Democracy One

By Bryan • china, politics • 4 Apr 2006


We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

– John F. Kennedy

My first democracy post. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Although the topic has been raised a number of times while in country, I tend to tip toe around the issue rather tactfully and with restraint. Given the fact, though, that now I am dealing with far more adults and educated individuals with well honed English skills, discussion laced with democracy is becoming more and more common.

It was again raised tonight, but rather indirectly, and actually via myself. I was leading a discussion on immigration and who should/shouldn’t be allowed citizenship. Naturally, I was using Canada as platform and China as the example. I was attempting to make the distinction between those living in Canada on a long-term basis and those seeking Canadian citizenship. It’s increasingly popular for large numbers of Chinese (largely the wealthy) to seek long term living status in Canada, and in some cases, citizenship (I want to make it clear that I consider foreign students a separate and autonomous group). I voiced my opinion that I felt those seeking the benefits of Canadian citizenship should be forced to vote in elections, and failing to do so should result in loss of citizenship. Frankly, if you are not willing to vote, then I don’t want you holding the same passport as me. I also feel that those currently holding citizenship (regardless if it is a natural acquisition) should be forced to vote as well or suffer similar consequences. I don’t have qualms with those willing to live long term in a foreign country, but if you want to be a true member, you must ‘pay your dues’, so to speak.

This of course, went where all discussions of democracy end up eventually, with someone making the note that China does indeed have an operating democracy. I also stop the discussion there, and tonight was not exception.

I will, however, pick it up here.

I’ll give my students credit is ascertaining that there are democratic ideals and functions within Chinese politics, and that voting is possible. There is, in fact, a legal and politically active Chinese Democratic Party, and in total, there are eight legal political parties. However, the similarities end there. I never intend to insult the intelligence of my students or any other Chinese, but their public and mainstream concept of democracy, is well, simply put, wrong. I don’t hold anyone at fault, as this understanding of democracy is what is taught and practiced.

Elections in the People’s Republic of China take two forms: elections for selected local government positions in selected rural villages, and elections by Communist Party “people’s congresses” for the national legislature: the National People’s Congress (Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui). The NPC has 2,979 members, elected for five year terms. Deputies are elected (over a three month period) by the people’s congresses of the country’s 23 provinces, five autonomous regions and the four municipalities directly under the Central Government, the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau and the armed forces. The size of each college of delegates is related to the number of electors in the constituency. 36 deputies are elected in Hong Kong. Candidates need the approval of the Communist Party of China. The People’s Republic of China is a single-party state, where the Communist Party is the only political party allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties are allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. No parties other than the Communist Party and the eight so-called ‘democratic’ parties – all members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – were allowed at the last elections, which took place from October 2002 to March 2003.

Democracy appears to be present within the Communist Party of China and within the countryside. I’ve read other items regarding elections in the countryside, and the elections truly are an amazing form of grassroots democracy, with farmers and country residents electing their own minor officials. Apparently, this is becoming increasingly popular, as it is seen as a cheap method with which to appease growing rural discontent. However, the officials are minor, and their influence essentially inconsequential.

Why I can’t consider democracy present in any serious form is the presence of three items which essentially result in the same conclusion.

1. All candidates must have the approval of the CCP.
2. The CCP is the only party able to wield power. Within a centralized state like China, the CCP exerts control over most aspects of life in some manner.
3. All parties must accept the leadership of the dominant party. Because point two solidify’s the CCP dominance as the party, all other parties and ideas are meaningless.

The result: Absence of choice and opportunity to create influence. Without this, there is no democracy. Mao said it himself that “The Chinese Communist Party is the core leadership of the whole Chinese people”. A “Paper” Democracy.

As for local democratic aspirations? I will leave that for another time.

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3 Responses

  1. Fraser

    Interesting post. However, I have to disagree with your stance that all members of a democratic society should be obliged to vote.

    Even though the idea sounds noble, I believe the application would have a negative effect on the democracy.

    I believe that citizens that intend to vote have a responsibility to educate themselves about the candidates and party platforms. If everyone is forced to vote, a large part of the voting population will not have taken this time. While I wish this wasn’t the case, the sad reality is that there is a significant part of the population that doesn’t want to be concerned with politics.

    While there are obvious drawbacks to this (demographic over and misrepresentiation) would the alternative really be better?

    I like to think that people that have made a conscious choice to vote will choose better than those that have been forced to do so.

    It sounds strange, but I think people should also have the freedom not to vote. (and give up the freedom to complain about who wins ;)

  2. Good point! That is definetly the essence of a democracy, choice.

    Australia has mandatory voting which states that everyone is obligated to appear at the voting office on election day, but they allow a voter to choose “none of the above” option should they feel that the candidates are not worthy of their vote.

  3. lurky

    I remember that once we, all the students in university involved, that is, quite a lot of people, had a chance to elect the deputy of our university. We just had no idea about the candidates at all. There were brief introduction about them maybe, resume something, but still we did not know whom we should vote for. We simply did not see the point and most of us just didn’t care. So the name sounded familiar became our final choices. I must confess I don’t know much about democracy either. Maybe college education should focus on deepening the concept of democracy aside from curricular goals. But many people aren’t interested in politics at all or even if it’s the case, people have to obtain basic understanding of democracy. Although major improvement should be made to better current democracy in China, I wonder if there should be cultural or political diversity and the situation in China will never be the same as most democratic western countries?

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