A Path to Democracy: In Search of China's Democratization Model*

By He, Kai; Feng, Huiyun | Asian Perspective, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Path to Democracy: In Search of China's Democratization Model*


He, Kai, Feng, Huiyun, Asian Perspective


China's transition is drawing worldwide attention. China started market economic reforms in 1978 and is rapidly closing its economic gap with the developed world. The Chinese public and Chinese leaders have started to debate and explore where China should go politically and how to get there. After examining the merits and weaknesses of four prevailing theories of democratization-modernization, social mobilization, cultural/social capital, and negotiation-pact transition theory-we conclude with an appropriate model for China's political future. We argue that (1) the conflict between the reform and conservative groups inside the communist regime will shape the process of China's democratization; (2) the hope of China's political future lies in continued economic development, a mature civil society, and the building of democratic political culture in society; and (3) the current intra-party democracy promoted by Hu and Wen signals a positive trend for China's future democratization.

Key words: China, Democracy - East Asia, East Asian politics

Introduction

China is experiencing a transition. The economic reforms since 1978 have narrowed the industrialization gap between China and the developed world. However, its communist political system is still lagging far behind the trend of democracy in the world. The demise of the Soviet Union and the democratic transitions of Eastern European countries in the 1990s enlightened the Chinese people as to where to go; however, how to get there is still a question. The chaotic and, in some cases, tragic transitions of the former communist countries have cautioned the Chinese people to the effect that an unsuccessful political transition may mean turmoil and instability in China, and even catastrophes for the region or the world.

This article explores possible paths for China's democratization theoretically and empirically. First, we focus on defining democracy as we answer these questions: What is democracy? What are the differences in Western and Chinese understandings of democracy? Second, we examine the merits and weaknesses of four prevailing democratization models. Then we suggest a complex model for China's democratization. In conclusion, we argue that Chinese and Western perceptual and empirical differences toward democracy may persist into the near future. Nevertheless, the factional differences between the reform and conservative groups inside the communist regime will shape the process of China's democratization. In the end, the democratic future of China lies in continued economic development, a mature civil society, and construction of a democratic political culture in society.

What is Democracy? China versus the West

Democracy means, literally, rule by the people.1 However, how to rule and who are "the people" are two questions that have been intensely debated for centuries in the West. Simply put, there are two popular definitions of democracy in the West. First, democracy is seen as a means of state building, especially for selecting political leadership. This definition is also called a minimalist conception of democracy suggested by Joseph Schumpeter. For Schumpeter, "the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote."2 Schumpeter's conception of democracy is measured by the competitive, free, and multiparty election, which is named electoral democracy to differentiate it from liberal democracy.

Liberal democracy is a broader definition of democracy. In addition to the electoral means of state building, liberal democracy also stresses the end of state building-constitutional liberalism in Fareed Zakaria's terms. It refers to the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the protection of individual liberties.3 While electoral democracy focuses on the political liberty of people, liberal democracy stresses the civil liberty of people-freedom of expression, assembly, religion, and property.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Path to Democracy: In Search of China's Democratization Model*
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.