China’s Democracy in Practice

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2012-10-08 15:24
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There are some people in the West who claim that there is no democracy in China, and that China is ruled under a so-called authoritarian system. There are also some people in China who take Western political systems as the sole criteria for judging whether China is democratic or not. In reality, however, there is a wealth of evidence to prove that China’s socialist democracy is endowed with its own unique characteristics and superiorities.

I. The merits and drawbacks of a political system should be judged by the effectiveness of that system in practice

Political systems represent a form of superstructure. Therefore, in order to judge whether a country has chosen the right political system or not, and whether that system is good or bad, we need to consider whether that political system accords to the situation in the country in question; whether it conforms to the requirements for the development of the economic base; and whether it is conducive to developing productivity, increasing comprehensive national strength, and improving the people’s well-being. China’s basic political system integrates the leadership of the CPC, the position of the people as masters of the country, and the rule of law. This system represents the choice of both history and the Chinese people, and also accords to the basic situation in China. Fact has demonstrated that this system enjoys clear political advantages and strong vitality.

First, this political system has allowed us to create a miracle in economic development. When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, China’s GDP per capita was only 66 yuan. At the beginning of the reform and opening up drive in 1978, China’s GDP totaled 364.5 billion yuan. During the period from 1979 through 2010, China’s GDP increased at an annual rate of 9.9% on average, successively passing the UK, France, Germany, and Japan to make China the second largest economy in the world. China’s GDP reached 40.12 trillion yuan in 2010. Such rapid development is not only unprecedented in China’s history, but has rarely ever been seen anywhere else in the world.

Second, the well-being of the people has been improved on a constant basis. The per-capita disposable income of China’s urban residents increased from 343 yuan in 1978 to 19,709 yuan in 2010, representing an increase of 6.5-fold over 1978 in real terms. The per-capita net income of rural residents increased from 134 yuan in 1978 to 5,919 yuan in 2010, representing an increase of 6.3-fold over 1978 in real terms. As incomes in China have continued to rise rapidly, several hundred million people have been lifted out of poverty; the face of urban and rural areas has been transformed; living conditions have been improved remarkably; rapid development has been seen in the fields of health care and education; and China’s social safety net has been improved constantly. These are very real achievements that have won the universal recognition of the whole world. 

Third, China’s strength in terms of science and technology has been enhanced greatly. China’s socialist system allows it to concentrate efforts and resources behind major undertakings. By giving full play to this superiority, and following the principles of introducing, assimilating, and re-engineering advanced technologies from abroad, we have been able to achieve constant advances in our capacity for scientific and technological innovation. China is now one of the world’s top patent filers, while its technological capacity in major engineering fields, such as aviation and aerospace, mainframe computers, high-speed railways, and large-scale dams, has either met or surpassed world class standards. 

The facts irrefutably demonstrate that China’s political system is suited to the basic conditions in China, and that it possesses great superiorities. Though there are many factors contributing to the sustained, rapid, and sound development of China’s economy and society, none of this would be possible without our current political system. This system allows us to make the correct decisions and implement them effectively; it also allows us to fully unleash social vitality and concentrate efforts and resources behind major undertakings. If, for arguments sake, we were to assume that this was a poor system, we would struggle to find an explanation for the achievements that China has made.

Villager Chen Guanping asks a question about the construction of a village road during a meeting of village representatives on April 16, 2012. At a meeting to discuss the construction of a cement road in Andou Village, Jiangjing Town, Fuqing City, Fujian Province, villagers discussed whether plans to build a 700-meter long and 8-meter wide cement road in the village should be approved. Questions put forward by village representatives included: “Where is the funding coming from?” “How can the quality of the road be guaranteed?” and “When will the road be finished?” The proposal to build the road was eventually supported by the villagers, with 55 votes in favor, 1 vote in opposition, and 1 abstention. In recent years, Andou Village has devoted major efforts to promoting a rural democratic process whereby proposals concerning village affairs are made by the village Party branch, deliberated by the village Party branch committee and villagers’ committee, reviewed by Party members, and decided on by vote at a meeting of village representatives. In addition, all resolutions and the outcomes of their implementation are made known to the public. These efforts have helped to enhance the management of village affairs, gradually putting self-governance and democratic management in the village on the track towards sound and harmonious development. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Zhang Guojun

II. The view that regards Western democracy as the sole model of democracy violates the basic rule of particularity of contradictions

Looking from the perspective of historical development, we must admit that the Western systems of multiple political parties, checks and balances, and general elections have their own inherent rationality and progressiveness. However, this does not mean that the Western model is the sole model for democratic politics. Ideas that view the particular aspects of contradiction in general terms, or address the general in individualized terms, go against the rule that all contradictions are particular in character. Therefore, such views are in violation of dialectics. 

As a model of democracy, the multi-party system has existed in Western countries for hundreds of years. At the same time as having inherent merits, it also has inherent drawbacks. Moreover, certain preconditions are required if a system such as this is to play a positive role. Western democracy is riddled with drawbacks and an endless string of problems. The first problem is short-sighted behavior. Political parties in the West canvass for votes in elections. In order to secure re-election, governing parties focus only on what they must do to win re-election. Naturally, this means that their policies lack overall consideration and continuity. The second problem is low efficiency. In the fight for power, governing parties attempt to govern while opposition parties attempt to undercut their support. In some cases, arguments are played out entirely on partisan lines, with different parties bickering and debasing each other, showing little regard for what is right or wrong. This renders their governments unable to produce timely decisions with regard to major issues. The third problem is the division of society. The various political parties launch attacks on one another in the battle to win election. These attacks create division among the electorate, aggravate social problems, and even lead to major racial and ethnic divides within a country. The fourth problem is political corruption. In order to win elections, some political parties engage in vote-rigging and other forms of illegal behavior.

Although China’s political system has also displayed certain shortcomings during the course of its development and operation, it still enjoys very clear-cut superiorities. First, this system is able to represent the basic interests, the overall interests, and the long-term interests of the overwhelming majority of the people. It allows for the formulation of guidelines and policies in response to actual issues from an overall and long-term perspective whilst giving due consideration to the demands of the people. This is the fundamental superiority of China’s political system. Second, this system is conducive to balancing the interests of different groups and maintaining political and social stability. As the ruling party, the CPC does not have any particular interests of its own. By remaining committed to its tenets of governing for the interests of the people, the CPC is able to balance different interests at a higher level and resolve contradictions that are present among the people. It comprehensively coordinates limited interests with overall interests, individual interests with fundamental interests, and short-term interests with long-term interests, thereby achieving a balance between various interests on the basis of overall planning and consideration. Third, China’s political system ensures the consistency and dependability of national policies, providing a foundation for the sound promotion of the country’s modernization drive. This system is responsible for the high stability of state power in China. The guidelines and policies of the Party and the medium and long-term plans of the central government are able to be implemented on a consistent basis, meaning that policies are not subject to frequent change. This is conducive to maintaining the stable development of the country over the long term. Fourth, this system allows China to channel efforts and resources into major undertakings. China’s system allows for the coordination of various different sectors. It is able to channel all necessary resources, strength, and wisdom into national development initiatives, and prevent disputes and internal friction to the maximum possible extent, thereby allowing factors of production and resources to be utilized to their fullest potential. In summary, China’s political system plays the dual roles of safeguarding state power and bringing together the strengths of all parties. This makes it a fundamental institutional factor contributing to China’s rapid and highly efficient economic and social development. The marked superiorities of China’s political system are attributable to the CPC, which acts as the leading core of this system. The CPC is guided by Marxism and it boasts strong belief in the ideal of Communism, a complete organization system, a fine tradition of maintaining close links with the people and practicing democratic centralism, and Party members that serve as role models. Moreover, the CPC maintains a strong commitment to the truth, and is capable of correcting its own errors. 

Fact has demonstrated that attempts to deny the differences that set different countries apart and forcefully impose the political system of one country on another country have never been able to achieve the results that were originally intended. Several countries have attempted to copy the Western political system, only to result in economic depression, social turbulence, national decline, and dropping standards of living. These lessons show us that we must adhere to the development path of socialism with Chinese characteristics in view of our own conditions. 

III. The socialist political system with Chinese characteristics needs to be improved in practice on the basis of national conditions

The development of democratic politics has become the common will of all humankind in the contemporary era. This is also the direction and the goal of China’s political reforms. The CPC has always been an advocate and a practitioner of political democracy. Having first embraced the world trend of democracy during the May 4th Movement, the CPC was already implementing the direct election of cadres at the grassroots level when it was based in the Jinggangshan Mountains and Yan’an. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and especially since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, China, under the leadership of the CPC, has been committed to the development of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics, and has searched for a path and a specific form for the realization of a democratic political model that conforms with China’s national conditions. China’s system of people’s congresses has been improved on a constant basis, while the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC has shown increasing vitality. With the widespread implementation of self-governance at the local level, the public are able to enjoy greater participation in the formation of major policies and laws. At the same time, new trials are currently underway for the expansion of democracy within the Party. These improvements have provided a new boost for the development of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics. However, we also have to admit that China’s system of democratic politics is not without its shortcomings. Therefore, promoting the development of democratic politics during the course of practice is a major task that we must commit to on a long-term basis. 

We need to be confident in our theories. We must have great confidence and belief in the path of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics. Only with confidence will we be able to advance resolutely and make improvements through the course of practice. We need to be confident in three areas. First, we need to be confident in the leadership of the CPC. The leading position of the CPC is a product of history. It represents the choice made by the Chinese people as the CPC engaged in a long-term struggle for the nation and made great sacrifices and contributions. The CPC has always represented the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of China’s advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people. This is the fundamental reason why the CPC has been able to win the support of the Chinese people. At present, there is no political force in China that can replace the CPC in leading the country. Fact has demonstrated that the CPC has the credentials, the capacity, and the confidence to lead the Chinese people into the future and towards the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Second, we need to be confident in our current political system. First of all, China’s political system boasts the most comprehensive form of democracy. In China, democracy is realized through the system of people’s congresses, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, the system of self-governance at the grassroots level, and the practice of democratic centralism. Additionally, China has been advancing the steady reform of its political system. All developing things have a positive side and a negative side, including political systems. There is every reason to believe that the shortcomings of China’s political system, which are an inevitable part of this system’s development, will be addressed progressively through the course of practice. Third, we need to be confident in the path that we are following. During the years of the revolutionary war, the leaders of the CPC led the Chinese people in creating a revolutionary approach by integrating the universal truths of Marxism with the specific conditions of the Chinese revolution. By encircling the cities from the countryside and seizing political power by force, the CPC won the great victory of the New Democratic Revolution and founded the People’s Republic of China. During the process of socialist modernization, the CPC has explored an approach to socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics by developing the market economy under the socialist system. This has led to the enormous achievements of the reform and opening up drive, and brought about massive changes in China. We have no precedent to follow in the development of socialist democratic politics. For this reason, we need to engage in active trials during the course of practice whilst borrowing from the achievements of all countries.

We need to follow inherent rules. The development of democratic politics in China is also subject to inherent rules. First, democracy should be developed on a gradual basis. The reasons include the following: firstly, given that there is no existing mode of socialist democracy for us to follow or copy, we have no choice but to develop our own mode in practice. This means that development must be approached on a step by step basis. Secondly, gradual development accords to the rules for the development of understanding. Thirdly, radical development is sure to lead to turmoil. The “shock therapy” approach to reform adopted in some countries resulted in the disruption of political systems and economic development. These radical moves led to political unrest, social disorder, and national decline. China cannot follow in the footsteps of these countries. We need to act on the basis of well-conceived plans. Though this progressive approach may appear to be slow, it will guarantee that our steps forward are steadier and more well-grounded. Second, democracy must be developed under the right conditions. Firstly, our development of democracy must be based on practice. The accumulation of experience serves as the basis for our efforts to identify developmental rules. Without this experience, we will be powerless to prevent rash action and disastrous consequences. Secondly, the overall cultivation, cultural attainment, and democratic awareness of the population are all important factors contributing to the development of democratic politics. Third, the development of democracy cannot come at the cost of social stability. Democracy is both the goal of development and the means for achieving development. Fundamentally speaking, the development of democracy must serve and be subject to China’s overall modernization drive. Nothing but harm can come out of regarding democracy as the sole objective and promoting nominal democracy at the cost of stability. This is to put the incidental before the fundamental. 

We need to conduct trials during the course of practice. Conducting trials during the course of practice constitutes the fundamental approach that we are taking to constantly improve the system of socialist democratic politics with Chinese characteristics. First, we need to expand democracy within the Party. Second, we need to develop democracy at the grassroots level at a faster pace. Third, we need to increase orderly public participation in the formulation of major policies. The formulation of policies in a scientific and democratic way constitutes an important part of democratic politics, and also helps to ensure that the correct decisions are made. With regard to major laws and regulations that concern the immediate interests of the general public, the reform of social development and management systems and the related polices, and other major policies of public concern, we must take stock of public opinion by openly soliciting points of view and holding public hearings, thereby allowing the public to become involved in the decision-making process. In addition, we need to give the public greater access to government information, so as to encourage their assertive, proactive, and effective participation in the formulation of important policies and decisions. Fourth, we need to give full play to the role of people’s congresses at all levels. We need to elect deputies that are able to truly represent the interests of the people. We also need to increase the standard of deliberations in people’s congresses and create conditions for deputies to attend meetings and participate in discussion. Doing so will allow deputies to maintain close links with the people, express the voice of the people, and represent interests of the people. In an effort to ensure that people’s congresses at all levels are able to fully perform their supervisory functions, we need to define scope of supervision, try new approaches to supervision, and increase the effectiveness of supervision.


(Originally appeared in Red Flag Manuscript, No.21, 2011)

Author: Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of Heilongjiang Province

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