I do not have much to add this article as it was quite informative of some CCP internal politiking. Something not said, is that a great deal of the motivation for this is due to the Cultural Revolution (Wen Ge), which all current senior ranking party members lived through. They want to put a system in place that will ensure orderly succession and hinder the ability of an individual to form a Mao-like cult of personality. This is fairly sophisticated thinking for the oligarchy of any developing nation.
I would also say that China is not as worried about democracy is the above and corruption. They know, based on the example of other nations rooted in Confucianism that they can maintain one-party rule for many years as long as the can continue to grow the economy in a way that flattens income inequality as much as possible. As far as I know, China has NEVER had a revolution in good economic times. Chinese like the idea of democracy, however they like the idea of making money and stability much more. In the end, it looks like the CCP will move to some version of the Singaporean Illiberal Democracy Model and not the Taiwanese or South Korean way, if they can avoid it. They will not have to make that choice until most people are educated and middle class which will be a few decades from now.
‘Democracy’ with one-party characteristics
By Kent Ewing
HONG KONG – In the wake of last month’s 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the leadership has stepped up its campaign to convince the world of the legitimacy of what might be called “democracy with Chinese characteristics”. Using the party’s chief mouthpiece, the People’s Daily newspaper, one of the new-generation leaders has made a gallant attempt to portray China as a nation in which democracy is on the move.
In an article published last week, newly elected Politburo member Li Yuanchao wrote: “Democracy within the party is the lifeline of the party.” Before his expatiation of more than 7,000 characters is finished, however, Li becomes hopelessly entangled in a web of his own contradictions. In the end, he winds up, like so many officials before him, simply justifying authoritarian one-party rule.
For example, figure out how Li’s thoughts come together in this puzzling declaration of the party’s mission: “While expanding democracy within the party, we must also uphold the unity of the party, and we must conscientiously abide by the party’s political discipline, always be in agreement with the central committee and resolutely safeguard its authority to ensure that its resolutions and decisions are carried out effectively.”
That sounds more like single-file obedience than democracy – but there is a method to the leadership’s paradoxical madness. The push for so-called “intra-party democracy”, which also featured prominently in President Hu Jintao’s 190-minute address to the congress, has nothing to do with any notion of democratic government as it is understood or practiced in the rest of the world.
Indeed, the use of the word “democracy” by Chinese leaders is deliberately misleading, if not downright dishonest, as they aim to exploit its allure of individual freedom and choice only to enhance its opposite – the continuation of totalitarian rule.
As the party’s new personnel chief, Li is the latest spokesman in this rhetorical ruse, but Hu has been playing with the word for years, and even his predecessor, the often imperious Jiang Zemin, showed a fondness for the curious phrase “democratic centralism”.
Last month’s congress served as the perfect symbol for this democracy paradox: while the Great Hall of the People was abuzz with talk of democratic reform throughout the week-long affair, which culminated with the presentation of the country’s new leadership team, there was absolutely no evidence of that reform in any of the conference’s Stalinist procedures.
Yes, the 204 members of the Central Committee were “elected”, and it is nice to be informed by the official Xinhua News Agency that 8% of the nominees failed to win a seat on the committee. But how the election was conducted, how many votes were received by the different candidates and who did not make the cut – all that remains a mystery. And, of course, the selection of the 25-member Politburo and the nine leaders who sit on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee is wrapped in even greater secrecy. To call this process democracy of any kind is to stand the word on its head.
That said, the party, which now boasts 74 million members, is becoming increasingly representative of the Chinese society it purports to serve. There is no longer any Marxist litmus test for acceptance; in fact, the aging ideologues on the left have been completely marginalized and made hardly a ripple at the recent congress. Thanks to Jiang’s theory of “Three Represents”, which allowed “red capitalists” into the party and was enshrined in the party constitution at its 16th Congress in 2002, membership is now seen more as a cachet than an indicator of one’s communist credentials. While the common man still has no voice in China, elites from across the social spectrum are joining the party and changing its dynamics.
The “democracy” that Chinese leaders seek is really more of a system – imperfect at best right now – of checks and balances between these elite interests. As the system continues to develop, they hope it will help to curtail the rampant corruption that leaves the vast grass-roots population feeling helpless and exploited and thus threatens social stability.
From the leadership’s point of view, extremists on either side of the debate about the country’s future have been sidelined, and it is now time for a unified approach to tackling the big challenge of sustaining economic growth while reducing corruption and strengthening social stability. (And, if there is any time and energy to spare, the rapidly deteriorating environment may also get some much-needed attention.)
The trick over the five years before the next congress is to reform the party without loosening its grip on power. To achieve this goal, the party will embrace a much broader cross-section of Chinese society, but the game will be an elites-only contest.
While what is happening should not be mistaken for democracy, it does qualify as reform, and no one knows where such incremental change may lead in the long run. At present, however, economic prosperity and social stability are the paramount concerns in China. Given that a majority of the 1.3 billion people in this newly rich country are still waiting for the fruits of prosperity to fall, democracy – real democracy, that is – is just another word for chaos in the unspoken vocabulary of Chinese leaders.
For a true indication of where democratic ideals stand in the leadership’s plan, do not look to the rhetoric that imbued last month’s congress. Look instead to Peking University and to Hong Kong.
The university’s famous Democracy Wall was demolished last week prior to an inspection by the Ministry of Education. While university officials denied any connection between the demolition and the inspection, the timing was certainly curious. The “wall” is really just a collection of bulletin boards erected on a triangular piece of land located at the center of the campus. Also called the Triangle, it became a gathering place for students during the Cultural Revolution, but in the 1980s its bulletin boards were plastered with posters supporting Western-style democracy. It served as a center for student protests in the lead-up to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
More recently, in 1999, students used the area to express their outrage over the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. It has long been seen as a place, however small, where the free exchange of ideas is welcome. Now it is gone.
At same time, in Hong Kong, the founding chairman of the city’s Democratic Party, Martin Lee, has once again come under fierce attack from pro-Beijing politicians. This time the assault – running on two weeks now – comes as a reaction to an article Lee wrote for The Wall Street Journal urging US President George W Bush to use next summer’s Olympic Games, which Beijing is hosting, to press China to improve its human rights record and to allow greater press and religious freedom. For his audacity, Lee has been branded a “traitor” of the Chinese nation.
Kent Ewing is a teacher and writer at Hong Kong International School. He can be reached at email@example.com.