Talk of democracy has stirred in China since the late seventies, briefly erupting in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. It continues to disrupt the current agenda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today. There are many obvious benefits of democracy, but what about the flip-side? Here are three commonly cited reasons for why democracy in China just won’t happen.
1 – (Values) China is a Confucian state
Confucianism has played an important role as one of China’s state ideology since the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD) and continues to pervade – some might say “dictate” – the way a lot of things are done in China. The majority of Chinese people have strong Confucian values – three of which clash with democratic values:
I. SOCIAL HARMONY
Preserving the harmony and peace, minimizing conflict and keeping society unified are central to Confucianism. Democracy is believed to undermine this because it brings forth to the surface controversial issues such as gay marriage, abortion and capital punishment – which the Chinese see as dividing up and tearing apart the delicate fabric of society.
II. COMMON GOOD
Democracy works on the concept of ‘self-interest’. Citizens vote for the candidate who best represents their own ‘self-interest’ and the dominant set interests win (majority rules). From a Confucian perspective, this is not beneficial for society because what “most” people want, may not be objectively whats “best” for society.
III. FAMILY STRUCTURE
Call it patriarchy or what have you – but the Chinese are strongly rooted in their ideas of having a strong ‘figurehead’ in the family. Someone – most likely an “elder” who passes down knowledge and wisdom – because they are the moral compass, the ideal. Politically, this translates to strong government.
2 – (Historically) China has always been an authoritarian state
China has always had strong government. If it wasn’t an emperor, it was a ‘supreme leader’. China has never tolerated more than one party and one leader at a time. Democracy is a completely alien concept to the average Chinese citizen and they are not prepared to accept it – nor would the CCP consider it, of course.
3 – (Culturally) China is an Asian country. Asian countries are more ‘collectivist’
Democracy is argued to be culturally inappropriate for an Asian state like China. Socially, Asian states are more ‘collectivist’ in their nature than Western countries – which are often described as ‘individualistic’. Democracy which – supposedly – upholds the rights and voice of the individual is therefore seen as a model that only caters for a Western society.
The ‘East Asian Development’ model is often described as a more ideal model for China. This model incorporates a one-party, strong government system with a capitalist economy thereby preventing it from being isolated from the global market. A prime example of this in practice is Singapore – and this is the pathway China intends to take.
Assuming you’re from a Western country, conditioned to champion democracy, I leave you with the question: does one size really fit all? Feel free to discuss in comment section below.