The topic ofDemocratization in China is widely speculated on, with strong argumentssupporting both sides. China’s economy is rapidly growing and is becoming anincreasingly strong participant among its democratic competitors.
The result ofgrowing economy and being a world power is the expectation of following Westerncounterparts and democratizing. The argument of democratization of China isalso backed by observations of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, all nearbycountries that became democratic or sustained a democracy once suitablywealthy. Although nearby countries are adhering to the notion that wealthincreases chances for a democracy, China’s similarities to these countriesdemocratizations is very minimal. China’s economy is increasing in wealth, butthe characteristics of China are far more different than in the previouslymentioned countries. Because the middle class, who is typically described as amobilizing force for democracy is still a minority, the wealthier classsupports the Communist party due to self-interest, and the Han Chinese majorityembraces nationalism, the prospect of China democratizing in the next ten yearsis unlikely, in contrast to the notion of democratization arising from globalgrowth. As stated above, the middle class is typically amobilizing force for democracy. In a smaller country the middle class can holda great impact on the country, thus promoting democracy to fight inequality.
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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 cometogether to push democratic values because uniting in one strong force is notas achievable as it in a smaller country. The large population in China meanscompeting groups with different interests are unable to unify for a greaterimpact. Further supporting the difficulties in unifying in China, Bruce Jacobsstates: Manycontemporary Chinese intellectuals retain a sense of superiority with respectto workers and peasants. They believe they have ‘ability’ and ought to govern.
Although these intellectuals say they support ‘democracy’, actually they lookdown 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 manyChinese intellectuals to decide the interest of workers and peasants on behalfof the, is not true democracy and, in essence, does not differ from the presentdictatorial regime.
(Economic andPolitical Weekly)Toelaborate, the statement above exemplifies the problems within unifying a largepopulation. The middle class holds inconsistent views with the working classtherefore making a push for democracy difficult. The middle class in China,which as mentioned early is a minority, holds their views and interestscontrastingly from the working class. The middle class is unwilling to fallinto the ranks of the working class.
Also, due to the history of a merit-basedsystem, Chinese intellectuals hold themselves above the lower class. Ifopposing inequality is common in a democratic system, the Chinese intellectualsdo not support it for the lower classes. The difficulty of China democratizinglays in the difficulties of bringing together who are willing to supportequality for all. According to The American Historical Review,”Revolutionary leaders could mobilize successfully only when they responded tolocal problems and concerns” (Duara, 580). Elaborating on this source,mobilizing is effective when local problems are addressed; the transition ofthis into China proves difficult when there are an abundance of local groups toappeal to and many problems around the country to solve the entirety of them. Asthe Journal of Current Chinese affair states, “It is precisely because they, asmiddle-class individuals, do not share any coherent “middle-classcharacteristics”(Ying, 2016) In turn, uniting a large population of working andmiddle class Chinese to agree on a set of local problems to address appears tobe a hindrance in the democratization of China.
Along with issues of uniting the middle class, China’supper class proves to be a hindrance to democracy, due to the self-interestedsupport of the Communist party. The upper class is unwilling to hold thegovernment accountable due to securing their own interests. Many of thewealthier Chinese trust the Communist Party to more than they trust elections.The Communist Party is trusted in order to protect upper class interests and democraticvalues are not a top-priority interest. There is no push for fightinginequality by the upper class. The push for democracy in China is diminishingeven as the economy is growing. The growth in wealth is not equating into moredemocratic values, as the Western world would believe to be the case.
Accordingto an article detailing the role of China in democracy assistance:China’seconomic rise has deflected international criticism of its human rights record,even while producing, according to scholar Minxin Pei, ”an increasinglydangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampant corruption and widening inequality”that stunts political reforms and generates resistance to democratization.17Recently, human rights issues have been given less importance duringhigh-/level official visits. (Hsiao, 596) China is going againstthe Western world model and instead upholding a strong case for an opposingmodel. In the past, the Western world strongly argued that liberalization wasinevitable for China due to capitalism. Although the Chinese market is subjectto market forces, and capitalists are involved, China emphasizes that thecapitalists do not run their country. The people and companies profiting fromthe markets highly rely on the state to sustain their wealth. Banking is understate control so the bank can reject or lend credit upon their own terms.
Forthe wealthy class in China to push for more political freedom may interferewith business since the state controls banking. This control over bankingminimizes the possibility of successful Chinese citizens using capitalism topush democratic values. Support for this found in a journal detailing China’s socialistmarket economy, “China’s 150 or so large state-owned enterprises reportdirectly to the central government while choosing their own CEO’s and keepingtheir profits. But if they get into financial trouble, the state bails themout. (Smith). Although capitalism is creating wealth, people and companies arestill dependent on the state for sustaining their wealth. Conspiring againstthe government or pushing for reform has the potential to jeopardize wealth andbusiness for upper class individuals.
As the upper class relishes in the wealthof China’s economy, they are not a mobilizing force for democracy. The Westernnotion 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 andpolitical freedom. The fast paced growth of the economy has solidified China asa strong power and criticizing the state is a difficult task for thoseunwilling to break relations with the state. Washington Quarterly has emphasized the problem by stating:China’seconomic rise has deflected international criticism of its human rights record,even while producing an increasingly dangerous mix of crony capitalism, rampantcorruption and widening inequality that stunts political reforms and generates resistanceto democratization. Recently, human rights issues have been given lessimportance during high-/level official visits.
(Baogang, 37)The growth of China isnot aiding in growth of democratic values. As China’s role as a major powerincreases so does the unwillingness of foreign interference concerningoppression. The growth of wealth is having a negative effect on of a politicaluprising. China’s growing authoritarianism has frustrated expectations thateconomic liberalization would prove to be incompatible with one-party rule andcreate a large middle class, which would eventually demand political freedom tomatch newfound economic liberties. Citizens remain deprived of the individualautonomy essential to cultivating a democratic culture. Along with the wealth hindering the Chinese fromuprising, the wealth has also hindered foreign opposition to the one-partyrule.
The Chinese government cautioned other States against raising the casesof pro-democracy and rights activists. For decades now, the blistering pace ofeconomic growth has been the party’s most important source of legitimacy,delivering stability. For a while these goals meshed well with each other andwith people’s personal aspirations: under an unspoken agreement, people couldamass wealth so long as they did not try to amass political power too. Bettereconomic performance gives them greater political legitimacy, and they don’thave to do political reform Conversely, strong arguments opposing this view allude toa larger middle class in the future, which that will overcome seriousfragmentation, and the voice for more political freedom will be too hard toignore. Along with the growth of the middle class, having the option to makemore choices inn daily life, based on small encounters, will draw awareness onneed 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 theHan 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 usedas a propaganda tool for the government. Nationalism can be greatly intertwinedwith the government and therefore promotion of nationality is a promotion ofthe current government. This downfall of the union between these two meansopposition of one of the areas translates into opposition of both. These tiesprove to be a challenge in moving towards more political freedom. The confusionin opposing China’s government but having a great pride in nationality createsan imbalance and can lead to further fragmentation of the movement. As statedin foreign affairs:ChineseCommunist Party leaders have tried to revive the traditional moral-politicalmodel with certain modern adaptations. Xi’s “Chinese dream,” for example,emphasizes wealth, national pride, and obedience to authority.
Media andschools stress the idea of patriotism, with “love of country” consideredconterminous with “love of the Communist Party.” Ideas such as democracy, humanrights, and modernization are mentioned as well, but generally with theappendage “with Chinese characteristics,” to indicate that they have beenmodified to fit into Communist Party authoritarianism. And a “Chinese model” ofdevelopment supposedly offers other countries an example of an authoritarianroute to wealth and power. (Link, 25) Correspondingly, the statement above exemplifies the useof using nationalism as political leverage. As the theme of the Communist partyand nationalism is instilled in the people, breaking away from one area provesmore difficult.
Along with the government stressing these ties, kids in Chinaare also being instilled of the importance of nationalism and obedience from avery young age, unable to distinguish their love for the country and their lovefor the government party. The use of nationalism in China can provideastounding 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 muchindependence. They want followers, not citizens. That is why they spend so mucheffort and money pushing the ideas of materialism and state strength, whosesurface appeal has had substantial success. Many Chinese, especially the young,have bought into the concept that being Chinese in the twenty-first centurymeans being money-oriented, nationalist, and antagonistic. This new view ofmodern Chinese goes against the Chinese students who once admired Western life,but due to the anti-Western propaganda, many now view the West as aggressiverival than model to aspire to.
Furthermore, nationalism furthers fragmentation of thepopulation based on ethnicity, with a Han ethnic majority, minorities aresusceptible to inequality and a minimized voice in government. The Han majoritysurges with nationalism, which as detailed earlier is intertwine withgovernment, increasing the difficulty of minorities to voice their opinions forindependence. As political scientist Thomas Christensen writes in aninfluential 1996 Foreign Affairs article, “nationalism is the sole ideologicalglue that holds the People’s Republic together and keeps the CCP government inpower. Since the Chinese Communist Party is no longer communist, it must beeven more Chinese.”. The Chinese identity alienates those who do not share thenational pride, meaning those with opposing party beliefs are ostracized aswell. Chinese nationalism has evolved through the development and expansion ofrhetoric contrived to libel China’s Western adversaries while glorifying HanChina. (Johnson, 63) All things considered, nationalism greatly impacts anuprising of political freedom and constrains Chinese citizens from autonomy andcritique of the communist government.
The surge of nationalism is influence thedecisions of policy making. In Present times, Chinese leaders must consequentlycompete with both ethnic and liberal nationalism to offer its own nationalistvision to shape a nation-state and assure that nationalism is a force overwhich the party upholds control. This concept can be exemplified by Beijing,which launched an extensive propaganda campaign to educate the people inpatriotism. The campaign appealed to nationalism in the name of patriotism as away to ensure the loyalty of a population stewing in domestic discontent. Atthe core was “education in national conditions” (guoqing jiaoyu),which emphasized how China’s unique national conditions make it unprepared toadopt Western-style liberal democracy. The current one-party rule, theyclaimed, would help maintain political stability, a prerequisite for rapideconomic development. Nationalism has become an effective instrument forenhancing the CCP’s legitimacy, allowing for it to be redefined on the claimthat the regime would provide political stability and economic prosperity.
Altogether, major obstacles hinderthe democratization of China resulting in the unlikeliness of China toliberalize in the next 10 years. As current President Xi Jinping’s power isgrowing, the prospect of freedom for Chinese citizens is becoming less likely.There are major challenges to overcome before equality and independence cantake stage. The fragmentation of China is one of the major hindrances, stemmingfrom socioeconomic status, nationalism, and growing wealth. In order for a freegovernment, many groups will need to unify, putting aside self-interests andcreate a strong enough voice to oppose the current ruling party.
All in all, amore realistic and, arguably, desirable outcome would involve political changethat builds on the advantages of the current system.