Democracy in China, the worst form of government (except for all the others)

September 20, 2007

I’m unpersuaded by Tom Doctoroff’s arguments in this article (as seen in China Digital Times) about how China will never accept “democracy”.

The “democracy” that Doctoroff describes in this article is nothing I would describe as such. He does not argue that Chinese would reject principles of government based on (1) meaningful competition for leadership, (2) popular participation in the selection of leaders or on (3) the need to support civil liberties in order to protect the integrity of the political system. He doesn’t because these democratic principles are not inherently antithetical to Chinese culture, prosperity, or national power. Instead, he describes the stereotypical views of democracy currently popular among urban Chinese, views which equate democracy with unbridled individualism, Russia’s economic collapse, and weak central governance among other failures. By these standards, who wouldn’t reject “democracy”?

Rather than accepting these stereotypes at face value, I would have been more interested in hearing how the author might apply his popular survey savy to try to move beyond the popular misinformation in order to truly try to gage Chinese sentiment towards democratic governance. For example, what if a Chinese survey audience was persuaded that democratic political reform in China would not automatically result in a weak central authority (is the US presidential or UK prime ministerial office weak?) or that economic decline in Russia was the result of too little rather than too much democracy or that democratic reform is not synonymous with the imposition of a US system of government in China? If one could give democratic models of governance a “fair hearing” in China, would we see wider popular demand in China for incremental democratic political reform?

My hunch is that if such a fair hearing were possible we would see Churchill-like support for democratic reforms in China, with the majority acknowledging that while democracy might be the worst form of government, political models based on democratic principles remain the best on offer for now.

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