Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China v. Kentucky: Whose Got More Democracy?

 In totality, while China has not experienced much democracy, they have had lots of democratic rumblings.

While author John Day realizes that Chiang Kai-shek was an autocratic dictator, in 1943, who headed a one party totalitarian China, much like China today, he simultaneously was optimistic about the democratic sunshine that would inevitably stream through China's future clouds. Chiang Kai-shek pledged to the people of China that he will bring about “the realization of constitutional government as soon as possible” since that was the inevitable goal of his “revolutionary efforts”.1 While not a democracy in 1943, John Day provides amble evidence of democracy's rumblings in Chinese history and culture. According to Day, “the essential democratic elements are already existing in China: the experience of local self-rule, the innate faith in the individual, the tradition of ultimate popular sovereignty, the Three Principles of the People, the embryonic attempt at representative government, the co-operative movements, the emphasis on education, and the genuine desire for international peace and harmony.”2 Because of these reasons, Day says, “China is in many respects far ahead of the West, which is, by comparison, still laying the foundations for its democratic structure.”3 Chiang Kai-shek says of Democracy: “To my mind, our destiny is with the democracies, because our people are inherently democratic in nature and spirit. If we survive, we have the opportunity to become a great organized democracy. That is, of course, if democracy itself survives in the world.”4

Feudalism had been established during China's Han Dynasty (206BCE-220AD), but an Emperor issued a decree declaring that all lands be evenly distributed to the sons of the families. This decree decentralized the autocratic homestead, and made conditions more egalitarian for all men, of families who owned land. “There was no guillotine, no purging of the nobility; there was no confiscation of private lands or drastic inheritance taxes—none of the weapons the impatient West has used.”5

From 8 A.D.-23 A.D., Emperor Wang Mang, “the first New Dealer”, instituted many radical reforms. Emperor Wang Mang liberated the slaves (like Lincoln), and nationalized: the land (like Lincoln), “the natural resources, currency, credit, wine, and salt (which has always been the most profitable single source of revenue in China)”.6

Many Chinese Dynasties were taken down by peasant rebellions, sometimes seemingly spontaneous, just as the Arab Spring. A peasant rebellion is the ultimate pinnacle for democracy, since that's one time when the Demos have the power, and gather together for a common single unified goal: throw the bums out, and dissolve the government. Mencius' “Mandate of Heaven” was given to those rulers who could maintain order. If the Emperor could maintain order then that was God's will. Conversely, if the Emperor and the ruling minority elite was overthrown by a peasant rebellion, that was God's will too. The Sui Dynasty (589-619) was overthrown by a peasant rebellion, led by Huang Chao. The Tang Dynasty was established by taking control of the chaos7. The Mongols were driven out of power during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) by a peasant rebellion, led by Zhu Yuanzhang, who had allied with the Chinese gentry, and would eventually become Emperor of the new Ming Dynasty.

In the late Qing Dynasty, 1895, Liang Qichao protested for democratic reforms in Beijing. He ran away to Japan, and, from his Confucian vantage point, wrote popular works about democracy. In 1908, in Tianjin, a Chinese city, the County Council was chosen through elections. The imperial Qing Dynasty ended in 1911, when the Manchu were deposed. China had elections for their Bicameral National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives, just like America) in December 1912 to January 1913. The election was indirect democracy, since the voters voted on electors, who then turned around and voted on their leaders, which is strikingly similar to America's current indirect democratic system of today. Another similarity to America, at least Revolutionary America, is that those who were allowed to vote in the 1912 elections were only the adult males over 21, who owned property. Within two years, China's democratic experiment would break down, and the norm of autocratic military rule returned for decades.8

While it's known that Mao Zedong was a bloody genocidal dictator, he is still beloved in China, and Mao Zedong was a known Marxist. The third stage of Marxism is Capitalism, and the next, and last, stage of Marxism is the Proletarian Revolution. The Proletarian Revolution is when the working class peasants rises up, and destroys Capitalism, and then institutes a perfect Communist utopia where everybody works together, and nobody is in want. Each according to his ability, each according to his needs. Since Marx believed that Socialism and Democracy worked hand-in-hand with each other, some Chinese may decide to usher in the final stage of Marxism, and bring in true blue Communism, and not the aberration they have now.

In the 1970s, there was a “Democracy Wall”, where anybody could write anything, until somebody wrote something offensive, and it was quickly tore down.9 In the 1980s, Hong Kong got its first elections.10 The Tiananmen Square protests happened in 1989, which are known to the Chinese (those who know about it) as the June Fourth Incident. Macau got their elections in the 1990s. In March 1996, Taiwan had national elections for national representatives, and direct election for their Presidential election.11 “Unlike the prolonged bloody struggles between the people and the autocrats of imperial Russia, France, England, and other countries, Taiwan's democratization had occurred rapidly and peacefully.”12 In 2000, Taiwan saw the first peaceful transfer of power to an opposition leader, a major success for democracy.

While there have been rumblings of democracy amongst the Chinese, China is far from being a democracy. According to a 2012 Freedom House write up, “China is not an electoral democracy.” It's #141 of 167 countries in the Economist's 2011 Democracy Index. A 9-person Politburo council has the iron-fisted power of China proper, which is controlled by the Communist Party. China's Communist Party is similar to Mexico's PRI Party, which ruled as a single party authoritarian dictatorship, where some ceremonial elections were held, but they were fixed by the inner party's internal mechanisms, and have been able to stay in power for decades. The Communist Party has ruled China as a one party totalitarian state for decades. As head of a nation-state, Hu gets to enjoy a monopoly on violence, and uses that absolute power to suppress activists, journalists, and opposition parties, such as the Chinese Democracy Party, and to imprison them, including a 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and online journalists who report about officials taking illegal bribes. The Internet and cell phones are censored with great success. Hu Jintao, the current autocratic Chinese Dictator, has announced that China does not need an opposition party, since one party totalitarian rule suits ole Hu Jintao just fine.13

A few years ago, the article “Democracy is a Good Thing” by Yu Keping came out, and has since appeared in most China's major newspapers, and has been widely circulated.14 Yu Keping said that the challenge for Chinese scholars is to make democracy “safe for China both conceptually and procedurally.”15

The Democratic Peace Theory has been Washington's claim for decades. The Democratic Peace Theory declares that democracies don't war with each other. This is one reason why the US wants China to become democratic, but also because China has been massively building up their economy and their military into a major super power that rivals the US with lightning speed, and the US feels threatened by that. Add the fact that China offers a different ideology and worldview that counters the Washington Consensus, and offers a major alternative: the Beijing Consensus.

The origins of European democracy coming from Athens is a recent invention. “Enlightenment thinkers tended to see ancient Athens as a negative example, a place supposedly made unstable, chaotic, and vulnerable by the entrance of the mob into politics.”16 Instead, it was the fascist military might of the Spartans that they revered, and sought to live up to, not democratic Athens. There were also elements of racism towards Asians. Emma Goldman thought of Lenin as a “shrewd Asiatic” who brought forth “Asiatic barbarism”.17 Samuel Huntington, a popular author about international relations, says that democracy outcome of a uniquely Western European cultural process.18 Samuel Huntington is exhibited a self-serving bias by having patriotic feelings towards his own country and Western civilization. Democracy being a virtue in Western culture is a myth. “The idea of a culturally unique and democratic West, however, is a dangerous, antidemocratic construct.”19

Democracies aren't always guaranteed to succeed. The German Weimer Republic, the February Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, and many democratic breakthroughs in Latin America all eventually failed. In China, the 1911 Republican breakthrough to democracy was lost in less than two years. In 1920, Japan had a brief democratic opening that was smashed by fascism's boot. Democratic regimes in Africa that overthrew their European colonial masters didn't last long.20 Crane Briton's Anatomy of Revolution suggests that the only way a revolution can consolidate it's democracy is with radical terror.21 The Civil War was how America consolidated her democracy. In 1989, Gorbachev in Soviet Union sought democratic reforms, and once that genie was out of the bottle, there was no putting it back in. By late 1990, the Soviet Empire was no more. So Democracy could lead to the dissolution of the State, and that doesn't serve the interests of the imperial totalitarian government.

The United States Constitution started out by limiting Universal Freedom by restricting the right to vote from all Black folks, all Native American Indians, all women, anybody under 21, and all non-land owning white men. Hodgenville Kentucky born Abraham Lincoln says about the Protestant Know-Nothing Party:

As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equals, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equally except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they made no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken... without the base alloy of hypocrisy.22

The Proposal

American scholars have not agreed upon a definition of democracy, and that's problematic since the US invades countries and initiates wars of imperial aggression in the name of freedom and democracy. America has never had a pure democracy, and Kentucky specifically only has 28% of her citizen's voting (November 2011). Since only a little more than half of them are deciding on their Governor and representatives, that's about 15% of the folks in Kentucky who are deciding who the authoritarian ruling elite should be. This means that the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians reject participating in their democratic government, and this presents a democratic legitimacy crisis. The governing ruling class of the state are not democratically legitimate.

On an episode of The Colbert Report awhile back, Stephen Colbert showed a picture of the Tienanmen Square incident, and none of the Chinese youth being interviewed could identify that event. The Tienanmen Square, especially the Tank Man, looms large in Western literature and imagination. The Economist 2011 Democracy Index ranks China as #141 in a list of 167 countries around the world. The US is ranked 19th. The 2011 Democracy Index points out that there has been a spread a democracy in Asia for the last couple of decades, but only 7 of the 20 Asian countries that had elections were considered “free and fair”. An Asian Barometer poll shows that most Asians do not believe that democratic reforms helped their lives directly, and while most of them support democratic ideals, their commitment to limiting a leader's power is lower than in most of the rest of the world.23

Since Kentucky and China both have issues with democracy, my research will be focused on them. I will use the methodology that is used for the Democracy Index—the 60 question questionnaire—for Kentucky, and a comparable region in China. The 60 question questionnaire gathers data about the perceptions people have about their government and it's effectiveness. The Democracy Index quantifies democracy in four main areas: political participation, functioning of government, electoral process, and civil liberties. To begin my research, I'll need to demonstrate that this study would be useful, and so I'd have to find two regions between the States that have enough similarities to make it a worthwhile comparison. There is also immense value in having a Democracy Index for all 50 States in the US, and for different districts in China, for the same reasons an international Democracy Index is useful. I would want to choose my two initial regions with care, and may choose to compare City-States instead.

Louisville compared to Hong Kong, which was given a “Partly Free” rating by Freedom House, compared to China's “Not Free” rating, might offer a better analytical framework for comparison, though Hong Kong's immense size puts Louisville to shame. Macao looks to be a possible prospect to compare to Louisville, because of it's autonomy, and population. Taiwan, hailed as The First Chinese Democracy in March 1996, also showed China's mainland by example how democracy's are supposed to work, with televised Presidential debates in 2011. The Presidential Debates in Taiwan was widely viewed and discussed in mainland China, and has generated a lot of enthusiasm for China's prospects for becoming democratic. It was suggested by a blogger that if Hu Jintao and Ma Ying-jeou (Taiwan's President) were to debate, that Hu would be “defeated and speechless”.24

The results of this research project will show that America's weakest democracies compare to, and is perhaps worse, than China's best democracies. This finding would challenge many leading authors regarding the superiority of Western culture's innate natural inclination to progress towards a liberal democracy versus the culture in Asia. These inevitable findings would vindicate the late Edward Said, and set Samuel Huntington straight.

2012 Freedom House. Assessed April 25, 2012.

Chao, Linda and Ramon H. Myers. 1998. The First Chinese Democracy: Political Life in the Republic of China on Taiwan. (Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press).

Brown, Miranda and Conrad Schirokauer. 2006. A Brief History of Chinese Civilization, 2nd Edition. (Belmont, CA; Thompson).

Day, John. 1943. Is China A Democracy?. (New York: John Day Company).

Economist Report. 2011. “Democracy Under Stress: Economist 2011 Democracy Index”. Assessed April 25, 2012.

Fang, Sophia and Quincy Yu. 2012. “Mainland Chinese See Taiwan Election as Lesson in Democracy”. Assessed April 25, 2012.

Friedman, Edward. 1995. National Identity and Democratic Prospects in Socialist China. (Armonk, New York: ME Sharp).

Keping, Yu. 2009. Democracy Is A Good Thing. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press).

Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. (New York: Vintage).

1Day, 1943, 11
2Day, 1943, 12
3Day, 1943, 11
4Day, 1943, 132
5Day, 1943, 17
6Day, 1943, 18
7Brown and Schikauer, 2006, 109
8Brown and Schirokauer, 2006, 306
9Brown and Schirokauer, 2006, 373
10Brown and Schirokauer, 2006, 383
11Brown and Schirokauer, 2006, 390
12Chao and Myers, 1998, 6
13Brown and Schirokauer, 2006, 394
14Kepling, 2009, xviii
15Kepling, 2009, xix
16Freidman, 1995, 239
17Freidman, 1995, 236
18Freidman, 1995, 237
19Freidman, 1995, 235
20Freidman, 1995, 249
21Freidman, 1995, 250
22Freidman, 1995, 238
23Economist Report, 2011
24 Fang and Yu, 2012

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