Thus a rationale was provided for the continued existence of a powerful autocratic state. And statistical evidence shows that this compromise solution has had some benevolent results. For example, despite embracing the neo-liberal economic model, Chinese society is more egalitarian than many advanced industrial societies. In aspects such as reach of public healthcare, access to education, food security, etc, China is ahead of some major democratic countries such as India. Such facts reinforce the view of Chinese intellectuals who claim that implementation of democracy is not the only way to progress. As scholar Fred Dallmayr notes in his engaging article in China Review International, it is easy for western intellectuals to get carried away by liberal democratic standards that they are used to. For China, where the style and substance of governance derives from Confucian ideas and principles, subordination to authority is not inherently deficient. In other words, people of China “have devoted their time and energy to family and other ‘local’ obligations, with political decision making left to an educated, public-spirited elite; hence, the ideal regime here is one that reconciles minimal democracy with elite politics” (Dallmayr, 2008). In this system of meritocracy, “leaders are chosen by means of literary and educational tests (patterned in part on the civil service examinations of Imperial China)” (Dallmayr, 2008). While admitting that positions in government need to be filled by such talented and learned personnel, there is no satisfactory answer to the question of reconciling this demand with democratic progress.
Further in support of the status quo, Chinese intellectuals argue that “meritocracy is decidedly not synonymous with rule by a power hungry, autocratic, and self-serving” (Yang, 2002). They also believe that “the highest human good lies in public service”, as Confucius had noted in the Analects (Hillman, 2004). In this scenario, when the elite are steeped in tradition and thought from Imperial China, it is quite clear that the prospects for democracy are indeed low. Going by the lack of civil unrest of the sort seen in Tiananmen Square – 1989, it can be assumed that Chinese citizens have either accepted or willing to tolerate the lack of democracy. Hence, in conclusion, it should be said that embracing free-market economic policies have had little effect on the way Chinese society is organized internally. Within its confines, China remains a controlled society with minimal citizen participation in policy discourse.
Dallmayr, F. (2008). Daniel A. Bell. beyond Liberal Democracy: Political Thinking for an East Asian Context. China Review International, 15(2), 163+.
Guang, L. (2004). How Migrant Labor Is Changing Rural China. China Review International, 11(1), 151+.
Hillman, B. (2004). Mutual Empowerment of State and Peasantry: Village Self-government in Rural China. The China Journal, (52), 116+.
Qing, L., & Xue, Y. (1996). Human Rights, Democracy and China. Journal of International Affairs, 49(2), 333-342.
Reardon, J. (2004). The Perilous Road to the Market-The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China. Journal of Economic Issues, 38(3), 873+
Edward Gu and Merle Goldman eds (2004), Chinese Intellectuals between State and Market (New York: RoutledgeCurzon)
Elizabeth J. Perry and Mark Selden, editors (2000). Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance. (London: Routledge)
Yang, G. (2002). Civil Society in China: A Dynamic Field of Study. China Review International, 9(1)