China's Confucian Democracy

The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

China's Confucian Democracy


THE SOURCE: "The Shadow of Confucianism" by Tianjian Shi and Jie Lu, in Journal of Democracy, Oct. 2010.

HOW IS IT THAT SURVEYS consistently find that the majority of the Chinese population strongly supports both democracy and the country's authoritarian regime? There's a simple explanation, according to Tianjian Shi and Jie Lu, political scientists at Duke University and American University, respectively. In China, "democracy" is understood quite differently than in America and other liberal democracies. Confucian ideas help create a "unique" blend of principles that accommodates the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

Asked as part of the Asia Barometer Survey (ABS) to judge "how suitable you think democracy is for your country," Chinese respondents gave an average score of 8.5 on a one-to-10 scale; only residents of Thailand gave democracy a higher rating. When asked to characterize how democratic their government was, respondents in China--the sole authoritarian regime in the survey--gave a score of 7.2. Only citizens of Thailand and Taiwan gave their governments higher marks.

Then the authors examined Chinese responses to the ABS question, "What does democracy mean to you? …

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