Eight Views on China’s Development of Democratic Politics and Reform of Its Political System

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 10:08
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 China has created a road for the development of democratic politics that unites the Party, the people and the state on the basis of consideration of the historical experience gained and lessons learned during the 60 years since the founding of New China, particularly since the institution of the reform and opening up policy. This is an important achievement made by China’s political civilization. 

 I. The important achievements made by China’s political civilization are based on the lessons learned from the “great democracy” of the “Cultural Revolution.”

 China has made great achievements in political development during the 60 years since the founding of New China following a political road that meets the requirements for the social development of the country, allows the broad masses of the people to live and work peacefully and contentedly and promotes the country’s prosperity and strength. This 60–year period can be roughly divided into two 30–year periods. The first 30 years was a period of pioneering work and exploration for China’s socialist political system. Three of the four current basic political systems were formed in this first period following the founding of New China. These three systems are the system of people’s congresses, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the system of regional ethnic autonomy. 

 Since the institution of the reform and opening up policy, we have been trying out new things based on the lessons we have learned and experience we have gained to create a road for developing socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics. The key element of this road is a combination of the leadership of the Party, the people as masters of the country and the rule of law. Many Western countries practice a system of separation of powers, which is an important achievement made by the political civilization of the West. China, on the other hand, practices a combination of the leadership of the Party, the people as masters of the country and the rule of law, which is an important achievement made by the political civilization of China.

 II. The legality of the Party in power is based on the people’s revolution.

 The question of legality is one that belongs to the field of political science. In particular, it is an important concept in Western politics as well as a question open to discussion. The accurate term here is not legality but “legitimacy,” because any political force in power would work out laws to create a legal position for itself. Therefore, in a legal sense, all political powers are legal. The so-called legality discussed here is in fact the legitimacy of a political power. According to the traditional Chinese thinking it is a question of whether the people support it or not. The political entity that wins popular support will get state power, and an entity that loses popular support will lose state power.

 The essence of legality (or legitimacy) is acceptance of the administration and control of a political power on the part of the people. There may be many concrete forms of expression of legality (legitimacy), such as an election, a social revolution, acquiescence, etc. The CPC and its position as a party in power have been won through the revolutionary struggles of the Chinese people in their resistance against external oppression and for national independence and social liberation, and have been won in exchange for their blood, lives and property and manifested through their feelings and wisdom. A song popular during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression says, “Wives send their husbands to the front and mothers ask their sons to fight Japan.” Millions of peasants in Henan and Shandong provinces used their wheelbarrows to provide logistics support to the Liberation Army fighting the Kuomintang during the War of Liberation, which led to victory in the Huai-Hai Campaign (Nov.6, 1948-Jan. 10, 1949, the second of the three decisive campaigns in the Chinese People's War of Liberation) and subsequently to the victory of the Chinese Revolution and the position of the CPC as the party in power. This was how the legitimacy of the CPC was won. From the perspective of the principle of the politics of the West or the jurisprudence of the West this is called the right of revolution, or the legitimacy of a political power gained through a people’s revolution.

 The legality of the contemporary CPC is also manifested in the fact that the CPC has led the Chinese people in the process of modernization, transformed the backward state of the country, realized leapfrog development of the country and made the century-long dream of the Chinese people to make the country strong come true. This has all been recognized by the Chinese people. This is the essence of the legitimacy of the contemporary CPC as the party in power.

  March 13, 2010, residents of Jiefang Village, Jiantang Town, Shangri-La County in the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province are casting anonymous votes to recommend new members for the village committee. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Lin Yiguang

 III. The three characteristics of democratic politics with Chinese characteristics

 There are three key aspects of the road to developing democratic politics of socialism with Chinese characteristics: 

 First, looking at the basic structure of this road, it is an organic combination of the leadership of the Party, the people as masters of the country and the rule of law. In other words, we must guarantee the rights and freedoms of the people to ensure an uninterrupted driving force for social development. At the same time, we must pool the wisdom and strength of the people and take into consideration all factors in order to ensure the country’s strategic development. The reason why China has made so many great achievements in economic and social development is directly related to this structure.

 Second, we must realize the rights of the people on a gradual basis. Rights in essence are products of economic and social development. When conditions are ripe, we should take further steps to guarantee and expand the rights of the people. When conditions are not yet ripe, the development of rights can only be more gradual.

 Third, the road of development of China’s politics has not come to an end. We must continue to explore new ways to develop the political situation and determine the strategy and rate of progress for reforms in accordance with the relevant conditions, tasks and the environment. Therefore, in a certain sense, there is no set schedule for the reform of China’s political structure and it would be impossible for anyone to work out a timetable in advance. Everything must proceed in accordance with the actual situation and be carried out cautiously taking all factors into consideration.

 IV. The idea of a “nationalized army” is a false issue.

 Do we need to “nationalize the army?” After all, which would be better, having the Party in charge of the military or nationalizing the army?

 The idea of a nationalized army is in fact a false issue. Is there an army of any country that does not belong to the state? Could it belong to a private person? An army is an armed organization that carries out the will of the state. It always acts in the interests of the state and follows the orders of the state. The crux of the question is, what is the state? In other words, who represents the state and who is the personification of the will of the state? This differs from country to country and depends on the system. In China, the People’s Liberation Army and all other armed forces are subject to the command of the CPC. This is because in today’s China, the CPC is the party in power, represents the interests of the people and embodies the will of the state, and therefore the army must naturally obey the commands of the Party.

 The fact that the Party commands the army is not a contradiction with the fact that the army belongs to the state. The army of China is an army of the state, an army of the people. This is based on its attribute. However, an attribute does not control a specific action, which must be decided by a tangible organization.

 V. Reform of the political system should neither be carried out too soon nor be delayed too long.

 Reforming the political system in line with reform of the economic system is the correct choice. Reform of the political system should neither be carried out too soon nor be delayed too long. In general, reform of the economic system and reform of the political system were in conformity with each other during the implementation of the reform and opening up policy. Reform of the political system played a very important role in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the reform and opening up policy was initially implemented. In a certain sense, implementation of the reform and opening up policy began with reform of the political system when the reform process was released from the unified Party and government leadership system during the “Cultural Revolution.” There were mainly four major measures adopted at that time.

 One was the abolishment of the de facto system of lifetime tenure for persons in leading posts and moves to make the cadres in general more revolutionary, younger, better educated and more competent. This was designed to promote a large number of people in the prime of life who supported the reform and open up policy to leading posts at various levels to become the organizational basis of the reform and opening up policy. 

 Two was the abolishment of the system of people’s communes. The system that combined government administration with management of the people’s communes was one of the main factors hampering reform of the economic system. Abolishment of the system of people’s communes greatly encouraged the people to increase production.

 Three was the streamlining of government administration and devolving of power to lower levels. This measure, which could be considered more of a reform of the system of government administration, encouraged the initiative of lower level Party organizations and local governments.

 Four was revision of the Constitution, which put the activities of society back on a legal footing. It was precisely these important reforms of the political system that made reform of the economic system possible, provided guarantees for the rights and interests of the Chinese people and allowed the gradual expansion of personal freedoms. These reforms had the effect of expanding democracy and freedom. It could therefore be said that reform of China’s economic system and political system were carried out simultaneously and that the reform of China’s political system was geared to the development of socialist democracy.

 Reform of the political system must be in line with reform of the economic system and vice-versa. Generally speaking, reform of the political system is restrained by the extent of the reform of the economic system. Reform of the political system needs to resolve some of the problems that arise in reform of the economic system and resolve new issues that are created by reform of the economic system. In this sense, reform of the political system should be governed by reform of the economic system.

 On the other hand, reform of the political system opens the way for economic and social development. However, reform of the political system can not be carried out too soon. People can only carry out the tasks for which they have the necessary conditions. When conditions are not ripe, political development cannot take place. Carrying out political development when conditions are not ripe often creates serious problems. Therefore, keeping reform of the political system in line with reform of the economic system is the correct choice.

 VI. The difficulty of carrying out reform of the political system lies in addressing the issues of efficacy and unique conditions.

 What are the biggest obstacles China is facing in reform of the political system? How can these obstacles be overcome?

 The issues of efficacy and unique conditions have made finding a simple solution for political reform very difficult. Saying that there are obstacles to reform of the political system may be oversimplifying the problem somewhat, because there are practically no real obstacles. A great amount of study of the problem reveals two general issues:

 First of all there are many contradictory situations making it very difficult to find a simple solution. The efficacy of any one measure is always limited and has side effects. In fact, very often we have to first carefully assess and balance the advantages and disadvantages of a measure before adopting it. In this respect, political science is becoming more and more like the study of economics because we always have to make a detailed accounting of each item. It is possible that a single sentence could determine the success or failure of a country, but this is very, very rare today. 

 The other issue is that of China’s unique conditions. There are many ideas out there and many of them have even been successfully applied in other countries, but, they don’t have much significance for China, mainly because conditions in China are different from those of other countries. China must work out its own solutions taking into account the conditions and culture of the country.

 VII. In order to realize the will of the people, it must be first determined exactly what the will of the people is, how reliable that determination is and how effective the method for determining that will is. 

 All power in China belongs to the people. In order to realize the will of the people, it must be first determined exactly what the will of the people is, how reliable that determination is and how effective the method for determining that will is. How do we know what the will of the people is? And how do we know the will of the people is being heeded? There is an inherent contradiction with this question: what actually constitutes the people? The subject of the people is a very large one, making it very difficult to be pinned down precisely. People as the main movers of history must be organized by someone and their collective will must be identified by someone. After all, to what degree the people can be the main force for action is determined by their representative and how well this representative actually understands the will of the people, how reliably this representative represents that will and how effective that representative is in defining that will.

 VIII. We must understand why government administrations rise and fall and address the issues to maintain a dynamic balance.

 How can China avoid returning to the periodic rise and fall of bureaucratic administrations that has been the rule in the country’s history for more than 2,000 years?

 A country must resolve its contradictions in order to maintain a dynamic balance and continue to survive. Historians have developed a new outlook on history, and perhaps this outlook may be worth considering to a certain degree. This new outlook is the theory of replacement of old dynasties by new ones. History is a continuous line. A new society is never completely unrelated to the old society. The new society will always have things that have changed and things that have not. Speaking somewhat abstractly, any society or system will accumulate a large number of contradictions during a long term of development. If these contradictions are not properly addressed, disintegration of that society or system could result and the society or system would be replaced by a different type of society or system. After a new society or system emerges, it will also begin accumulating contradictions and eventually may commit the same errors. This is the periodic law of history.

 This phenomenon to a certain degree is universal throughout history. In order to avoid the consequences of this law, in other words do everything possible to ensure that a country continues to thrive, a country must continuously work to resolve the endless stream of contradictions that emerge in society to maintain a certain balance in society, which may be a relative and dynamic balance. In this way, it is possible to a certain degree to avoid the so-called “rise and fall cycle.” 

(From Red Flag Manuscripts, No. 21, 2009)


Note: Author: Director of the Institute of Political Science of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 

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