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.