“Thoughts on Democracy”

The following is a translation of this post by Li Yinhe, the famous sociologist, sexologist, and widow of Wang Xiaobo. Emphasis and links were added by ChinaGeeks for the purposes of context and clarity.


In these past few years, following on the heels of China’s economic success, the topic of democracy has begun to heat up again. This “heating up” is first manifested in people’s feelings, people are having feelings about democracy and paying attention [to the topic], debating [it], and I myself am no exception. The first thing I heard was a reporter mentioning that a professor at the Party school had written an essay called “Democracy is a Good Thing” and that it has been widely noted abroad, taken as a signal that the Chinese political system was reforming.

As soon as I heard this, my first reaction was to be indignant, thinking, from “Mr. Democracy” being introduced in 1919 it has been a century, all together we’ve wasted a whole hundred years! There hasn’t even been a little progress, we still have to fight to clean up the name “democracy”, argue and waffle over whether democracy or autocracy is better. Mixed in with my indignant feelings is a complex feeling about my parents’ generation: when they joined the Party, half of them were joining to fight Japan and half of them were joining for democracy, can it be true that their lives’ effort was wasted? Can it be true that their blood sacrifice was wasted? This country they built with their own hard effort, is it ultimately a democratic country or an autocratic country?

[My] cooling off of feelings comes from the speech of a scholar in Singapore, who said we should not look at democracy as an ideology, but rather look at it as a practice. If we look at it as an ideology, then our problem is: is it good or bad? Is the democracy being declared by [government] offices real or fake? If we look at democracy as a practice, then our problem becomes: is this kind of detailed method better or is that one better, does this way or that way accord better with the needs and demands of society? Listening to his speech, I partially felt as though it seemed right but was actually wrong, it seemed as though he was defending [democracy] and maybe trying to hide something. Another part of me felt this was a very earnest, solemn, and challenging way of putting it.

I recently read Zhu Yunhan’s essay, which spoke of “foreign observers, following their own experience in their political systems, having difficulty understanding how a country that didn’t fit the Western model for the development of a democratic state could reach the result of being a true government of the people.” “Recently, foreign observers have begun to admit that the Chinese political system does have its advantages.” If we seem democracy with a fixed meaning and shape and determine for certain it’s the ideal political system, then we have no choice but to become revolutionaries [like] those during the end of the Qing dynasty. But if China’s current system does have bits of rationality, legitimacy, and is no longer just at the “political power comes from the barrel of a gun” level, then we have more choices. For example, we can choose to improve [the current system].

In terms of feelings as well as reason, I hold that there are advantages to China’s current political system. At least there is some reason to it, at least it is better than the times [when China was ruled by the Empress Dowager] Cixi. Especially these past thirty years (the thirty years before that really resembled the Cixi years too much). Especially worth knowing is that although [the current system] is not the same as Western systems of democracy, it has the potential to reach the goals of democracy. We in this Eastern country have always been different from the West, from history to culture to society and customs, if we’re striving to have exactly the same political system as the West it’s possible we will never achieve it. I believe we should strive for the most democratic, most rational system founded on Chinese history, society, and culture. If we can accomplish this, not only will it satisfy the Chinese people, but we can have a “Chinese model” that will affect the potential of the rest of the world.

0 thoughts on ““Thoughts on Democracy””

  1. A close friend of mine did a long interview with her on HIV/AIDS several years ago, before she decided to set up a blog and post online articles about sex and homosexuality in China and got the national fame that we know today. She had a quite good impression on my friend. And she’s one of the few public figures from the intellectual community that I like because she works for people to feel truly happy about themselves.

    Given her idealistic advocacy for her causes, at first glance I thought it a bit strange she’s so realistic when it comes to democracy. But then I realized since sex and homosexuality was a taboo perhaps when she started her research in these fields with her husband and now she can talk about them freely online and in the MSM, and since she must be inclined to step-by-step reform because dealing with sex issues is difficult in China, so it’s not strange she’s very practical about democracy.


  2. She has valid points. But I sincerely hope China won’t go down the drain with Singapore, whose government is worse than the CCP. The PAP uses libel suits to rob dissidents’ financial means and made them labouring for the Lee family for the rest of their life. CCP doesn’t touch the dissidents’ property or finance (some of the dissidents such as Bao Tong are still living in government houses and on government pension).


  3. Since oiasunset mentioned Singapore, I always wonder why Hong Kong and Singapore, both former British colonies and dominated by ethnic Chinese, are so different in many aspects. For one trivial example, HK’s infamous paparazzi and their freewheeling style would be outlawed in Singapore I would imagine (I could be wrong; I’ve been to HK many times but never Singapore). And while Singapore is famous for being a “fine city,” you don’t see punishing measures as severe in HK for small petty stuff. Macao is also very different from Singapore.


  4. This article is a little vague for my liking, though I guess that goes with the territory writing as a Chinese national. I think more attention should be payed to the reformation of the legal system – this is really important to form an institution that can vent national grievances, protect individuals and the Chinese people and challenge the CCPs monopoly of power. Focusing on the details of laws, making small and gradual changes and clarifications, and using the legal system to properly uphold the rights granted to citizens by the constitution might mean that the Chinese system gets where it wants without all-out democracy. The power of the rule of law can be seen in HK and singappore…. Of course the question remains how do you form such a independent legal system without democratic institutions?

    Singapore and HK are different for simple reasons: HK was more or less directly under British rule until 1997, whereas Singapore started to self-govern in 1959 – that’s a massive gap! Singapore has never really been attached to China in the same way either, being at a distance and closer to other SE Asian powers (eg Malaysia)….. So they have developed along different lines. Though HK does still have some of those harsh laws for petty offences.


  5. It would be good for the people of China to allow more freedoms for its people. This would only bring about more prosperity for its people ,not less. And the best way along these lines is to allow the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to be propogated freely throughout China. Since the truth shall make you free. Jesus Christ said himself in the word of God , the Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version. God sent his only begotten Son , Jesus, to save sinners from their sins. By being born of a virgin, living a sinless life,and dying and shedding his sinless blood as the only atonement or sacrafice for sins God our creator would accept. He was buried,and rose from the dead the third day,was seen of men, and went back up to heaven. If we have repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, God will give those who do his gift of eternal life both now and in heaven, at death , or when he comes again in the air for his own, the saved. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,and thy house. Acts 16:31. He is the way,the truth,and the life; no man cometh unto the Father,but by me. John 14:6. Read John and Romans in the Bible. Sincerely;George ,www.AntrimFaithBaptistChurch.com , http://www.FBNRadio.com , http://www.FishermenBaptistChurch.com , http://www.Unshackled.org ,www.TPGH.org


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