Democracy and Democratization

By Geraint Parry; Michael Moran | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Democratization in China: structural constraints

Flemming Christiansen

Democracy in China is hard to achieve. In the minds of Chinese intellectuals and politicians democracy has long been a utopian goal on the one hand and a panacea against today’s predicament on the other. It shares this position with the concept of scientific and technological progress, the Mene Tekel used to lay the omnipresent ghost of backwardness. The gentlemen De and Sai, representing Democracy and Science, commenced their frivolous slapstick performance in the Chinese intellectual variety show when the later founder of the Chinese Communist Party Chen Duxiu invoked them in 1918 to exorcise the dark ages of feudalism and backwardness in which China was stuck.

Although ideas of constitutionalism and demands for reform of the political system towards some form of democracy had existed in China since 1895, these remained faint voices of scattered intellectuals at home and in diaspora, and even the democratic intentions in the Early Chinese Republic after the 1911 Revolution proved insignificant in taming the lust for power of men like Yuan Shikai (president 1912-16) and later the regional war-lords. Against this background democracy and science gained the role of cure-all for China’s misery in the imagination of generations of Chinese intellectuals, while regimes prided themselves on putative democratic institutions which stood in stark contrast to their cruel, repressive nature. Chen Duxiu (1918), representing the critical intellectuals, coined the idea of the two (foreign) gentlemen, De and Sai.

Ever since they have served the function of rhetorical last resorts for any movement and political system in China, often qualified by other terms in order to indicate their actual realiza-

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