Explaining Chinese Democratization

Explaining Chinese Democratization

Explaining Chinese Democratization

Explaining Chinese Democratization


Hu's study represents the first systematic examination of the democratization process in China. It covers traditional, Republican, Maoist, and Dengist China, and uses historical legacies, local forces, the world system, socialist values, and economic development to explain China's difficulty in establishing a democratic system.


China is a sheet of sand.

—Sun Yat-sen

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of central power in many countries. the Civil War of 1861–65 strengthened the federal government in the United States. in 1870 the Italians chose Rome as the capital of their unified country, which had been viewed by Metternich as a “geographical expression.” By defeating Austria and France, Prussia established a German empire in 1871. By contrast, China experienced the decline of central power during the same period. the Taiping Rebellion (1851–64) affected almost all the provinces in China proper, devastated its most prosperous regions, and left between 20 and 40 million people dead. What further undermined the central power was the Nien Rebellion in the north from 1851 to 1868, the Miao Rebellion in the southwest from 1855 to 1872, and the Moslem Rebellion in the northwest from 1862 to 1878.

This chapter purports to highlight the decisive role of local forces in the democratization process in the Republican era. Local forces defy easy definition, but refer to social groups that increased their power at the cost of central authorities. They run the gamut from idealists combating a despotic central government to bandits perpetrating killing and looting. Local forces sealed the fate of the Qing dynasty, constituted a challenge to Yuan Shih-kai’s attempt at national integration, evolved into anarchical warlordism after his death, and motivated Chinese elites to seek an alternative to liberal democracy.

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