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Does democracy exist in China?


Does democracy exist in China?
CDChina Daily  Updated: 2005-10-20 05:34

Are Chinese politicians and their foreign counterparts talking about the same thing when they engage in discussions about democracy?

Where does China stand on the road to democratization?

Questions such as these have repeatedly popped up in scholarly discourse over the nature of Chinese politics, and cultivated stereotypes overseas.

If you are curious about "Chinese characteristics" in the country's democracy, and want to know what those characteristics are, the white paper released yesterday on the status quo of political democracy is an invaluable reference.

The reading process may be a little tedious considering the prevalence of unfamiliar political jargon. But ample rewards are guaranteed - you will find out what democracy means in terms of official Chinese political ideology, and how democracy - the Chinese brand - is practised.

The text will guide you through the labyrinth of Chinese concepts and designs such as the People's Congress system, multi-party co-operation mechanism, and regional autonomy for ethnic minorities.

It goes to great lengths to explain the country's constitutional identity as "people's democratic dictatorship," a phrase that may sound strange to foreign ears. The invention of the late Chairman Mao Zedong prior to the founding of the People's Republic of China, or New China as it is called here, holds the key to post-1949 Chinese political evolution.

That is the logical starting point for a journey of discovery that aims to show why and how the same word - democracy - has carried such divergent connotations and taken so many different forms here and elsewhere. Readers will learn why the government embraces a "democratic dictatorship." It may also help understand why China refuses to adopt the Western-style checks and balances system of governance.

The Chinese approach to democracy is illustrated in an all-round manner through the design of State bodies and their interaction with society. For example, it included statistical data portraying progress in self-governance in rural and urban neighbourhoods.

Of course the white paper may serve as a useful guide to Chinese politics, or the Chinese approach to democracy. But more important, as some scholars at home point out, it can serve as a platform for sensible discourse about the healthy growth of political democracy in China.

The government has demonstrated a firm determination to pursue a course of its own, distinct from the Western pattern. Having said that, China has never ruled out the possibility of borrowing from successful foreign models.

In fact, many of the recent moves made by the government, such as allowing greater transparency and endorsing closer public scrutiny, are based on time-honoured prescriptions from overseas. In order to live up to its vow to deliver good governance, the authorities have a lot more to learn from other nations.

The white paper demonstrates the latest Chinese approach to and agenda for socialist democracy, helping readers better understand the Chinese characteristics of political democracy.

The document may not answer every single question, but it is nevertheless worth reading for an insight into Chinese politics.

After all, the publication represents a historic first on Beijing's part - the decision to share with the outside world extensive details of its perspectives on democracy.

(China Daily 10/20/2005 page4