Thursday, June 5, 2008

China: Democracy, or Confucianism?

The China Beat, Xujun Eberlein, published: June 3, 2008

Last October, when the CCP held its 17th congress, CNN reported the event with the headline "China rules out copying Western democracy." My first reaction to this headline was, So what? That spontaneous reaction might have been an unconscious consequence of my reading Political Confucianism by Jiang Qing (蒋庆), a contemporary Confucian in China. In this book, Jiang Qing draws a blueprint for China's political future based on Confucianism. It is the first such conception since the 1919 May 4th movement that denounced the traditional Chinese ideology as a feudal relic and began the age-old country's modernization efforts.

It seems typical of American thinking to regard either a republic or parliamentary democracy as absolutely the only right model for all countries. For a political system to succeed, however, it needs to be rooted in the particular country's cultural history. Throughout thousands of years, China has never lacked great thinkers, political or philosophical. Which poses an interesting question: why does China need to adopt a Western model for its political system, be it Marxist communism or capitalist democracy? Read the complete article on The China Beat


Sheila Shigley said...

I think that, sadly, many of the great thinkers were not allowed to air their views.

JStone said...

I do not often have the opportunity to debate China and its politics with other Chinese in Australia.

This may sound surprising given that I am married to a Chinese woman, am aquainted with many Chinese, and often have dinner with various Chinese born Australians.

Oddly, I have reluctantly concluded that I have a greater interest in China's history and its current politics than most Chinese that I come in contact with. This is a shame given the richness of the cultural and political landscape that is China.

I find that even my very own wife lacks any genuine interest in discussing the increasing prominence of China's actions on the world stage, and what its internal struggle for democracy means for those living in China. She is more interested in events that may impact her directly, such as the value of the yuan or the performance of the Chinese stock market.

There are however a few people I know who do have very interesting views on China, and who are not afraid to express themselves. These people have grown up in China, and so their views are of paticular interest to me.

Having said that I should state from the outset that not only am I an unabashed Sinophile, but that I also appreciate the difficulties that the Chinese government must deal with in order to keep such a large and diverse nation together.

Unlike many of my highly educated colleagues at my work, I do not take the view that democracy above all is the most important goal of a nation. Quality of life must come first, and it is here that I think the cautious but ultimately benelovent approach of the Chinese government shines through.

Make no mistake, I realise that the government has made many serious mistakes and that poverty and corruption is rampant in China, but I am speaking in relative and pragmatic terms, not in ideal terms.

What has really caught me by surprise however has been the general agreement on this point from those least expected.

Why is this so surpising you ask?

Well, these very same Chinese that I refer to were the same Chinese who as students in Australia in the late 1980s effectively defected from China after the Tianemen Square protests. These people had a rabid resentment for the oppressive Chinese government at the time, so much so that they permanently left China as a result.

These same people now praise the current Chinese government and defend its actions.

Surprising yes, but not remarkable given the changes in China over the last 20 years.

Overall, I think that the general political apathy of most Chinese Australians, and the otherwise supportive attitude towards the Chinese government's iron hold of the vestiges of political power, says a lot about the Chinese, their aspirations, values and their hopes.

It seems that at least for Chinese Australians, health, wealth and happiness is the ultimate goal of life, and although political freedom is a nice to have for most people, it plays little role in the thinking of most Chinese.