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The Chinese distorted view of democracy

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热度1336票 时间:2008年6月05日 21:45

From: http://upiasiaonline.com/Politics/2008/06/04/the_chinese_distorted_view_of_democracy/9610/

Guangzhou, China — It is inevitable that the topic of democracy should be in the minds of many Chinese early this month, especially today. Unlike many people in the world who have enjoyed a democratic lifestyle, however, there are still many misunderstandings in the minds of the Chinese.

The most common viewpoint is often expressed in the statement, “Democracy isn’t food.” Many tend to set the two against each other: democracy versus bread. How on earth did people get this idea, which has made them averse to democracy? The Chinese need to carefully evaluate this concept of theirs.

Here are two undeniable facts: Most of the top 100 countries, whose citizens are the wealthiest in the world, are democratic, and almost all those at the bottom are non-democratic; there is practically no country that has transformed itself from an autocracy to a democracy in which the people have a lower living standard than before.

Even in the case of India, if it didn’t practice democracy its people would have an even harder life than they have now. How can we prove this theory? It’s easy. The Indian aren’t fools; if they thought a king could bring them more bread than democracy could, they have complete freedom to elect a king, and to kneel down and shout “Long life!” to him.

That is exactly the merit of a democratic system – the people can even collectively decide to forsake democracy and return to a lower social system. Such a thing has never occurred in history, however.

Democracy surely cannot be eaten, nor can it provide one with bread. Yet there are only two situations in which a person might be led to contradict the merits of democracy as described above – either one is being fooled, or one’s job is to prevent the advent of democracy in a society.

Another common misunderstanding among the Chinese is that democracy leads to turmoil and chaos. These are fearful terms for the Chinese, as they will suffer and struggle to survive if turmoil breaks out. This is understandable.

Yet it is unreasonable to believe that democracy equals disorder. After all, China can be counted among the most chaotic of countries in world history, but it has never implemented democracy even for a single day. China’s own experience does not support this conclusion about democracy.

What then has caused the turbulence in China’s history, where society has sometimes been relatively stable but sometimes very chaotic? There are only two reasons: fighting for political power, and unscrupulous rulers riding roughshod over the people. (The chaos caused by foreign invasion didn’t appear until 100 years ago, within China’s long history of several thousand years. In other words, most of the time the suffering of the Chinese has had nothing to do with either democracy or foreign forces.)

In fact, democracy is the world’s solution to the root of turbulence – the struggle for political power – so that peace and harmony can be built and maintained in society and the world. In a democratic system political power cannot be taken by guns and violence, coups or struggles, but only through the ballot, by winning the trust of the people.

Whoever desires power needs to get the people’s approval. Thus, one has to be humble, like Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan, and try to look cheerful while working hard to win the voters, like Hillary Clinton in the United States.

Then, can a ruler cause disorder under a democratic system? Certainly.

There were a number of protests when Chen Shui-bian, the former leader in Taiwan, took power, for example. Actually, those protests were very disciplined and orderly. But the people in mainland China found them “chaotic” when such incidents were reported in mainland media.

However, it seemed that no one was sacrificed, put in jail or engaged in serious fighting during protests against Chen Shui-bian.

The weakness of the democratic system lies in the possibility that the people could elect a leader who later appears to be inappropriate. However, the virtue of democracy is that they can vote him out of office again.

But in a non-democratic country, the people have no right to choose an inappropriate leader, nor to remove him by the ballot and replace him with a better one. They can only wait for a small group of people to decide the state leader, and then pray that their children will be treated kindly under the new leadership.

In associating democracy with disorder, some Chinese may be thinking of Iraq, or certain countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, and the inevitable throes they endured on the way to building a democracy. However, even in this difficult situation, none of these people wanted to turn back to their past or return to their former road.

Iraq is often described as very chaotic, for instance. But except for the terrorists who dislike democracy and want to return to the era of Saddam Hussein, the previous despotic leader, no one wants to return to the old days. If the people gave up the choice of democracy, the terrorists would have achieved their objective and would stop their destructive activities. But the Iraqis prefer to pay the price for democracy.

The Russians paid a price for their democracy too. While they were struggling, many Chinese were laughing at them. But they are not laughing now.

Stability without democracy is like a volcano that can burst at any time and bring the country to ruin. North Korea is a typical case of this. The two Kims have held power in North Korea for more than half a century, but in the West, such as the United States, leaders have changed many times. Which is more stable and prosperous?

South Korea gradually moved toward democracy after the Seoul Olympics, although it went through some hard times, changing presidents within a few months. Could one say it was unstable?

How then could the Chinese pursue democracy under their special national situation? It is time for free and open discussion on this topic. As soon as all the Chinese long to enjoy the benefits of democracy, the country of China will naturally become democratic.

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(Yang Hengjun is a well-known Internet critic on current affairs and author of political spy novels. He has been a researcher on international relations and politics for the Chinese government. This article is translated and edited from the Chinese by UPI Asia Online; the original may be found at http://yanghengjun.blog.hexun.com. ©Copyright Yang Hengjun.


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