The topic of
Democratization in China is widely speculated on, with strong arguments
supporting both sides. China’s economy is rapidly growing and is becoming an
increasingly strong participant among its democratic competitors. The result of
growing economy and being a world power is the expectation of following Western
counterparts and democratizing. The argument of democratization of China is
also backed by observations of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, all nearby
countries that became democratic or sustained a democracy once suitably
wealthy. Although nearby countries are adhering to the notion that wealth
increases chances for a democracy, China’s similarities to these countries
democratizations is very minimal. China’s economy is increasing in wealth, but
the characteristics of China are far more different than in the previously
mentioned countries. Because the middle class, who is typically described as a
mobilizing force for democracy is still a minority, the wealthier class
supports the Communist party due to self-interest, and the Han Chinese majority
embraces nationalism, the prospect of China democratizing in the next ten years
is unlikely, in contrast to the notion of democratization arising from global

            As stated above, the middle class is typically a
mobilizing force for democracy. In a smaller country the middle class can hold
a great impact on the country, thus promoting democracy to fight inequality.
The problem with this generalization is that due to China’s large population,
even the middle class are considered a minority. The middle class cannot come
together to push democratic values because uniting in one strong force is not
as achievable as it in a smaller country. The large population in China means
competing groups with different interests are unable to unify for a greater
impact. Further supporting the difficulties in unifying in China, Bruce Jacobs

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contemporary Chinese intellectuals retain a sense of superiority with respect
to workers and peasants. They believe they have ‘ability’ and ought to govern.
Although these intellectuals say they support ‘democracy’, actually they look
down on workers and peasants and do not respect the peasants’ and workers’ opinions.
In a genuine democracy, each person must have an equal vote. The desire of many
Chinese intellectuals to decide the interest of workers and peasants on behalf
of the, is not true democracy and, in essence, does not differ from the present
dictatorial regime. (Economic and
Political Weekly)

elaborate, the statement above exemplifies the problems within unifying a large
population. The middle class holds inconsistent views with the working class
therefore making a push for democracy difficult. The middle class in China,
which as mentioned early is a minority, holds their views and interests
contrastingly from the working class. The middle class is unwilling to fall
into the ranks of the working class. Also, due to the history of a merit-based
system, Chinese intellectuals hold themselves above the lower class. If
opposing inequality is common in a democratic system, the Chinese intellectuals
do not support it for the lower classes. The difficulty of China democratizing
lays in the difficulties of bringing together who are willing to support
equality for all.  According to The American Historical Review,
“Revolutionary leaders could mobilize successfully only when they responded to
local problems and concerns” (Duara, 580). Elaborating on this source,
mobilizing is effective when local problems are addressed; the transition of
this into China proves difficult when there are an abundance of local groups to
appeal to and many problems around the country to solve the entirety of them. As
the Journal of Current Chinese affair states, “It is precisely because they, as
middle-class individuals, do not share any coherent “middle-class
characteristics”(Ying, 2016) In turn, uniting a large population of working and
middle class Chinese to agree on a set of local problems to address appears to
be a hindrance in the democratization of China.

            Along with issues of uniting the middle class, China’s
upper class proves to be a hindrance to democracy, due to the self-interested
support of the Communist party. The upper class is unwilling to hold the
government accountable due to securing their own interests. Many of the
wealthier Chinese trust the Communist Party to more than they trust elections.
The Communist Party is trusted in order to protect upper class interests and democratic
values are not a top-priority interest. There is no push for fighting
inequality by the upper class. The push for democracy in China is diminishing
even as the economy is growing. The growth in wealth is not equating into more
democratic values, as the Western world would believe to be the case. According
to an article detailing the role of China in democracy assistance:

economic rise has deflected international criticism of its human rights record,
even while producing, according to scholar Minxin Pei, ”an increasingly
dangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampant corruption and widening inequality”
that stunts political reforms and generates resistance to democratization.17
Recently, human rights issues have been given less importance during
high-/level official visits. (Hsiao, 596)

China is going against
the Western world model and instead upholding a strong case for an opposing
model. In the past, the Western world strongly argued that liberalization was
inevitable for China due to capitalism. Although the Chinese market is subject
to market forces, and capitalists are involved, China emphasizes that the
capitalists do not run their country. The people and companies profiting from
the markets highly rely on the state to sustain their wealth. Banking is under
state control so the bank can reject or lend credit upon their own terms. For
the wealthy class in China to push for more political freedom may interfere
with business since the state controls banking. This control over banking
minimizes the possibility of successful Chinese citizens using capitalism to
push democratic values. Support for this found in a journal detailing China’s socialist
market economy, “China’s 150 or so large state-owned enterprises report
directly to the central government while choosing their own CEO’s and keeping
their profits. But if they get into financial trouble, the state bails them
out. (Smith). Although capitalism is creating wealth, people and companies are
still dependent on the state for sustaining their wealth. Conspiring against
the government or pushing for reform has the potential to jeopardize wealth and
business for upper class individuals. As the upper class relishes in the wealth
of China’s economy, they are not a mobilizing force for democracy. The Western
notion does not uphold the reality in China.

            Among restraining the upper class by controlling banking,
the growing wealth of China is also used as a distraction for human rights and
political freedom. The fast paced growth of the economy has solidified China as
a strong power and criticizing the state is a difficult task for those
unwilling to break relations with the state. Washington Quarterly has emphasized the problem by stating:

economic rise has deflected international criticism of its human rights record,
even while producing an increasingly dangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampant
corruption and widening inequality that stunts political reforms and generates resistance
to democratization. Recently, human rights issues have been given less
importance during high-/level official visits. (Baogang, 37)

The growth of China is
not aiding in growth of democratic values. As China’s role as a major power
increases so does the unwillingness of foreign interference concerning
oppression. The growth of wealth is having a negative effect on of a political
uprising. China’s growing authoritarianism has frustrated expectations that
economic liberalization would prove to be incompatible with one-party rule and
create a large middle class, which would eventually demand political freedom to
match newfound economic liberties. Citizens remain deprived of the individual
autonomy essential to cultivating a democratic culture.

            Along with the wealth hindering the Chinese from
uprising, the wealth has also hindered foreign opposition to the one-party
rule. The Chinese government cautioned other States against raising the cases
of pro-democracy and rights activists. For decades now, the blistering pace of
economic growth has been the party’s most important source of legitimacy,
delivering stability. For a while these goals meshed well with each other and
with people’s personal aspirations: under an unspoken agreement, people could
amass wealth so long as they did not try to amass political power too. Better
economic performance gives them greater political legitimacy, and they don’t
have to do political reform

            Conversely, strong arguments opposing this view allude to
a larger middle class in the future, which that will overcome serious
fragmentation, and the voice for more political freedom will be too hard to
ignore. Along with the growth of the middle class, having the option to make
more choices inn daily life, based on small encounters, will draw awareness on
need for more freedom for the people throughout the country.

            In addition to the repercussion of increasing wealth,
nationalism also proves an obstacle for democratizing. The nationalism of the
Han Chinese in China is often a stronger political influence than democracy.
The drawback to this surge of national pride is the negative way it can be used
as a propaganda tool for the government. Nationalism can be greatly intertwined
with the government and therefore promotion of nationality is a promotion of
the current government. This downfall of the union between these two means
opposition of one of the areas translates into opposition of both. These ties
prove to be a challenge in moving towards more political freedom. The confusion
in opposing China’s government but having a great pride in nationality creates
an imbalance and can lead to further fragmentation of the movement. As stated
in foreign affairs:

Communist Party leaders have tried to revive the traditional moral-political
model with certain modern adaptations. Xi’s “Chinese dream,” for example,
emphasizes wealth, national pride, and obedience to authority. Media and
schools stress the idea of patriotism, with “love of country” considered
conterminous with “love of the Communist Party.” Ideas such as democracy, human
rights, and modernization are mentioned as well, but generally with the
appendage “with Chinese characteristics,” to indicate that they have been
modified to fit into Communist Party authoritarianism. And a “Chinese model” of
development supposedly offers other countries an example of an authoritarian
route to wealth and power. (Link, 25)

            Correspondingly, the statement above exemplifies the use
of using nationalism as political leverage. As the theme of the Communist party
and nationalism is instilled in the people, breaking away from one area proves
more difficult. Along with the government stressing these ties, kids in China
are also being instilled of the importance of nationalism and obedience from a
very young age, unable to distinguish their love for the country and their love
for the government party. The use of nationalism in China can provide
astounding loyalty to the party and an unwillingness to critique the authoritarianism.
China’s leaders are very familiar with the omission of freedom in the mission,
but they fear the concept of citizenship because it gives the public too much
independence. They want followers, not citizens. That is why they spend so much
effort and money pushing the ideas of materialism and state strength, whose
surface appeal has had substantial success. Many Chinese, especially the young,
have bought into the concept that being Chinese in the twenty-first century
means being money-oriented, nationalist, and antagonistic. This new view of
modern Chinese goes against the Chinese students who once admired Western life,
but due to the anti-Western propaganda, many now view the West as aggressive
rival than model to aspire to.

            Furthermore, nationalism furthers fragmentation of the
population based on ethnicity, with a Han ethnic majority, minorities are
susceptible to inequality and a minimized voice in government. The Han majority
surges with nationalism, which as detailed earlier is intertwine with
government, increasing the difficulty of minorities to voice their opinions for
independence. As political scientist Thomas Christensen writes in an
influential 1996 Foreign Affairs article, “nationalism is the sole ideological
glue that holds the People’s Republic together and keeps the CCP government in
power. Since the Chinese Communist Party is no longer communist, it must be
even more Chinese.”. The Chinese identity alienates those who do not share the
national pride, meaning those with opposing party beliefs are ostracized as
well. Chinese nationalism has evolved through the development and expansion of
rhetoric contrived to libel China’s Western adversaries while glorifying Han
China. (Johnson, 63)

            All things considered, nationalism greatly impacts an
uprising of political freedom and constrains Chinese citizens from autonomy and
critique of the communist government. The surge of nationalism is influence the
decisions of policy making. In Present times, Chinese leaders must consequently
compete with both ethnic and liberal nationalism to offer its own nationalist
vision to shape a nation-state and assure that nationalism is a force over
which the party upholds control. This concept can be exemplified by Beijing,
which launched an extensive propaganda campaign to educate the people in
patriotism. The campaign appealed to nationalism in the name of patriotism as a
way to ensure the loyalty of a population stewing in domestic discontent. At
the core was “education in national conditions” (guoqing jiaoyu),
which emphasized how China’s unique national conditions make it unprepared to
adopt Western-style liberal democracy. The current one-party rule, they
claimed, would help maintain political stability, a prerequisite for rapid
economic development. Nationalism has become an effective instrument for
enhancing the CCP’s legitimacy, allowing for it to be redefined on the claim
that the regime would provide political stability and economic prosperity.

            Altogether, major obstacles hinder
the democratization of China resulting in the unlikeliness of China to
liberalize in the next 10 years. As current President Xi Jinping’s power is
growing, the prospect of freedom for Chinese citizens is becoming less likely.
There are major challenges to overcome before equality and independence can
take stage. The fragmentation of China is one of the major hindrances, stemming
from socioeconomic status, nationalism, and growing wealth. In order for a free
government, many groups will need to unify, putting aside self-interests and
create a strong enough voice to oppose the current ruling party. All in all, a
more realistic and, arguably, desirable outcome would involve political change
that builds on the advantages of the current system.


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