Alternate Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan

Alternate Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan

Alternate Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan

Alternate Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan

Synopsis

Some Asian political leaders and Western academics have recently claimed that China is unlikely to produce an open political system. This claim rests on the idea that "Confucian culture" provides an alternative to Western civil values, and that China lacked the democratic traditions and even the horizontal institutions of trust that could build a civil society. An opposed school of thought is far more optimistic about democracy, because it sees market economies of the kind China has begun to foster as pushing inexorably against authoritarian political control and reproducing Western patterns of change. Alternate Civilities argues for a different set of political possibilities. By comparing China with Taiwan's new and vibrant democracy, it shows how democracy can grow out of Chinese cultural roots and authoritarian institutions. The business organizations, religious groups, environmental movements, and women's networks it examines do not simply reproduce Western values and institutions. These cases point to the possibility of an alternate civility, neither the stubborn remnant of an ancient authoritarian culture, nor a reflex of market economics. They are instead the active creation of new solutions to the problems of modern life.

Excerpt

Powerfully centralized political control advanced all over the world in the early-twentieth century, especially with the rise of the communist and corporatist regimes that peaked at mid-century. the end of the century, however, has brought a wave of democratization on both the right and the left. China, now alone among the old giants of all-embracing political power, still upholds its Leninist principles. This is all the more remarkable when we recall the profound economic changes of the past two decades, and China's weathering of the storms of 1989 that brought down communism elsewhere. People within China and abroad are understandably wondering what is next.

One important school of thought claims that China is unlikely to produce an open political system essentially for cultural reasons. As championed by Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, among others, this claim rests on the idea that "Confucian culture" provides an alternative to Western civil values; this has become an important challenge to attempts to create a global human rights agenda. Some Western scholars, though fonder of civil liberties than Lee Kuan Yew, similarly focus on China's authoritarian political culture, its historical lack of any democratic institutions, and its absence of horizontal institutions of trust. They also conclude that no fundamental political change is likely there. the other important school of thought is far more optimistic about democracy, because it sees market economies of the kind China has begun to foster as pushing inexorably against Communist political control. Culture is not so much of an obstacle after all in this view of modern society; it will simply change as the economic conditions change. the argument between these two opposed views of China's future rests above all on different understandings of how culture, economy, and politics interrelate.

This book examines those relationships through just one aspect of the problem -- the social groups that lie between family and state. These associations constitute the local building blocks of democratic politics, from earth god temple groups to chambers of commerce. Groups like these played a core role in Taiwan's democratization, and similar groups are developing in the People's Republic. Their potential will help to determine China's political future.

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