China's Democratic Future

China's Democratic Future: How It Will Happen and Where It Will Lead

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    China's Democratic Future
    Book Description:

    The end of communist rule in China will be one of the most momentous events of the twenty-first century, sounding the death knell for the Marxist-Leninist experiment and changing the lives of a fifth of humanity. This book provides a likely blow-by-blow account of how the Chinese Communist Party will be removed from power and how a new democracy will be born.

    In more than half a century of rule, the Chinese Communist Party has turned a poor and benighted China into a moderately well-off and increasingly influential nation. Yet the Party has failed to keep pace with change since stepping aside from daily life in the late-1970s. After nearly a hundred years of frustrating attempts to create a workable political system following the overthrow of the last dynasty, the prospects for democracy in China are better than ever, according to Bruce Gilley.

    Gilley predicts an elite-led transformation rather than a popular-led overthrow. He profiles the key actors and looks at the response of excluded elites, such as the military, as well as interested parties such as Taiwan and Tibet. He explains how democracy in China will be very "Chinese," even as it will also embody fundamental universal liberal features. He deals with competing interests -- regional, sectoral, and class -- of China's economy and society under democracy, addressing the pressing concerns of world business. Finally he considers the implications for Asia as well as for the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50215-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    The derrick is positioned just below the rostrum of the Gate of Heavenly Peace in central Beijing. It is a brilliant autumn day. The hydraulic arm and the cables have been secured and checked by the 20-man crew. Crowds stand in awe in the vast Tiananmen Square below, as if they are about to witness a religious event.

    At 10 am sharp, the signal is given and, accompanied by the barking orders of a foreman, a one-ton, 21 foot by 16 foot glass fiber-reinforced plastic painting begins its descent from the rostrum face. It has been quite some years since...

    • 1 Democracy and China
      (pp. 3-14)

      In late 1912 and early 1913, a unique event occurred in China’s history. A year after the abdication of the last emperor, about 20 million citizens walked, bicycled, or rickshawed their way to polling stations across the country to elect a national government.

      The franchise was far from universal. It covered only one eighth of the adult population—males over 21 who paid tax, owned property, or held at least an elementary education. Opium-smokers, Buddhist monks, and policemen were among those barred from voting. The men who made it to the poll stations scattered at great distances throughout the vast...

    • 2 Broken Promises
      (pp. 15-26)

      There can be no better antidote to pessimism about democratic prospects in China than to revisit the exhilarating political debates that resounded through the country in the first half of the twentieth century. From the late Qing dynasty until the communist takeover in 1949, China’s intellectuals and politicians were abuzz with proposals to bring real democracy and freedom to their ancient land. The debate was usually open-minded, cosmopolitan, and fair, a reminder of the democratic potential that lies in China and has never LEFT.

      That China failed repeatedly in this period (and in the subsequent half century), to achieve a...

    • 3 The Bane of CCP Rule
      (pp. 27-59)

      The People’s Republic of China calls itself a democracy. The CCP regime asserts that people’s rights are fully protected, government is accountable, participation is widespread, elections are held, and more. If we are to argue that China will embrace democracy, then it is worthwhile to establish first that it is not a democracy at present.

      The CCP came to power in 1949 in order to remake China. Like all Marxist parties, its goal was to uproot society and remake it in a new image. The Marxist goal of communism was effectively abandoned with the reform era. But the revolutionary nature...

    • 4 Resources for Change
      (pp. 60-94)

      I hope to balance the gloom of the previous chapter with a great deal of optimism in this one. For just as the depredations of the Maoist era provided fertile soil for the birth of modern-day liberalism in China, so too the flawed nature of reform has fostered the development of forces that will bring democracy to life.

      Most regimes will choose to empower society in order to avoid immediate overthrow, as the CCP did in 1978 and reiterated after its near-death experience in 1989. It is, however, the essential paradox of all reforming authoritarian states that the very changes...

    • 5 Breakdown and Mobilization
      (pp. 97-117)

      If the first part of this book was an elaborate exercise in stage-setting, then we have now come to the main performance. The task here is to narrate a plausible sequence of events that would bring about a lasting democratic break-through in China. In this “last mile” of democratization, the long development of liberal and institutional foundations reaches a terminus with the emergence of real participation and competition in politics.

      As we saw, the recognition of needs and the balance of forces are now tilted decisively in favor of democratic transition. Many observers of China share this conclusion, but they...

    • 6 The Democratic Breakthrough
      (pp. 118-136)

      Broadly speaking, there are two exit routes for a CCP faced with popular protests that it can neither repress nor embrace: it can be overthrown by protest leaders riding on the wave of unrest; or it can be “extricated” from office by reformers within its own ranks.

      In Asia, there have been examples of both. Thailand’s military was extricated from politics through the efforts of the king and prominent politicians as pro-democracy protests mounted in 1983. A mass overthrow was evident in the People Power revolution against the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1986. While overthrow is most memorable,...

    • 7 The Immediate Aftermath
      (pp. 137-148)

      Given the constellation of forces that will be pressing in on China’s heroes of retreat from every angle, the immediate aftermath of transition will be delicate at best. Democratic transitions the world over show how the interim period—which typically extends from one to two years—is no less crucial to maintaining the momentum toward democracy and setting it on a proper course than the breakthrough itself. Like the smooth but swirling wake thrown up after the passing of a great ship, this period can be deceptively unsettled. The economy may remain in crisis, while society will leap into a...

    • 8 The Political Challenge
      (pp. 151-200)

      The year 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first and only election of a national government in China. It may be around that time when the country makes a second attempt to build an enduring democracy. Having successfully navigated the dangerous shoals of democratic transition, it now will face the vast and turbulent sea of democratic consolidation. Will it finally achieve a stable position among the world’s democratic majority? Or will it fail again, falling back into a cycle of revolution and dictatorship that reflects a centuries-old crisis of state legitimacy?

      There are two separate but related possibilities....

    • 9 Refurbishing Economic and Social Life
      (pp. 201-226)

      What are the political implications of the PRC’s mind-numbing legacy of social and economic injustice? And how will the political system mediate the claims of a free society in order to establish a new framework for economic and social life?

      These are the basic questions of political economy, the interplay between the political system and socioeconomic conditions. If the “struggle for rights” of the last chapter revolved chiefly around the political system, the “struggle for interests” takes us deeply into a newly invigorated social and economic world.

      As mentioned, these twin struggles are closely intertwined. Battles over social and economic...

    • 10 A Changed International Role
      (pp. 227-242)

      The international implications of a democratic government in China will be far-reaching and profound. China’s foreign policy will be turned upside down, as will the foreign policies of other nations toward China. No less important, the full compass of interactions between China and the world will be altered fundamentally. Two Western scholars do not exaggerate in predicting that democratization in China “would probably transform global politics at every level.”¹

      At the most general level, the change to a democratic system internally should manifest itself in a “democratic foreign policy” externally. The China that previously used any and all means to...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 243-248)

    China’s embrace of democracy will be one of the defining moments of modern political history, no less significant than the Russian Revolution of 1917 or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In myriad ways, it will force a rethinking of history itself and of the assumptions that we make about human societies and global politics. Like the French Revolution, China’s democratic break-through may remain a work in progress for many decades, thus making immediate verdicts on its significance difficult. But it is worthwhile to anticipate some of the issues that will be under consideration.

    From the commanding heights...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 249-252)

    One of the risks of writing a book about the future is being wrong. The other risk is being right too soon. Although I long ago accepted the former possibility, the latter also loomed several times during the five years that it took to research and write this book. Authoritarian regimes like the Chinese Communist Party are vulnerable to crisis and China has faced several in recent years. First the Asian financial crash, then the insurgency of the mystical Falun Gong religious sect, an international war against terror-sponsoring nations, a bumpy leadership succession, a plague-like virus known by its acronym...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 253-280)
  10. References
    (pp. 281-286)
  11. Index
    (pp. 287-297)