifiably nuts. We’re talking about “opposition parties”; not “opposite parties”. Are you having trouble distinguishing between “oppose” and “opposite”?

    #46 is also cute. Democracies have “registered” political parties; but they don’t require “approval”. And if you think “eight registered minor parties under CCP’s direction” makes China a democracy, then good on you. But if you ever had doubts, you only need focus on the last 3 words of that phrase to understand why.

    #48: In the US, the military is answerable to the office of the President, not to the party to which the president belongs. In China, the PLA answers to the CCP. That seems like a pretty fundamental difference to me.

    To Shane #43:
    you’re right, you had discussed the types; forgot about that. But which one is Wen, or China, picking? And why?

  57. Steve Says:

    @ JXie #54: The United States was never meant to be a utopian democracy, it was meant to be a representative democracy with checks and balances against “the tyranny of the majority”, separation of powers, and codified individual rights. Even rudimentary direct democracy was impossible in those days because of distance and lack of technology. To use that definition to say that “none of the major nations today are really democracies” is a serious misuse of the term. You’re taking a very narrow and impractical view of the word, and ignoring historical precedent and development.

    The closest thing to a “direct democracy” in today’s world is California ballot proposition system, and I think you’ll get a good argument from R4K against that one. 🙂

    I’m not sure where you got your “democracy” numbers” from. They seem to be totally arbitrary. Unless you can affix specific weights to measure the democratic value of certain practices (which I thought was the purpose of Raj’s post), they don’t seem to have any meaning. Did you go through that exercise already? How would you rank the various aspects of democracy in that way?

    I also think your idea is a good one and could spur some interesting discussion on the various ways a society can be democratic. But to judge a system, you can’t judge the success or competence of specific leaders but only the system itself. A system has to be judged independent of the individuals involved in its administration. For instance, I’ve been pretty critical of Jiang’s Taiwan policy in the past, but I can’t use that to criticize China’s government structure. Neither can I use the effectiveness of Hu’s Taiwan policy to positively judge the value of that same system. The only way I could bring that into the discussion would be to use either one’s manipulation of the system (similar to what GWB did with Gitmo) to criticize the democratic value of said system.

    You can have a pure democracy where the government is poorly structured and ineffective. You can have a non-democratic government that is extremely well structured and effective. Brasil is a good example of a government that has had to undergo frequent structural change in its history. They have rewritten their constitution many, many times. The United States has used the same basic Constitution for over 200 years with relatively few amendments being added. The initial sound structure served the country well over its lifetime.

    Democracy is a component or style of government, it is not government. It is not a system; it is but one component of a system. We can’t stretch the definition too far. That’s why you’ll hear the phrase “Democratic Republic” used a lot.

    @ Shane #43: Does your ruling out of a “gold standard” which is a way to quantify the various aspects of defining democracy, also rule out JXie’s idea of affixing values to each of those aspects?

  58. JXie Says:

    Steve,

    It’ll be an interesting study to find out when the word “democracy” started taking up its prevailing meaning of today. Many American founding fathers spoke vehemently against “democracy”. Other than the quotes imagebilly gave, James Madison’s The Federalist No. 10 is also a great read. Anyway, the US was never meant to be a representative democracy, but rather a constitutional republic. BTW, you may want to quote my statement in its full context before you start debunking it.

    You are right indeed my democratic scores are very much arbitrary. It was only meant to change the mindset from seeing the world in 0 to 1 (democratic or non-democratic) to 0 to 100 (how democratic), and hopefully deepen the converstation.

  59. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve #57

    I agree mostly the first half of your post. The confusion is in the second half.

    >> “Democracy is a component or style of government, it is not government. It is not a system” — that is the most confusing part.

    In my view, there is this common notion of “democracy as an ideology” — the “abstract democracy” that everyone in the West love to talk about. When they mention such thing, they do not mean any specific form of democratic system.

    When coming to an actual country, democracy is often referred to those democratic systems or components that a country has implemented in their government. I think this is the reason confuses many, especial for people like Raj 🙂

    Let’s talk democracy more within the context of an implemented system, less as an abstract ideology. Once a democratic system is in practice, it will reveal various interesting problems as you pointed out. Are these problems inherent to such system? Can they be changed? If so, how to fix them? You would agree that answers to the above questions are critical to California right now.

    If no timely fix is introduced to California’s democratic system after limping for over a dozen years either due to the inability of a self-correction or out of a common selfishness by voters, then this system is broken as an utopia. And only God can change it, since all powers are derived from God in US Constitution.

  60. JXie Says:

    The other interesting aspect is many Chinese interpret the Chinese word minzhu more closely to the classic definition of the English word democracy, than its modern definition.

  61. Steve Says:

    @ JXie #58: The Federalist No. 10 is all about the need for checks and balances, and the avoidance of the “tyranny of the majority” which in this case, meant the more populous northern states compared to Jefferson and Madison’s state of Virginia and the rest of the south. Madison uses the word “democracy” specifically to differentiate between a democratic majority rule and a constitutional republic, though that constitutional republic he argues for has democratic principles throughout. I’m totally with Madison on this one, majority rule is a bad thing.

    What has changed from Madison’s time and from what is written in this document is the enlargement of the voting franchise. Back then they argued for white male property owners as being in sole possession of the franchise. Since that is no longer the case, those provisions that Madison referred to are no longer valid.

    “Democracy” as generally referred to in that time is simply the vote of citizens to elect their representatives, that’s why they called the United States a “democratic revolution”. The United States was a constitutional republic with a democratic voting system. Voting took place in some countries but did not in others. The US franchise, though severely limited in today’s world, was not considered limited in that one. In fact, it was considered too liberal and set off a reaction in European countries when their citizens started demanding the same rights as Americans.

    Today’s democracies are far more democratic than the democracies of that time, as many bloggers here continue to point out.

    I agree that democracy is not a binary judgment. However, I’m still not sure how I did not quote your statement in full context. I apologize if I did not, but would you kindly show me where I went wrong?

  62. JXie Says:

    Steve,

    Brazil is another interesting study in its self. It’s as much naturally blessed on a per capita basis as the US, if not more. Much like the US, Brazil has never had the problems having faced by China: the relative lack of resources including space, farm land, fresh water, and increasingly breathable air, etc. After the end of Portuguese imperial control of Brazil, it had a constitution very similar to the US Constitution, yet that didn’t last. To me, it’s not about the constitution, or the system, but rather a combination of the culture (for Brazil it’s Latin culture/predominantly Catholicism), the system, and how well the system and the culture interact with each other. In that sense, China will have to seek its own path.

  63. JXie Says:

    Steve, for example I certainly wouldn’t argue the US isn’t a democracy in today’s meaning of that word, but rather my first sentence, which you argued against, meant that all nations today (including the US) aren’t democracies in the meaning used by Plato and American founding fathers.

  64. Steve Says:

    @ #59: Hi Shane, thanks for the comments.

    I might not have been clear enough in defining democracy. It’s really not that difficult, the devil is in the details. Democracy is simply a system where people vote by secret ballot for their leaders on a timed basis. That timing might be every 2 or 4 years as in the States, or within a certain time frame as in the UK or other parliamentary systems. That’s all it really means. The expansion or contraction of democracy is determined by who is eligible to vote, if the candidacy for office is open to all, and if the vote is kept secret and tallied accurately. The details are in the design of the constitutional system.

    The biggest problem I see in the California system is gerrymandering. Currently, there is a permanent Democratic majority built in to the Legislature. I’m not saying that Democrats are bad and Republicans are good, but that any one party that stays in power for too long will become inefficient. It happened with the Democrats controlling Congress for 40 year, and happened more recently with the Republicans controlling Congress for 12 years. You can’t “throw the bums out” if the structure of the system doesn’t allow for it.

    The powers derived by “God” is not what some might think. That God was Deist, closer to the Tao than some old guy with a white beard. Virtually all the founding fathers were Deists. We were in the Enlightenment back then. The notion of an infallible Bible, an infallible Pope, something called the Rapture, etc. didn’t occur until well into the 1800s. They were later concepts. The world of that time was Newtonian and educated minds felt God had created it and now it ran itself using fundamental principles of Physics. Everything had an order, including government. It was the founding father’s job to figure out the correct order for government structure.

    So I guess the next step we can all take is to, as Shane suggests, look at democracy as an implemented system and measure the steps in that system. Then define the problems and solutions to those problems. At that point, we should be much closer to completing Raj’s comparison chart.

  65. Steve Says:

    @ JXie #62: I used Brasil because I know a lot of Brasilians and the problems they’ve had with their system. The major problem, and the reason they’ve had to keep re-writing their constitution, is that they wrote in too many details, and the document would be obsolete and impractical in a relatively short period of time. The key to the US Constitution is that because it is written in more vague terms, it can adapt to changing circumstances more easily.

    Sometimes that vagueness can cause headaches, though. The second amendment comes to mind. Back then, guns were muzzle loaders capable of firing one shot per 30-60 seconds, depending on the skill of the gunner. They had very little accuracy, so were fired in volleys.

    The Kentucky Long Rifle came into use in the early 1800s and the rifling of the barrel made it quite accurate. The Battle of New Orleans was won by the accuracy of rifled barrels. The British officers wore bright uniforms to easily distinguish themselves from enlisted men. Before the British could get into range, American sharpshooters gunned them down with their long range accuracy. Without officers, the British army was helpless because in their system, enlisted men could not take command in any situation. This was an army that had just defeated Napoleon so they were highly disciplined.

    No one back then could have seen the development of the machine gun, automatic rifle, RPG, armor piercing bullets and rapid fire magazines. Yet that same amendment is still used to determine the government’s position on gun rights. So I guess it can be a blessing and a curse. 😉

    The single largest religious denomination in the United States is Catholicism. I think the bigger difference between us and them is our large middle class. There are too many uneducated and undereducated poor there and that, to me, is their greatest hindrance to development. There seems to be a lot of improvement in that regard so Brasil is also developing rapidly.

    I found the problems you mentioned about China to be very interesting: “the relative lack of resources including space, farm land, fresh water, and increasingly breathable air”. Isn’t China currently the third largest country, land wise, in the world? I’d think that space isn’t the problem, overpopulation is. And I commend China for the way they’ve taken heat but still stuck to their guns about the one child policy. Farm land has decreased in part because of overgrazing. The deserts are quickly encroaching on valuable farmland causing soil erosion. Part of this was poor farming methods in the past, but a large part was overpopulation. From what I’ve read, the loss of farmland hasn’t peaked yet but continues to get worse from year to year. Other farmland is being taken out of production in order to build homes and factories. Fresh water and breathable air are both man made so both can be solved if there is the will to do so. But I was recently reading that with the present tough economic circumstances, all those programs have been put on hold in order to maintain the 6-8% growth goal.

    @ JXie #63: Now I understand what you meant. Sorry about the misunderstanding. Mea culpa…

  66. Shane9219 Says:

    @Steve

    >> “You can’t “throw the bums out” if the structure of the system doesn’t allow for it.”

    As you correctly observed that voters should be able to vote a party out once they got fed up. This may be possible for a representatives system. Under California’s direct democratic ballot system, the decision was made by a large majority of Californian themselves. If they are not willing to face the reality and make a sacrifice, they can not vote themselves out, right? Under situations like this, direct democracy, which is also the most preferred form by Europeans, is simply broken and incapable of a self-correction. That is the reason I say only God can fix such helpless situation.

  67. Jed Says:

    China isnt ready for democracy nor has it earned it…I feel a Jackie Chan moment coming on…..yeah, China needs a lot more time to “grow-up” and a bit of iron will has to keep 1.4 billion rabble in line…democracy wouldn’t work here, Chinese culture and society isnt sophisticated enough yet

  68. Wahaha Says:

    I remember when we talked about “Charter 08”, it is said that Charter 08 had nothing special as most of it was already in China’s constitution, the problem is implementation.

    The same can be said about democracy : a major part of democracy is about fair treatment when decision is made, Voting is not implementation, at least voting is just a very very very small part of implementation on the assumption that elected will care people more. (is it true ? very doubtful.)

    So to see if a system is more democracy (I dont believe there is absolute democracy), you have to see how many factors are involved in decision making, who can affect the decision making, if the decision made favor special group.

    Therefore, if talking about decision making, China is currently more democratic than countries in West. but about preventing dictatorship (which is main reason for the system in America), west countries are far far more democratic.

  69. barny chan Says:

    As for China not being “ready for democracy”, it’s a chicken and egg situation. Authoritarian regimes infantilise their populations, and they’re unable to grow up until they reach a basic level of freedom which allows them to make some mistakes. There’s no reason to believe that a timetabled move to a genuinely democratic system would lead to chaos whatever misjudgements were made along the way.

  70. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    It’s a historical fact that every democracy / republic have degenerated into chaos and became dictatorships.

    What would be the point of going there, if we are just going to go back to something possibly even worse?!

    You keep hoping of something “better”, that’s noble.

    Some of us keep worrying about something far “worse”, that’s pragmatic.

    I think some of us are quite validly concerned about the development of Western “democracies” in recent years, and it does not give us much confidence in your “better” way.

  71. barny chan Says:

    How can it possibly be a “historical fact that every democracy / republic have degenerated into chaos and became dictatorships”? Are you communicating with us from the year 2010?

  72. scl Says:

    The real question is: do you want China to totally change her constitution? China can implement her constitution and become a democracy, and still be a socialist country, without major amendments to her constitution. There was a time, while Deng was still among us in this world, some western experts insisted that China would be unable to find a peaceful way to transfer power. But China seems fine after all these years.

  73. JXie Says:

    @Steve #65, just happens that I have spent quite a bit time in Brazil and consider it my 3rd home country. Here are my two cents.

    The root cause of the difference in living standard between the US and Brazil, to a certain extent, US/Canada and Latin America at large, is mostly cultural and somewhat historical. Sizes of middle class, and the education levels, are merely symptoms not the cause. I doubt the verbiages of the Brazilian Constitutions are the cause either. What have driven the US to a much higher living standard, is its Protestant Work Ethic (Max Weber). In my personal experience, Brazilians on average are much more free-spirited than Americans, and far better dancers & lovers. But on the other hand if I have to choose an average Brazilian or an average American as my business partner, there is no contest.

  74. Chan Says:

    Raj,

    Just letting you know that I will be re-posting another one of my articles from my site to here soon. It happens to be about democracy.

    But please undertsand that the article is NOT meant to be a rebuttal of your article. Neither is it a response to your article. In fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with your article. It is a pure coincidence that mine follows right after yours. It has always been my plan to transfer ALL my articles here on FM. And my Democracy 2-part series just happened to be the next and last to be transferred.

  75. Steve Says:

    @ JXie #73: I wasn’t trying to imply that Brasil is similar culturally to the United States. I was simply addressing your initial remarks about Brasil having had a constitution very similar to the United States. I was saying it did not. I also said that the largest single denomination in the United States is Catholicism. Italy, France, Spain, Austria, the Philippines, Slovakia, etc. are predominately Catholic. I don’t see this as being a reason for any difference between the culture. I think it’s just the general culture itself. There are also more Japanese in Brasil than any other country in the world outside Japan. It’s an interesting fact, but I wouldn’t give it any credence in terms of a cultural comparison.

    Concerning the cultural differences you outlined, I think you’re right on the money. The only culture in South America I’ve found so far that has a really strong work ethic is Chile. It’s a nice country to visit if you’ve never been there.

  76. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Barny #71:
    I think it’s historical facts according to him; or perhaps select historical facts that suit him; or maybe historical facts up till the 1930’s (I think he likes quoting the Weimar). Present day may or may not matter much to him.

    To scl #72:
    I think some have previously discussed that the Chinese constitution sounds good on paper, but some of the espoused concepts have stagnated at the “on paper” stage for some time.

  77. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    Obviously, I’m referring to “historical facts”, not predictions.

    Greece, Rome, Venetian Republic, Weimar Republic, all descended into chaos and dictatorship.

    SKC,

    yes, they are “historical facts up till the 1930’s”.

    That’s lot more history than anything you have.

  78. barny chan Says:

    In other words, r4000, you were simply incorrect in stating that it is an “historical fact that every democracy / republic have degenerated into chaos and became dictatorships”.

  79. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    I see nothing wrong with my statement.

    It’s “historical fact”. Not predictions of the future.

    Afterall, West didn’t get universal suffrage until recent decades. Not much history on “Western Democracy” yet.

    🙂

  80. barny chan Says:

    r4000, you might see nothing wrong in your statement but everybody else can see that it was without foundation.

  81. Raj Says:

    raven (50)

    Raj,

    the question is not what the system is, but rather whether it is changing “gradually”

    On the topic that we are discussing, that of the close ties between all public organisations, departments, etc and one political party, there is no meaningful change. Even if the PLA was not given any seats at the National Congress it wouldn’t help separate the State from the CCP.

    In any case, Military reserved seats in Parliament is not an unique feature of mainland China, under the general scheme of “functional constituency” also available in HK and Macau.

    Functional Constituency scheme was established by Great Britain in HK, to reserve legislative seats for members of each major professions in the society, by quota.

    Hong Kong was a colony on the other side of the world from Britain. Functional constituencies have no place in a country’s national assembly. Plus there is a special reason not to reserve legislative seats for the military, because they should not be political. As you mentioned, Indonesia changed its system.

    This is because PLA soldiers have no regular “residency” in any province, but rather they are mobile. To ensure their votes are captured, they have a dedicated allotment of representatives in the Parliament.

    I’m sure something could be worked out so they don’t need to be allocated seats. They could be registered to vote in their parents’ towns or wherever.

  82. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To R4000:
    “That’s lot more history than anything you have.”
    —indeed. I’ll have to content myself with more recent history, up to and including (gasp) the present day.

  83. raventhorn4000 Says:

    BC,

    “you might see nothing wrong in your statement but everybody else can see that it was without foundation.”

    I think your statement is more far assuming than mine. “EVERYBODY ELSE”???!!! REALLY??!!!

    🙂

  84. raventhorn4000 Says:

    SKC,

    “—indeed. I’ll have to content myself with more recent history, up to and including (gasp) the present day.”

    Well, be happy with your narrow view and your ignorance. GO FLOAT your boat!! and since you have nothing relevant to add, the rest of us will discuss the importance of history without you.

  85. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Raj,

    “On the topic that we are discussing, that of the close ties between all public organisations, departments, etc and one political party, there is no meaningful change. Even if the PLA was not given any seats at the National Congress it wouldn’t help separate the State from the CCP.”

    Frankly, that’s not true. Only 70% of the Chinese Parliament members are CCP members. the remaining are either independent or from 1 of the several “approved parties”, or “opposition parties” (with nuanced “red”). 🙂 Obviously, if PLA seats are reduced in the Parliament, more seats are allocated to all other types of members, including independent members.

    And it’s not a rubber stamp, the last revision of property law went several rounds in Parliament, and the final vote was not unanimous. It’s just customary that draft laws do not get presented to the Parliament, unless they are fairly certain of passage. Draft revision of Property law was withdrawn from the Parliament in 2006 when there was not enough votes to guarantee its passage.

    “Hong Kong was a colony on the other side of the world from Britain. Functional constituencies have no place in a country’s national assembly. Plus there is a special reason not to reserve legislative seats for the military, because they should not be political. As you mentioned, Indonesia changed its system.”

    HK didn’t have a military to reserve the seats.

    Plus, I’m not here to argue the validity of that practice. It’s enough that CCP reduced the extent of the practice.

    Hence, they are flexible enough to move toward “gradual” separation of military from political.

    If you are suggesting that they shouldn’t have, the CCP had its own rationales for the system. (as I mentioned, the mobility of the troops made it difficult for them to participate in the political process).

    Yes, Indonesia only changed it in 2004. It was still a “change”. “Gradual change” is also a “change” nonetheless.

    “I’m sure something could be worked out so they don’t need to be allocated seats. They could be registered to vote in their parents’ towns or wherever.”

    That is to be worked out in time. the system will not change over night.

  86. Wukailong Says:

    @Raj (#47): “Out of curiosity, are both the books you mention fully accessible in China?”

    Yes. Actually, the book about democracy is quite critical of the concept and is written in a way that’s acceptable on the mainland, but like so many other books it’s written in such a way that it can mention “unpleasant” facts without getting into trouble.

    “I keep hearing about how it’s “impossible” to separate the CCP and the Army. I find it strange that a ruling party which was completely secure in its position would be so inflexible. Does it betray an underlying fear of what might happen if public institutions are separated from them?”

    The army is a special case. Actually, the army is separate from the party, but it’s said that the army works for the party rather than the country. I agree that’s quite a strange state of affairs, but like it says in 攻坚, the worry is that a nationalized army will side with an opposition or some other organization. The nationalization of the army tends to be an important step in ending one-party rule, so it’s quite obvious why it’s still not going to happen.

    “As for the People’s Congress, it would be a good step in the right direction if it acted like a real legislative (eg. actually sitting regularly each year rather than just a few weeks), but unfortunately I doubt we’ll see it anytime soon. At the moment the Politburo/elite is happy to have it as a bit of a joke. Was the last session some sort of record in terms of the brevity of the meeting/amount of time they actually discussed government business in the chamber?

    That’s actually a change proposed in 攻坚. It would work more like a regular parliament.

    @Wahaha (#51): “So, in your opinion, the “free” world in west ALREADY set up the golden standard for democracy, I am sorry, we dont accept that standard.”

    Hmm, where should I start… I’m surprised you’re saying this because you’ve been quite consistent on the point that China should not have democracy, and you’ve made several arguments against the system. I’m fine with that. My problem is when people say they’re for democracy and against the “Western” system, but can’t mention what an alternative system is or how it should be organized. The one exception to this is Shane who’ve mentioned deliberative democracy, but that’s not exactly an alternative system (though that’s not saying it’s not interesting).

    Many Western countries are not up to the golden standard, but it’s hard to deny that the UK was first both with the beginnings of a modern democratic system and also industrialization. Perhaps you don’t agree that a modern democracy is the way to go. Athens (not Greece) was a much more participatory system, definitely an alternative version of democracy (and the original concept, in fact), but there you had a lot of exclusions.

    Wang Shaoguang has brought up the idea of a jury system in politics, similar to the way it works in the American legal system. That would be another sort of alternative democracy.

    @raventhorn4000 (#85): “And it’s not a rubber stamp, the last revision of property law went several rounds in Parliament, and the final vote was not unanimous. It’s just customary that draft laws do not get presented to the Parliament, unless they are fairly certain of passage. Draft revision of Property law was withdrawn from the Parliament in 2006 when there was not enough votes to guarantee its passage.”

    Indeed, the National Congress is getting more clout. I remember reading somewhere that the first nay vote came during the early 80s, and created a stir at the time. Now it’s very common.

    @Shane9219: I don’t know why your comment in 45 got voted down. I moderated it up. 🙂 My guess is that the moderator who voted it down didn’t see your mention of deliberative democracy and thought it was off-topic.

    @raventhorn4000 (#77): Certainly the Weimar republic was a democracy in the modern sense of the word, but in what way was Rome, Greece (Athens?) or the Venetian Republic democratic?

    Finally, I should say that I am by no means satisfied with what exists now. Democracies are historically a new kind of government, and some of them (notably the US) spend way too much money on election campaigns and lobbying. I don’t think the authoritarian government in China is any alternative though – it’s based on a Russian interpretation of a German philosophy mixed with an economic system originally from the West. Certainly an interesting mix though.

  87. raventhorn4000 Says:

    WKL,

    Rome, Greece, and Venetian Republic had earliest forms of direct election for representation.

    Greece (Athens particular) had direct votes on most main issues, like taxes, war, etc. Most Greek city states had similar arrangements of direct or representative voting system. Sparta had a direct election for its ruling council of elders, by votes from all of its male citizens, but citizenship was dependent upon military service, and all males had to serve in the military. (Of course, Sparta also had a Constitution, and 2 Kings, neither could make decisions alone. The ultimate check and balance system.)

    But after many years of wars among the democratic Greek city states, Alexander the Great 1st take over as King of Macedonia, and then puts the rest of Greece under subjugation.

    Rome, mocked the Greeks for their “decadence”, but had a system of representative Democracy, not so unlike the Greeks. All adult male Romans had a vote for a senator. It’s a direct election system. And keep in mind, Early Roman republic conquered near by cities in Italy, but also offered the conquered immediate Roman citizenship and voting rights.

    The Venetian Republic had direct elections of its council of elders by all the family clans in Venice. It was not a direct election system that we know, but the “families” constituted a voting block of clans in Venice. the Leader of Venetian Republic, the Doge, is in turn also elected by the “families”.

    *and I think you attribute too much of Russian, German influence in the Chinese system.

    The current Chinese system is very similar to what is termed “neo-Confucian” government, where the government concerns are divided between the “Wen” the Intellectuals in charge of civil internal affairs, and the “Wu”, the military.

    ODDLY enough, this system of 2 groups of ministers of the “Wen”, and the “Wu”, is very similar to the Venetian Republic, where the Doge appoints 1 Minister of Economy, and 1 Minister of War.

    But the Chinese top leadership is no longer a single powerful leader, but a Committee of legislators. For example, the order to send the PLA was issued by this committee, NOT by Deng alone, the committee had in fact votes against sending the PLA.

    Under the classic Confucian government, the backbone of the government is the academy of Confucian Scholars. Today, the CCP is the equivalent role player.

    I would argue that Mao didn’t really bring “Communism” into China, he simply slap a “Communism” label onto a very basic “neo-Confucian” Chinese style government.

    Afterall, Mao was not very familiar with “Communism”, Mao studied classic Confucian doctrines as a child. He never went abroad. He only had minimal exposure to “Communism” and “socialism” as an adult.

    And he famously disagreed with many Soviet trained Communists on the direction that China should go.

    “Maoism” in effect, is a form of “neo-Confucian doctrine”.

  88. Rhan Says:

    “I would argue that Mao didn’t really bring “Communism” into China, he simply slap a “Communism” label onto a very basic “neo-Confucian” Chinese style government.”

    I agree.

    Can I say if this Chinese style government turns bad, the only way to overthrow the Chinese style evil polity is to start another civil war?

  89. Raj Says:

    raven

    “On the topic that we are discussing, that of the close ties between all public organisations, departments, etc and one political party, there is no meaningful change. Even if the PLA was not given any seats at the National Congress it wouldn’t help separate the State from the CCP.”

    Frankly, that’s not true. Only 70% of the Chinese Parliament members are CCP members. the remaining are either independent or from 1 of the several “approved parties”, or “opposition parties” (with nuanced “red”). Obviously, if PLA seats are reduced in the Parliament, more seats are allocated to all other types of members, including independent members.

    I’m talking about removing institutions like the Armed forces from CCP allegiance and them being loyal to the country. However, now that you’ve mentioned it the non-CCP members are not independent. They still have to be approved by the authorities, and the opposition “parties” do not operate on their own, separate agenda.

    And it’s not a rubber stamp, the last revision of property law went several rounds in Parliament, and the final vote was not unanimous. It’s just customary that draft laws do not get presented to the Parliament, unless they are fairly certain of passage. Draft revision of Property law was withdrawn from the Parliament in 2006 when there was not enough votes to guarantee its passage.

    raven, only in places like North Korea and Iraq do you find unanimous results. I know full well that not everyone in the Assembly votes “yes”, but the fact is the vast majority of votes have massive government majorities. You do not need unanimity for something to be rubber-stamp. In the last five years, how many government bills have been voted down?

    The problem of the property law was not the Assembly alone being unhappy, it was about a split in the Communist Party. If the CCP had been fully behind the law then there would have been no such

    Plus, I’m not here to argue the validity of that practice. It’s enough that CCP reduced the extent of the practice. Hence, they are flexible enough to move toward “gradual” separation of military from political.

    It is not enough and it does not show they’re flexible.

    If you are suggesting that they shouldn’t have, the CCP had its own rationales for the system. (as I mentioned, the mobility of the troops made it difficult for them to participate in the political process).

    Yes, the CCP does have its own reason for this. It wants to keep the armed forces close. I’ve already said that there are ways to give soldier a vote (even if it doesn’t count for much) without having seats reserved for the PLA.

    Yes, Indonesia only changed it in 2004. It was still a “change”. “Gradual change” is also a “change” nonetheless.

    Indonesia changed in a much, much greater way. Why can’t China move like Indonesia? Is China more backwards than Indonesia or something, with “bound feet” and can only hobble in tiny steps? No, of course not. There is nothing stopping removal of military-reserved seats, just a bureaucratic re-organising of where people can be counted as voting.

    “I’m sure something could be worked out so they don’t need to be allocated seats. They could be registered to vote in their parents’ towns or wherever.”

    That is to be worked out in time. the system will not change over night.

    Why is it a choice between change in one day and change over the course of decades. There is no reason why the authorities cannot sort this out in a year or so. Moreover have they even announced they will make such changes?

    I find your comment interesting, because when anyone proposes political reform in China there’s always someone who paints it as a choice between immediate and chaotic change and change that’s so slow you can barely see it. In reality change can occur at a steady but reasonably decent pace. It isn’t a choice between the pace of a snail or that of a cheetah.

  90. JXie Says:

    @Steve, #75: Brazil’s Old Republic Constitution, which lasted about 4 decades, was modeled after the US Constitution. Incidentally that constitution ended in 1930 after the stock market crashed, and the commencement of the Great Depression, when the old US model became less appealing.

  91. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000 (#87): There have been voting or electoral processes in all of the states you mention, and I guess it can be seen as a sort of democracy, but it’s been highly curtailed. Voting as a procedure seems to have appeared in many places as a way to solve conflicts between elite groups.

    As for the government of China as being basically a neo-Confucian one, I don’t agree it’s the most basic tenet and I think the role of the philosophies and ruling techniques of the CCP has been greatly influenced by European and Russian practices. Certainly there is a Confucian influence as well, but it’s quite obvious that Mao’s rule was a break with the past. He might not have had a clear understanding of marxism, but no Confucian scholar would start something like the Cultural Revolution.

    As for wen and wu, I think it’s basic not just for Confucianism but any government. Of course, some governments, notably the US, put a lot more emphasis on wu than others do. 🙂

  92. Wukailong Says:

    @JXie (#90): That’s interesting. It’s quite obvious that any form of government will have as much confidence as it has economic clout. China’s development model seems to gain more acceptance as it grows in size. In this article, the author makes the same point about the depression last century, when liberal democracy was considered by many as the worst form of government, with socialism and fascism (!) as better alternatives:

    http://www.zompist.com/predic.htm

    “By this time, it’s such a commonplace that communism doesn’t work that it’s hard– especially for Americans– to understand why anyone ever thought it would. But remember the ’30s, when the capitalist nations had all knocked themselves into grinding poverty, and Soviet industry, unaffected by the collapse, was burgeoning. Soon fascist industry added to the shame; liberal capitalism looked like it was running a distant third. And in the ’50s, analysts worried themselves silly over the Soviet growth rate, which by some measures was three times that of the U.S.”

  93. Shane9219 Says:

    @R4K

    >> ““Maoism” in effect, is a form of “neo-Confucian doctrine”’

    Mao was a big follower of May-4th movement. Maoism is totally against Confucian tradition.

    PRC founders, fortunately, did carry much Confucian tradition and drafted a Constitution with hints of Confucian doctrine, especially with Chinese model of People’ Congress.

    Deliberative democracy, a non-confrontational way on policy formulation, fits the Confucian doctrine quite well.

    If you prefer, you could also take notice on the similarity between European’s 16th – 18th century with China’s Spring and Autumn Period as well as subsequent Waring States Period around 800 BC to 200 BC. But the outcome was quite different. European nations were never able to get united under one roof — but only forming weak and loose unions. While China took a quite different path and launched her middle kingdom tradition.

  94. Wukailong Says:

    @Shane9219 (#93): Interesting post. I think one of the reasons there never was a unified European kingdom is because there never was any concept of Europe in the first place – it was mostly a group of countries contending for control of the continent.

  95. Shane9219 Says:

    @Wukailong #94

    European nations were unable to trace themselves into a single origin, even though they have done so intellectually. These countries were also able to expand themselves through colonies from 16th to 18th centuries, did not try hard to consolidate each other until what Germany did in earlier 20th century. It is my personal opinion that European nations are now finally on a trend to form a “Great Europe Empire” mostly driven by ambitious nations like France.

  96. Raj Says:

    It is my personal opinion that European nations are now finally on a trend to form a “Great Europe Empire” mostly driven by ambitious nations like France.

    Shane (95), that’s not true. As the European Union keeps getting bigger it becomes harder to get consensus on political issues. Some people want a federal EU and others like to spread fear over it. But in truth no unification is going to occur (certainly in our lifetimes) because there is no big driving force behind it. Only tiny countries support federalism – the French are fearful their philosophy won’t be the driving force.

    Wukailong (86), I don’t understand why the CCP would think the PLA would ever turn on it. The CCP has delivered a massive increase in its budget – why bite the hand that feeds it if the government of the day is even half competent?

    So frequently it seems that paranoia is behind the CCP’s refusal to allow significant political change. Has the Politburo considered therapy?

  97. Zepplin Says:

    Raj,

    I apologize in advance if I’m being repetitive as I did not read all the comments, please point it out if that is the case.

    The major problems I have with your article originate from your 7 point definition of democracy which I feel to be arbitrary and possibly conflicting.

    The immediate problem I see is the mention of only the representative democracy in point 1. Why must there be a legislature? What about direct democracy? With the recent technical advances in communication, it is entirely feasible. Wouldn’t that be a better “end goal”?

    The reason I mention this is that representative democracy is one of the (many) compromises between autocracy and pure democracy. Therefore, many of the arguments for choosing autocracy over representative democracy can be easily applied to choosing representative democracy over pure democracy. These include the familiar “the country is too large”, “democracy is inefficient”, “the people are uneducated”, “the people are myopic”, “the people are not ready”, etc.: arguments which I take you believe untenable.

    Therefore, I feel that you should either be an absolutist and clamor for direct democracy in the faith that in the end a direct democracy would efficiently uphold the rights and freedoms you attached or take the relativist approach and look for the perfect shade of gray.

    You may say that my point is moot and that the perfect gray (or white) definitely lies on the democracy side of the 7 points you presented, but then the 7 points is no longer the end goal, but some arbitrary boundary you delineated. Then the question is why?

    This brings us to points 2-7. Which of these points are goals, and which are means? Is representative democracy a goal? That is, should we have democracy for democracy’s sake? Or is rule of law the goal? Or are these freedom and rights the goal? As hinted in your article from the limitations placed on freedoms, these ideas are not fundamentally compatible.

    For example, the United States certainly has large barriers to third party candidates. It certainly doesn’t allow universal suffrage for non-citizens, certain felons, those under the age of 18, much less future generations. There are laws that abrogate many of the freedoms you mentioned, and also a Jeffersonian ideal of braking laws in favor of these freedoms. I may seem to be nitpicking, but tomorrow the majority may vote to amend the constitution and do away with one of these freedoms completely, or even instill a dictator.

    So clearly, the goal is not to give complete power to majority rule. The 7 points are rather some general guidelines for an end goal, which I already mentioned to be problematic. Rather then being 7 fundamental aspects of democracy, I feel they are just arbitrary characteristics describing, well, “democracy with Raj’s characteristics”.

    I think a discussion of democracy needs to start with the goals. Then with evidence and logic, we can each arrive at an individual conclusion on democracy. Perhaps there will be a large common ground among these conclusions. This common ground can then be enlarged with persuasion. A example line of thought can be:

    Is the goal to improve people’s lives?
    Does the rule of law improve people’s lives?
    Is Singapore’s lack of democracy acceptable?
    Is democracy important if a society already has a good balance of freedoms, institutions, and rule of law?
    Or is democracy a mean of achieving and preserving these good characteristics?
    Is democracy the only way?
    Is it the best way?

    With a real foundation built, paths towards goals can be found. For example, it would make it easier to discuss ideas such as the one you put forth of strengthening the rule of law first. It would then be easier to see if that indeed is on a path towards the goals, to see which freedoms and rights, and to what degree are necessary precursors to the rule of law on this path, and which comes after, and to see whether a better path can be found.

  98. CK Says:

    The more than 2,000-years-old Plato thesis on democracy is what the European bourgeoisie loves to hark back to for their historical basis to overthrow the feudal theocratic monarchy of feudal Europe. What is the socio-economic basis of the democracy Plato is talking about? The Athenian democratic state he was referring to was basically rule by the slave owning class, of that class and for that class over the vast majority of slaves and perhaps some who were fortunate enough to escape the precarious fate of being sold into slavery once they get hooked to massive usury.

    Whether it be monarchy or democracy so long as classes continue to exist, all state apparatus will have to be the class dictatorship of one class over another or the other classes. Democracy and monarchy are just means to a political end — ruling over or exercising dictatorship over the whole society. The Euro-US bourgeoisie loves to absolutize democracy to cover up their class dictatorship over other classes and nations in the world. Look into the concrete socio-economic context of any democratic state we’re bound to see the class dictatorship since all the back to the rise of the first slave state apparatus such as Mesopotamia which was at least 1,000 years older than the first Athenian democratic dictatorship set up by slave owners over their slaves. Now what we are see is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the vast majority of the working masses of the world.

  99. Raj Says:

    Zepplin (97)

    I think you fail to understand the point of my post. It isn’t that democracy is what China needs, it’s about understanding what democracy is so that certain people stop pretending China is already one or can be democratic without following political norms that you see in regions like Europe and North America. I will respond more fully to you later.

    CK (98)

    Whatever your unidentified “European bourgeoisie” may say, when people support democracy they are not endorsing slavery. One of the key concepts of the principle today is that of rejecting slavery.

    I know that it’s “cool” to be jaded about politics or democracy specifically, but what you do not say is whether you accept that democracy (however flawed it may be) is freer than the authoritarian political system China has. I should also point out that regardless of any ramblings about elites, British democracy has achieved much for poorer Britons. The Labour government after the end of World War II brought in excellent health care coverage that benefited the working classes especially. We also have free primary and secondary education. That is much less elitist than what China has.

  100. gyebaek Says:

    Let me simplify it for you: “Democracy is an evil ideal espoused by foreigners to influence and change China for the worse, ergo we should vehemently reject it on those grounds”

  101. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Shane,

    Europe was not able to unify in the past. That was largely attributed to the geographic nature of Europe, where it was difficult for armies to cross easily.

    However, one should realize that it was not easy for China to unify either. China existed as collection of separate and loosely bound principalities for 3 dynasties, Xia, Shang, Zhou, and then the Spring/autumn period and the Warring nations period.

    While China was not entirely at war during the 3 dynasties, it was not united either.

    All in all, it took China well over 2000 years to unify into a single political nation.

    Europe, since the absence of Roman Empire, now is only around 1000 years as a collection of separate nations.

    They should be able to unify in another 1000 year or less.

  102. Wukailong Says:

    @Raj (#96): I have an answer (and some new books here that shed light on the problem) to the issue about the army and the party with some quotes, but I’ve been really busy these days. I’ll come back to you in 1-2 days. Not saying it necessarily makes sense to you but it explains how they think.

  103. Raj Says:

    Zepplin, as I say above you’ve completely misread my message, and in retrospect I have little idea how to relate to you unless you re-read it and then re-post your view. They’re not goals, they’re attributes. But I will respond as I can.

    The reason we have a legislative is that we need a group of people who can introduce and screen laws. Communications have been increased, but not equally. Just because a guy in Shanghai can set up a video link with someone in Beijing doesn’t mean a perhaps in Xinjiang has access to a computer, let alone an internet connection. Similarly not everyone has the same amount of free-time. Some teenagers might be able to spend all day on a weekend discussing politics on a forum, whereas a farmer wouldn’t have the time to do it even if he wanted to.

    Yes, it would be far too difficult to get 1.3 billion people together and agree on important matters. But just because that’s true doesn’t mean autocracy is better than representative democracy. The whole point of representative democracy is that it gives the populace some input, but in as efficient a way as possible.

    This brings us to points 2-7. Which of these points are goals, and which are means?

    As I said, they’re not goals they’re attributes of democracy. I made that extremly clear when I labelled the list as “a working definition of democracy”.

  104. Allen Says:

    I’ve enjoyed people’s comments and don’t intend to make any grand pronouncements.

    But I want to chime in with one quick observation though.

    we can talk about “fair elections,” “multi party systems,” “transparent governance,” “freedom of press,” etc., etc., but in the end – I think most people really mean it as a proxy for the concept of “good governance.” We all want a responsible government that works for the good of the people.

    As such, I really think it’s a red herring to look toward some “gold standard” of governance.

    We saw how so many all-knowing, sophisticated, erudite economists were so caught off guard by the current economic crisis. That’s because the economics system is a “complex” system. We can view complex systems in the world through simplified theories and paradigms – and act as we know it all – when in the end, we actually know very little…

    I think the same can be safely said of governance. One thing the founders of the U.S. got right is that democracy is a grand experiment. They understood the essence of democracy is evolution of open, flexible system for the benefit of the people (by today’s standard, the original U.S. system – with its limited sufferance and tolerance of slavery – can hardly be said to be “democratic”). There is really no “gold standard.” You can have the grandest institutions and still not be democratic if people become complacent and lose interest in actively governing themselves. (Same can be said of the best laws in the books being meaningless for a society that does not value Justice.)

    We must remember that in the end, we all live in a great experiment (whether we live in a society that is democratic, capitalistic, Confucian, totalitarian, socialistic, etc.).

    Let’s be flexible and open-minded when we talk about governance and policy-making.

    What is happening in China today – the great social, government, market transformations – is no doubt a great experiment. There are no guarantees. China can fall apart tomorrow. China can become the beacon of the world in 50 years.

    Whatever your view though – don’t pigeon hole China to Western standards – don’t measure China by Western ideologies.

    The story of the West (with its experience in democracy, industrialization, capitalism, socialism, etc.) is really also a grand experiment. History doesn’t end today. Each society (East, West, or whatever) has enough big problems that if left unattended – will cause the society to collapse in due time.

    If we can keep that perspective – I think we are all good.

    If we must define a “gold standard” – based on (limited) historical experiences – I am afraid we will just be arguing non-sense… 😉

  105. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I agree with Allen.

    The “gold standard” is meaningless “shifting goalposts”, when the West itself continue to make exceptions for it.

    The strength of Modern China is in its ability to compromise, not hardline ideologies.

    We have learned the lessons from hardline ideological debates. Cultural Revolution was a decade wasted in pointless debates about political doctrines, and “political correctness”.

  106. Jed Says:

    my god there is a lot of blathering on this string. OK I’ll put it bluntly – western liberal democracy a la US, France G8, (minus Russia) yadda yadda is the pinnacle of civilization and better than anything that is currently running China. China is not only not ready for it, but doesnt deserve nor has earned the stripes to have a liberal democray…one day, but not today

  107. wuming Says:

    Some experiences should be humbling, the Great Depression, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, where you feel in your bones the failure of your nation, people and system. The current economic crisis perhaps has not reached the monumental misery of those yet, but it should put into question the statement like “…the pinnacle of civilization and better than anything that …”.

    Beyond the severe destruction the crisis has already done, the scary thing is that no western democracies are even close in addressing the underlying structural problems exposed by it. Crisis is where the robustness of the system should be judged.

  108. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “Crisis is where the robustness of the system should be judged.”

    I agree.

    A system’s rules and strengths are untested, until crisis.

    There is no “democracy”, when “democracy” can be suspended in crisis.

    covert coups, Iran Contra, renditions, Patriot Act, etc. A long list of exceptionalism in democracy.

    *Some say, Democracy can be an “escape valve” of social tensions for China.

    But curiously, It seems obvious to me, that “Suspension of Democracy” has been often the “escape valve” for political failures in “Democracies”.

    The question is, why do “democracies” reach for that “escape valve” so often in history?

    The answer is simple: Down to the bare bones, there are some matters that cannot be “discussed” or “voted” on, and people, even in “democracy”, will resort to any means to their “ends”.

  109. Wukailong Says:

    Somehow, after reading the comments here, I think the US is the greatest threat to democracy… But I’ll come back to that later.

  110. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I would define US as the “Greatest Democracy that will sacrifice everyone else to preserve its own illusion of political correctness”.

    The contradiction is how it deals with perceived “threats”. No balance, no reason, no understanding, no practicality.

    Left on its own devices, it will be the most beautiful castle built on a nuclear waste land. The ultimate “Green Zone”.

    There are of course, 2 sides of US (and many other Western nations), the enlightened tolerance inward, and the paranoid mob outward.

  111. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “—I didn’t say opposition parties are not in opposition? Which distorted version of my #42 were you reading to come up with such a goofy statement? What I did say was that opposition parties need not champion the exact opposite position of the parties they oppose. Do you need me to explain that last sentence to you again? Which is why these 2 statements (R4000 #23) (”if 1 party is the “Capitalists”, and the other party is the “Communists”.Those 2 would be “opposition parties””) are certifiably nuts. We’re talking about “opposition parties”; not “opposite parties”. Are you having trouble distinguishing between “oppose” and “opposite”?”

    What exactly do they “oppose”? Apparently NOT much!

    “#46 is also cute. Democracies have “registered” political parties; but they don’t require “approval”. And if you think “eight registered minor parties under CCP’s direction” makes China a democracy, then good on you. But if you ever had doubts, you only need focus on the last 3 words of that phrase to understand why.”

    Yeah, I like to see Taliban “registered” in Canada! Right!!

    *#48: In the US, the military is answerable to the office of the President, not to the party to which the president belongs. In China, the PLA answers to the CCP. That seems like a pretty fundamental difference to me.”

    Chinese Constitution:

    “Article 67 [Functions and Powers]
    The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress exercises the following functions and powers:

    6. to supervise the work of the State Council, the Central Military Commission, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate;
    …”

    Sounds like you are “certifiably nuts” (Your words, not mine)!

  112. Raj Says:

    Allen (104)

    With all due respect, I think that you’re inventing the idea that there can be a gold standard of a political process. Humans make things that are flawed, and when you get into something likes politics it’s going to be even more difficult to get it “right”.

    That said, democracy is probably as good as we’re going to get it. Every system can continue to be refined, but you can’t get away from the fact that free elections, multi-party politics, civil rights and the rest of it is good for fair governance. Fenqing will often say that the current system is the best way for “good” governance, but what they’re really talking about is making China a stronger international power. They can argue that is makes for good goverance because people get richer, but they can’t argue it’s fair because if people complain too loudly they may well be “dealth with” by the State.

    As for your comment on how to view China, that makes me think of historical attitudes. For a long time people have said that China is “different” from the outside world. Sure, everyone’s different. You’re different from a farmer in Guangdong, even someone who’s in the same line as work as you are operating out of Lanzhou. We may share similiarities in regional/ethnic groupings, but no one person is the same.

    We also share similarities across ethnic and geographical boundaries. Concepts like democracy and rule of law aren’t incompatible with China. That’s why you see Chinese people get angry over and feel sympathy for the same sorts of things as you do Europeans, North and South Americans, etc. Of course the Chinese elite would like people to think the other way. That’s what their way of coping with “dangerous” foreign ideas usually has been.

  113. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I would say that “tolerance” and “mutual understanding” are the basic shared “Golden Rule” that all human beings aspire to.

    The idea of a “Gold Standard” of governance is neither “tolerant”, nor “mutually understanding”.

    The true aspiration of any political hierarchy is to rule with power, and less responsibility. (Hence, West still has unfairness and “elites”).

    No system will cure that. “Gold Standard” is another tool of the Elites to perpetuate their own power, through a system of “deniable plausibility”.

  114. Wukailong Says:

    @Raj (#96): The reason CCP analysts believe so much in the party governing the army, is based on their analyses of what happened in the Eastern bloc during its last days. The book about political reform I mentioned before, 攻坚, has the following to say about it (page 9):

    “上世纪80年代末90年代初,前苏联及东欧发生巨变,社会主义政党相继失去政权,尽管原因是多方面的,但其中最重要的一条,就是这些国家的执政党放弃了对军队的领导权,结果军队在关键时刻不听执政党的话,甚至站在反对派的立场上,最终导致党的执政地位丧失,国家分裂。这样的教训,是我们在推进政治体制改革时必须记取的。” -In the late 80s and the early 90s, great changes took place in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, in which socialist governing parties lost political power one after another. Even though there are several reasons for this, the most important of them is that the governing parties of these countries gave up their leadership of the army; as a result, at a critical moment the armies didn’t obey the governing parties, [some of them] even siding with opposition groups. This finally led to the parties losing their power and the countries splitting up. We must remember this lesson when we advocate reform of the political structure.

    While this argument might not be entirely correct (Germany, for example, reunited rather than splitting up), I think this is the main reason they are worried about it. Also, one of the main reforms Lee Teng-hui did to weaken the KMT’s monopoly on power was to nationalize the army.

    We might agree or disagree, but this is the way they reason, and I can understand it from their point of view.

  115. Wukailong Says:

    @Allen (#104): I agree with you on the need to consider “good governance” as a factor when evaluating how well any country is doing, and certainly this is also what most people are after when talking about democracy, freedom or human rights. I also agree there is no “golden standard” for democracy, but I don’t think there has to be one – rather, like Raj has done above, one can create an definition to start with and then use this for evaluation. Certainly, this definition might be “Western”, but so is science as we know it today. I think we also need to consider where most discussions about “governance” originate. 😉

    Instead of not measuring China by Western standards, I think it’s valuable if both sides measure each other from their perspectives. In David Shambaugh’s “China’s Communist Party – Atrophy and Adaptation”, the author compares, in turn:

    The Western Discourse on Communist Party-States
    The Western Discourse on the Chinese Communist Party-State
    The Chinese Discourse on Communist Party-States
    The Chinese Discourse on Noncommunist Party-States

    It certainly makes for an interesting comparison.

  116. raventhorn4000 Says:

    If we are to discuss the “gold standard” openly, I would again, go back to the basics.

    (1) What political parties/groups are allowed or not allowed? On what basis?

    US laws do not specifically ban political parties, though they did once ban Communist affiliated parties. And technically, all groups with “terrorists ties” (on terrorist list) are outlawed in US, even for merely financial support or political agreement. And even more technically, any group that plans, or intends to perform, or possess material of WMD, incite or support, are also outlawed.

    While general constitutional laws promote “freedom of association”, and that one cannot be criminalized for merely association with a group.

    But that is clearly not the case in US or in West any more in the age of Terrorism.

    A person can be criminalized for mere “association”. A group can also be criminalized for mere “association”.

    *And to save detractors some time, the question is not whether there is good rationale, but rather what “GOLD STANDARD” basis should be applied for banning “groups”.

  117. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000 (#116): I don’t think any groups should be banned. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and it really makes little sense to prohibit any group from existing since it’s basically only the sum of the individual members. If the prescribed ideology of a group is one of murder and terrorism, most of its members could fall under suspicion, but it shouldn’t make the group itself illegal. The way the US (and the EU, China and other big actors) have declared certain groups as “terrorist” have created a situation where even perfectly legal pursuits have come under suspicion.

    Also, I think there’s still a question for Green Card applicants, as to whether they have been a member of either a communist or a totalitarian party. Again, these questions shouldn’t be in there.

    I can understand this from the viewpoint of American legislators and politicians, and their reasons for all the tightened controls, but in the end I think it hurts the US more than it helps. The more you function like a police state, the less democratic you get. This is what I meant by saying the US is the greatest threat to democracy – with all these discussions of a “gold standard”, the truth is that many look up to the US as the golden standard of democracy, and every major decision the US does affects what people think about the system. Even though there might be many better examples of democracy in other countries, the image of democracy in the US is particularly pervasive worldwide, and people begin to identify all sorts of things with it – like high crime rates, military invasions, racism, poverty, extreme individualism, you name it.

    I’ll be happy with gradual change, though, so when both Obama and Biden make a point that they’re not going to interfere with Iran’s affairs, I hope they’re honest and a substantial policy change has taken place. That would benefit everyone.

  118. raventhorn4000 Says:

    WKL,

    That brings to the related “Freedom of Speech” question. Which goes hand in hand with “Freedom of Association”.

    (2) what kind of speech should be prohibited? And on what legal basis?

    In all nations, including European nations, some speeches are banned.

    In Common Law countries, like US, generally following speeches are not protected, Obscene, Fighting Words, Incitement of imminent violence. And recently added, Burning of objects (crosses) to intimidate.

    Additionally, all speeches can be regulated for reasonable time, manner, place restrictions. (usually, that means you still need to obtain a permit for assembly of large number of people, and permits can be denied.)

    Commercial speeches must be truthful.

    Defamatory speeches are not allowed.

    Speech violating national security can be restrained prior to publication, and gag orders can be issued.

    and Conduct type expression speech are can be prohibited by other laws generally, (use of peyote by native Americans for religious ritual prohibited, burning draft cards illegal).

    *
    The point is, if “associations” are to be monitored for their conducts, then their “conducts” , even in mere speech, is already quite limited.

    *
    There is a saying in my law school days, “We do not study the rules of law, we study the exceptions to the rules.”

    Most people know the “freedoms” by the titles, but they do not understand how many hundreds of exceptions there are, for which these “freedoms” are literally banned.

    *
    If gradualism is the better method, then China cannot shoot for the “Gold Standard”, but rather target the EXCEPTIONS.

    It would be unrealistic to expect China to give blanket “freedoms” without the “practical limits”.

    that would also be unpractical.

    No, I think it is wiser to target for the “Gold standard with EXCEPTIONS”.

    *
    On your point about Freedom of Assembly,

    I do not think it is realistic at any time to make a “standard” that says “no group shall be banned”.

    It is not a realistic goal.

    I would let the “experts of Democracy” try to achieve that one before China attempts it.

    In the mean time, let me say again, we should target for a “Golden Standard with EXCEPTIONS”, and list out all the acceptable standards of EXCEPTIONS.

  119. Zepplin Says:

    Raj, sorry for not responding sooner.

    Let me just clarify my problem with your working definition of democracy.

    The first point I had is that the definition you made was not absolutist, since you specifically mention a form of representative democracy which lies somewhere between autocracy and direct democracy. Why not just define democracy as direct democracy, majority rule on every issue?

    The follow up to that is, since the definition you have is just somewhere between the two extremes, it seems arbitrary. That is, China’s system is also somewhere between the two extremes, so while China has “democracy” with Chinese characteristics, I called your democracy “democracy” with Raj characteristics.

    An example I bring up is that Raj’s characteristics are not fundamental to democracy. Things like rule of law, rights, and freedoms, can be abrogated by democracy, i.e. majority rule. The fact that you impose these additional limitations on what a democracy should be indicates to me that it is more of a “goal” than a “definition”.

    I would like you to explain why is it that your version of democracy the version that should be defined as “democracy”. This entails resolving conflicts such as when laws or the majority abrogate freedoms, etc. I’m trying to say that it is not black and white. Otherwise you will just be talking past each other with semantics.

    This is why I recommend starting with the basic “goal” instead of arbitrary definitions.

    Responding specifically to representative democracy better than direct democracy and autocracy:

    You mention that having people vote for a leader is bringing democracy as efficiently as possible, but I’m saying that this is arbitrary. If the people just vote in a dictator for life, would that be democratic? What if a people vote, via revolution, a political party that maintains power until another revolution overthrows is, is that democratic? Where do you draw the line?

    On the other end, it seems not very democratic to have a president that does anything other than execution. Why not have the senate approve all of a presidents actions and have the senators elected yearly? Or even better, how about a system where the elected senators comes up with the most important 50 executive, legislative, and judicial items every month for a nationwide referendum?

    If you say that the “teenagers” don’t have the time to deal with these issues, then someone can say that the “teenagers” don’t have the time to deal with electing a powerful president.

    Anyway, the point is you can’t dismiss these arguments since they work against you in your arbitrary selection of this three-branch-government version of representative democracy over direct democracy as the correct “definition”

  120. Steve Says:

    @ Zepplin: Democracy in government is not majority rule. Democracy is a form of government where supreme power is held by the people and is indirectly practiced through a system of representative elected officials to whom authority has been delegated. Elections for these representatives must be held on a periodic basis.

    One meaning of the word democracy, which is not its most common meaning or its government definition, is majority rule. “Which movie do we all want to see tonight? Let’s take a vote.” That can be considered a form of democracy but it is not the one used in political science.

    In China, ultimate power rests in the hands of the Party. They have introduced some democratic elements on a local basis but the structure of government is not currently democratic.

  121. Zepplin Says:

    @ Steve,

    Just to clarify some semantics. I don’t agree with your use of the word democracy. You say that democracy in government is not pure democracy but rather representative democracy.

    I am certain that in political science, pure democracy, or direct democracy, is considered a democracy. And furthermore, it is considered more democratic than representative democracy. In fact the more disperse the power, the more democratic a form of government is considered.

    Thus the republican Rome where the senators held power was considered more democratic than a Rome where the Caesar held power, neither of which was very democratic considering only certain Citizens were allowed to vote.

    It is not hard to imagine a government where all the residents have access to a public server (via their homes or the library or the school etc.) where a list of referendum votes is continuously solicited and updated so that every decision is majority rule.

    The fact that this government is not common does not mean it is unfeasible or undemocractic. My point is that Raj has to show why his choice of the representatie democracy along with disclaimers on rule of law, freedoms, and rights, should be the definition of democracy rather than something more (direct democracy) or less (democracy with Chinese characteristics)

  122. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000: I saw your response earlier, put my own response in the to do list and then nothing happened for a while. Sorry about that.

    I agree there is no absolute rule of freedom of speech anywhere, though since we’re down a slippery slope, we might as well argue there is no absolute freedom of movement because I can’t find the resources to go to the moon, or I can’t freely enter all countries on the earth, or I can’t enter other people’s homes freely. I don’t believe in this black or white thinking – it’s not that we either have absolute freedom or no freedom at all. I’ve been trying to convey this message at times, but especially for people who live in the West and are critical of the concept of “free speech”, it’s almost impossible to describe why gradual differences are so important.

    I agree that certain countries in the Western bloc (notably the US, France and Germany) have restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, mostly for historical reasons. You’ve also mentioned the rules against defamation. From where I come from, there are debates going on about deprecating similar laws, especially the one about “incitement of hatred” which was created back in the late 40s to stop political movements like the Nazis, but today seems outdated.

    But China doesn’t even have freedom of speech with these “practical limits”, that you describe. Everything is just more controlled than what you see in any Western country. The practical limits are very strict, and often unclear or not codified. You can get stopped based on nothing more than the whim of a powerful politician. And I don’t base this on some general remarks in the Western media, but from experiences living in China for almost 7 years.

    I for one think it’s realistic to don’t have any banned groups. No group, as far as I know, is banned in Sweden, not even Hell’s Angels or the more violent Nazi parties. What’s banned is the crimes some of the members of these groups commit. I know that the EU has constructed a list of groups (with US sponsorship) that are deemed “terrorist”, but I don’t agree with that practice. Of course some measures have to be taken with highly dangerous groups like Al-Qaeda… But as a contrast, Japan haven’t prohibited Aum Shinrikyo despite what they did in the Tokyo subway. They arrested the leaders and put them on trial.

  123. Steve Says:

    @ Zepplin: In Political Science, majority rule (or mob rule) is not considered a suitable definition of political democracy. There are plenty of available textbooks that go into this in great depth and the problems of direct majority rule in an actual government. Democracy has been moving to a more direct model over time, but can never been functional while being fully direct. There would be no checks or balances, and no protection for the minority.

    The Chinese government is designed as a Party ruled state. Until the CCP relinquishes power and gives it to the people, you can’t call China a democracy. You are making a false comparison by pretending that Party rule is somehow a more indirect form of democracy. Again, to call oneself a democracy, supreme power must be held by the people.

    Rome was never a democracy. Rome was an oligarchy that morphed into a dictatorship.

    BTW, I majored in Political Science at Villanova University, so I’m not just making this up. This is pretty standard stuff. To be honest, you sound like you found your argument on a libertarian website.

  124. Steve Says:

    @ Wukailong #122: I found in China that there was quite a bit of freedom, just as long as you didn’t get into certain areas. In those specific areas, there was no freedom. Maybe that’s why the all/nothing definition gets brought up so frequently on this site?

    People feel very free in China because relative freedom has grown tremendously as compared to the past. My guess is that it will continue to increase in a start/stop fashion.

  125. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Steve,

    Those would be called “exceptions” in law. They are not all/nothing, obviously because they are “exceptions” to the rules. They are in fact quite fuzzy.

    Evolution of legal codes are often “start/stop” fashion, even for US.

    *
    And “sedition”/treason is one of those areas that is acknowledged as the “no-cross zone” around the world.

    US may have soften the edges around its “sedition” laws, but it actually very easy for the US government to put people on the “Terrorist Watch list”, and very hard for one to get off it.

    Let’s just say, US has a more “secret gray list” of “sedition” like crimes in law.

    The laws are quite black and white, just they don’t call them “sedition”. They invented a whole host of new words for those crimes.

  126. Zepplin Says:

    @Steve

    Direct democracy is not mob rule. Majority rule does not have to descend into chaos. America is basically majority rule, with the caveat that certain changes (constituional amendments) require more than the simple majority. And the majority rule is split into levels where majorities select representatives, then the majority of representatives makes laws. There is the constitution which bases the legal and executive power, but again a greater majority can change that as well.

    There are a lot of arguments for why direct majority rule is problematic, but then again there are a lot of arguments for why representative democracy is problematic.

    These arguments are actually quite similar. E.g. the population cannot delve into all the details, the population is uneducated, the population is too short sighted, a demagogue would appear, there will be chaos.

    So the question is why should the definition of democracy be the specific representative democracy that Raj suggests? The Chinese government can definitely be construed as democratic given enough caveats.

    It would be even better if you are a professor of political science at Villanova University, then you would agree with me that direct democracy is considered more democratic than representative democracy in that academic field.

    I didn’t call Rome a democracy, I simply said what you call the Roman oligarchy was more democratic than what you call the Roman dictatorship

    I did not find this argument on a libertarian website, nor am I saying that direct democracy is the best. I’m simply pointing out that this definition of democracy is arbitrary in that it is simply a choice of government along the autocracy–pure democracy spectrum, and that China’s “democracy” can also be construed as a point on that spectrum. Why is it that Raj’s point should be the definition of democracy?

  127. Steve Says:

    @ R4K: I didn’t give any examples so I can understand what you said, but an all/nothing example would be public criticism of Politburo standing committee decisions. Do you feel this is quite fuzzy?

  128. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve (#124): I agree there is a lot of freedom in China, and that things change every year. The problem is for the people who want to test the limits and see if they can get away with it, even though they are legally entitled to what they do. There’s a constant game like that going on.

    From my experience, there’s a growing frustration with some of the more obvious limits, like the great firewall. I have to admit that I use YouTube a lot when I’m away from China, just because I can’t use it at home (but please don’t give me anything about using proxies to get around the firewall – it’s easy to do, but it’s awfully slow 😉 ).

    On this blog, we tend to discuss the problems rather than the good parts. In general, I enjoy living in China, but I don’t want to deny the obvious hurdles.

  129. Steve Says:

    @ Zepplin: I didn’t say that Raj’s definition of democracy is the only possible definition. What I said is that a country where supreme power is held by the Party rather than the people cannot be called a democracy. There are certain criteria needed to use the term. Rome cannot be called a democracy because it was an oligarchy. It wasn’t sort of a democracy, or more of a democracy than a dictatorship, it was a classic oligarchy. And if you ask a professor at Villanova, he’d tell you the exact same thing and then suggest you take a few classes because this is right out of PoliSci 101.

    America is a democratic constitutional republic. You’re trying to take something complex and oversimplify it to prove a point. Yes, majorities are used in many instances, but that doesn’t mean majority rule is democracy. If a majority of the Politburo Standing Committee makes a decision, that doesn’t make China a limited democracy.

    A 50% +1 majority cannot change the constitution. Constitutional changes are not based on a majority vote.

    “The Chinese government can definitely be construed as democratic given enough caveats.”

    No, it cannot. It doesn’t meet the most basic definition of democracy, which is that ultimate power is derived from the people. In China, ultimate power is derived from the Party.

    Zepplin, I’m not trying to jam this down your throat but even having this discussion is ridiculous. There is nothing to debate or discuss here. These are basic, accepted definitions that are in every textbook. The whole point about China’s potential government reforms is how far they can go with the basic setup they currently have, and if they even want to change having supreme power in the Party. That was the basis of the argument about whether the people should choose their leaders, or whether the “experts” should choose the “most qualified”.

  130. Zepplin Says:

    @ Steve

    I agree with you that China is not a democracy in the political science term. I don’t think we have any disagreements.

    My main point is that Raj’s definition is arbitrary. He did not clearly define what constitutes a democracy, and his addendums of rule of law, freedoms, and rights have internal conflicts, making the definition not even well defined.

    Saying that China can be constructed as democracy with caveats is clearly untrue in political science terms. However, the line that China crossed into undemocratic territory is not immediately clear (to me at least). For Raj to come up with what I feel to be an arbitrary definition (which precludes pure democracy), then to say that China doesn’t satisfy this and hence is not democratic, is unconvincing.

    If your definition is that a democracy is a government in which the ultimate power is derived from the people, then that is a definition I can work with. I may argue that the CCP came to power in a popular revolution, and was not dislodged in one and hence ultimately “democratic”, but even I realize that is stretching it. However, this definition has none of that three-branch, rule of law, freedom, rights, niceties that Raj included in his definition. So I fail to see why those things needs to be achieved before China can be considered a democracy with characteristics.

  131. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Steve,

    It would depend on the “public” nature of “criticism”, and the content of the “criticism”.

    I believe “incitement” or “defamation of public figures” still carry liability (civil and criminal) in US, depending on severity.

    It’s all quite fuzzy.

  132. Steve Says:

    @ Zepplin: I agree with you that Raj’s definition of democracy is arbitrary. Once you get past power being derived from the people, you can take a democracy into almost unlimited directions. The genius of America’s founding fathers was in the adoption of the Constitution (and George Washington being our first president). Democracy at the time was derived from the power of male landowners, which was still advanced for that day but certainly not acceptable for today.

    “However, the line that China crossed into undemocratic territory is not immediately clear (to me at least).”

    The Chinese government uses a Marxist/Leninist party structure, which is where it differs from democracy. It’ll be interesting to see if they eventually move from the current structure to one where all local and provincial governments are elected by the people, with only the top echelon being derived from the Party. If a system like that occurred, it would be unique to China and could be called a combination Marxist/Democratic system. That’d be my guess for future political reform. The tricky part would be who controlled the courts, or if the courts would be completely independent.

  133. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Actually Steve,

    the 1st Constitution of US is the Article of Confederation, adopted in 1777.

    The US Constitution is actually a redraft, adopted in 1787.

    Why? The Article of Confederation was deemed to have granted insufficient central power in the Federal Government.

    and thereafter even, the Amendments and interpretations of the US Constitution has expanded the power of the Federal Government by leaps and bounds.

    If the trend continues, (and it does), well, you know which direction US is headed at least.

    🙂

  134. Zepplin Says:

    My guess for the future would be the Singapore style one party state with sham elections, possibly with inner party democracy. The courts will not be independent, but will be less prone to party corruption in non-politically important cases when the legal wing of the party becomes more independent intra-party.

    In a more democratic scenario, the inner party democracy would become transparent, and the lower levels would be open to the public so that in effect the inner party democracy becomes national democracy where the party and the nation becomes synonymous.

    In the less democratic scenario, the party will still only be open to the “elite” or whichever class the party needs to co-op to remain in power. There will be very limited inner party democracy with an opaque process for promotions but more transparent process for policies along with sham extra-party elections where the CCP’s chosen candidate always wins.

  135. Raj Says:

    Zepplin (119)

    So what if my working definition isn’t absolutist? Why does it have to be absolutist?

    You ignored my earlier point. If you can say that China has “democracy with Chinese characteristics”, when you go back to a shop with a malfunctioning toaster you brought from there, the owner can tell you that it is “good quality with Del-Boy characteristics” and refuse to refund you. You can’t just reinvent words to suit yourself. Democracy might not have a concise definition, but everyone who isn’t trying to twist its meaning knows that it has some key things you can’t ignore.

    So what if democratic rights can be abrogated by a majority? In China it’s the minority (and a very small one) that tells the majority they can’t have any rights, or that they can have rights but only on paper, especially if they have a complaint against the State. Moreover in democracies you will have a constitution of some sort that will often stop a simple majority overriding the rights of others. If a large majority of people are determined to deprive others of rights, eventually something will give. But with democracy the default setting is that people have rights and that they can’t be easily discounted.

    A dictator for life would be democratic? Please, you know that’s nonsense. A life-time is far too long for one person’s actions to go unchecked or reviewed. A term of office of four or five years is enough to give a person the opportunity to focus on long-term, not just short-term, goals, whilst limiting their ability to cause harm, abuse their position, etc. Whereas if people were up for re-election every year or sooner they’d spend all their time campaigning and not enough time achieving things. Results would always be “in my next term of office”.

    As for revolutions, given lots of people often die during such things I’d prefer the ballot box. And it doesn’t take nearly as long to read someone’s manifesto and vote for them once every four/five years than to take part in every decision a country ever needs to take.

    I can dismiss your arguments because they’re illogical, whereas mine are quite sensible.

  136. Zepplin Says:

    Raj,

    I’m saying your definition is arbitrary. If it were absolutist, then it wouldn’t be arbitrary, but I’m not suggesting that that is a good definition.

    You say that everyone knows democracy has things you can’t ignore. But not everyone will agree that it needs to have the 7 points you mentioned. That is a very specific form of democracy with limitations in the form of rights and freedoms.

    My examples are extreme only to indicate the point that there is a scale, and that your point on the scale is arbitrary. You do not present the core definition of what a democracy is. Steve gives a definition that is much less arbitrary in comment #130.

    You do not seem to be dismissing my arguments because they are illogical, rather you are dismissing them as nonsensical. It is true that claiming revolutions and dictators are democracy is completely ridiculous. That is because I was using Argumentum ad Ridiculum. I was trying to point out other arbitrary definitions of democracy that are ridiculous, but no less arbitrary than yours since claiming representative democracy should be the definition but not pure democracy is no less ridiculous.

    I agree that your idea is very sensible. They are what many Western societies strive for. But that doesn’t make it a good definition of democracy. You yourself said that it wasn’t a goal but a definition, then it is your onus to show why this definition isn’t arbitrary. Otherwise your claim that China doesn’t fit an arbitrary definition of democracy you made up will have no power. So what?

    Please see comments #123 – #132 for the discussion I had with Steve on this.

  137. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Actually Raj,

    democracy is abrogated by a “majority of those who voted”. It implies consent from those who do not vote, disqualified from vote, and those who voted against.

    And implied consent by the minority is precisely that in virtually all government systems.

    It is not “democratic” of opinions by any sense.

    *
    “constitution of some sort that will often stop a simple majority overriding the rights of others. If a large majority of people are determined to deprive others of rights, eventually something will give. But with democracy the default setting is that people have rights and that they can’t be easily discounted.”

    Actually, the history of democracy has shown that minorities don’t have the rights until the “majority” allows them to have the rights, usually at time of convenience to the majority. And I use the term “majority” loosely. White land owners were hardly “majority” in the beginning.

    The “default setting” is not default at all, it is just the “current setting”.

  138. Steve Says:

    @ Wukailong #128: Won’t a VPN line get you past the GFW? I heard they weren’t very expensive to get over there. Do you use programs such as Tor to protect your anonymity online? Just curious…

  139. Shane9219 Says:

    @R4K

    >> “White land owners were hardly “majority” in the beginning.”

    They were and still are majority on wealth counting

  140. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve: I can use VPN at work, and it goes through a decent network, so there’s no problem… Though I don’t want to use that for things like YouTube. I use Tor at home, but it’s slower.

    I guess I could buy a VPN license (they’re ads everywhere). I haven’t tried that route though. My network is expensive as it is, and I have to consider if I find it worth the extra costs. 😉

  141. Raj Says:

    Wukailong (122, etc)

    I’m sorry, but so often I neglect to thank you for your comments. I agree that the problem isn’t that China has no freedoms at all, it’s that they’re too heavily limited and not clear enough. Essentially you have no freedoms if someone with enough power decides they don’t apply in a particular case.

    That’s why the Tiananamen Mothers are treated the way they are. It’s not that there is a power for the authorities to detain someone indefinitely/place them under house arrest whenever they like, it’s that there are no clear boundaries that establish where their rights start and end. The central government doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, possibly because it relies on it for “national” problems even if it aids corruption and abuse of power at the local level. It wouldn’t be easy to have civil rights that applied for local and regional governments but not on the national level.

    Zepplin (136)

    Why is being “arbitrary” a problem – an arbitrary decision can be a good one.

    About there not being a “core” definition – you mean an oversimplified and generally meaningless expression? Steve isn’t wrong to suggest that a government obtaining power from the people is a key attribute of democracy, but there is more to it than that. The problems with discussions about democracy is that too often people will get obsessed with ideas like “people power” or elections, without actually thinking about the bigger picture and what needs to happen. What I’ve done is try to think about those other aspects. If people don’t like my way of defining what makes democracy that’s fine, but I still think I’m on to something.

    I’m sure not everyone will agree, but that’s usually because they’re trying to hide/deflect attention from problems in certain political systems. When the Chinese government talk about “democracy with Chinese characteristics” they do so as a way of excusing the lack of civil/political freedom in China, as even they’re too scared of saying what they really think – “yes, we reserve the right to crush anyone who challenges us and we jolly well do from time-to-time, but it’s good for China, so rejoice at the fact you have less civil and political freedoms than in Europe or North America!”

  142. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “When the Chinese government talk about “democracy with Chinese characteristics” they do so as a way of excusing the lack of civil/political freedom in China, as even they’re too scared of saying what they really think”

    As is when US and UK label themselves as “democracy” and avoid talking about all the new security laws by announcing “national security”.

    That’s what governments do.

    I’m sure you think you are “onto something”, but I don’t think it’s practical. You are welcome to go try it in real life, but far great many people have failed in such “social experiments” in Communes, etc.

    The contradiction is in human nature.

    We are social animals. Bonds of family and community are strong, when there is social rigidity and conformity. When we are too free, we are isolated and detached.

    “Democracy” is a trade off, so is every other form of government. The trade off must be tailored to the social norm of each country, and social norms change for the better or for the worse.

  143. Raj Says:

    RT (142)

    Yeah, these “security laws” would be ones that the UK government has used to round-up its opponents are they? Or have they actually been used against people actually suspected of terrorism? I mean, oh my God, a country having a security law!!

    Even with all the post-2001 laws, UK citizens still have more civil rights than Chinese ones do. I don’t need to try it – we implement the list fairly well.

    If we’re too free we’re isolated and detatched? On the contrary, when we’re free we’re at ease and better able to form the bonds we want, rather than being limited in what we can do.

  144. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “Yeah, these “security laws” would be ones that the UK government has used to round-up its opponents are they? Or have they actually been used against people actually suspected of terrorism? I mean, oh my God, a country having a security law!!”

    Glad you see China’s point of view for once.

    “Even with all the post-2001 laws, UK citizens still have more civil rights than Chinese ones do. I don’t need to try it – we implement the list fairly well.”

    Well, that’s UK’s right to implement as UK sees fit. Still a trade off, not any imaginary standard.

    “If we’re too free we’re isolated and detatched? On the contrary, when we’re free we’re at ease and better able to form the bonds we want, rather than being limited in what we can do.”

    On the contrary, modern lifestyle and freedom have increased the isolation of great many Western youths. All sorts of anti-social behaviors can be traced back to too much “freedom”.

  145. Zepplin Says:

    Raj,

    Arbitrary is fine if you just want a definition, but it is not fine if you want to use it to argue against someone using the same term. For example, if I say orange is “red” with yellow characteristics, but then you say well you are wrong because a definition of red should include 1-7, then those 7 points can’t be arbitrary or you won’t convince me.

    You said:
    “The problems with discussions about democracy is that too often people will get obsessed with ideas like “people power” or elections, without actually thinking about the bigger picture and what needs to happen. What I’ve done is try to think about those other aspects. If people don’t like my way of defining what makes democracy that’s fine, but I still think I’m on to something.”

    Yes, you are on to something, a “goal”. That’s why I wanted to confirm with you whether you are coming up with a goal or a common definition. The 7 points you came up with can definitely be argued as a goal that China should strive for, but then it fails as an agreed definition from which you can say China’s “democracy” is bogus.

  146. Raj Says:

    RT

    I don’t share the Chinese government’s position, because in the UK people like David Cameron (likely to be the next PM and biggest threat the ruling party has seen for decades) aren’t arrested under these “security laws” for speaking out against the government. If he was Chinese and speaking out against the CCP, he’d be in jail.

    Yes, your idea that anti-social behaviour comes from “too much” freedom is a staple view of conservatives (I’ve heard many Republicans say the same thing). Just threaten to whack people with a stick and they’ll fall into line. It’s a lot easier than saying it comes from a breakdown in traditional social norms, the increasing lack of positive male role-models (such as a father who participates in raising children) for young people, etc, which is the real issue behind anti-social behaviour.

    Zepplin

    We know what the colour orange is. You can’t say an orange is green, for example. You can describe it in a different way, but it’s still the same colour.

    The list is a “working definition” as I termed it. It’s a definition that’s more helpful than a line in a dictionary, but it is also a list of possible goals that China might adopt in part or full. A definition of democracy such as I have made can include things that are also goals, because they help define what democracy is.

  147. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “I don’t share the Chinese government’s position, because in the UK people like David Cameron (likely to be the next PM and biggest threat the ruling party has seen for decades) aren’t arrested under these “security laws” for speaking out against the government. If he was Chinese and speaking out against the CCP, he’d be in jail.”

    Not asking you to share Chinese government’s position. Merely stating that UK’s laws are also trade-offs, not any standard.

    “Yes, your idea that anti-social behaviour comes from “too much” freedom is a staple view of conservatives (I’ve heard many Republicans say the same thing). Just threaten to whack people with a stick and they’ll fall into line. It’s a lot easier than saying it comes from a breakdown in traditional social norms, the increasing lack of positive male role-models (such as a father who participates in raising children) for young people, etc, which is the real issue behind anti-social behaviour.”

    “Increasing lack of positive male role-models”? Well, yes, too much “freedom to be irresponsible” apparently.

  148. Steve Says:

    This is strictly my opinion, but I believe relocation and single parent families contribute a lot more to unruly behavior than “freedom”. Typically the stronger the family support structure, the more responsible the child.

  149. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Mobility of modern life is one of the “freedoms” that contribute to the problem of anti-social behavior in children.

    Fundamentally, a Child’s stability depends on the parents restricting their own freedom to a great extent. What do they say, “you are not single any more.”

    Unfortunately, modernity grant too much value of “individual freedom” and not enough of “individual responsibility”.

    Brutally honest, human beings are selfish. You let them have all the “freedom”, they will be completely irresponsible.

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