China fact of the day

We find that party members on average hold substantially more modern and progressive views than the public on issues such as gender equality, political pluralism, and openness to international exchange.

That is from Chengyuan Ji and Junyan Jiang, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Of course this may partly explain why China’s rising middle class is not so outright enthusiastic for democratization.


As an aside , our own founding fathers were also not so enthusiastic for democratization, since they included quite a few "anti-democratic" features in the Constitution. The question, then, is not, Is X or Y for democracy? The question is, What is the "optimal level" of democracy.

The Founding Fathers were willing to limit their own power to also limit the power of the masses. That's quite different from a view that the purportedly pluralist Communist Party must cling to power to prevent purportedly non-pluralist masses from seizing it. It's commonplace for dictators to rationalize their power by claiming that the masses could not handle it. The Founding Fathers demonstrated the fallacy of that excuse.

The Founding Fathers aren't the best example as they too were distrustful of the masses. Hence the government was founded originally as a republic of its elites rather than as a democracy of its people. Few examples,

1. Originally, only landowning white men were able to vote. Universal male suffrage didn't come until more than half a century later. Women even later.
2. Prior to the 17th amendment, US senators were elected by state legislatures.
3. The electoral college. The people don't elect the POTUS, they elect the electors who elect the POTUS.

Of course, the trend over last 200 years has been towards more democracy so that is something to be proud of.

I’m a cuck! BC stands for Beta-Cuck!

The point is that the Founding Fathers' distrust of the masses led them to *limit* government's, and hence their own, power. That is 180-degrees opposite of the Communist Party's, and other authoritarians', rationalization of *expanding* government's power out of distrust of the masses.

Pluralism is not synonymous with majoritarianism. The point of democracy is not to empower the masses (at least not as a collective) but to limit government's power, limit it from doing things that the masses really dislike, which is completely different from empowering government to do things the masses do like. It's one of many necessary, but *not sufficient*, limits. The other limits --- like separating powers among many branches and levels (federal vs. state) and outright preventing certain government powers (infringing speech, religious, gun rights, etc.) --- are the means by which to deal with any mistrust of the masses. The measure of democratization is not how well the masses are empowered as a collective but rather how well the masses are empowered individually.

Unless one understands the distinction between modern democracy and simple majoritarianism, one will fall victim to authoritarians' rationalizations about why they must remain in power to check the populist passions of the masses. Examples include not only the CCP but also Middle East authoritarians that claim they are the only ones standing between civilization and radical Islamic theocracy.

Agreed, and the optimal amount of democracy varies by time and place. For China today given its low level of income and education, as well as lack of democratic tradition, it is probably higher than zero but not by much.

" Of course this may partly explain why China’s rising middle class is not so outright enthusiastic for democratization."

Does anyone have a poll on this?

Also, how would the party's views explain what the middle class is thinking?

No one is enthusiastic for democracy when you know your opinion is in the minority...

China cracks down on Marxist students:

“Once you study Marxism, you know real socialism and China’s so-called socialism with Chinese characteristics are two different things. They sell fascism as socialism, like a street vendor passes off dog meat as lamb.”

I guess this answers my question below about whether an academic in China could publish work critical of the Communist Party.

(Of course, these Marxists are also wrong when claiming that China is not practicing "real" Marxism. When has Marxism not led to the current state of affairs in China?)

Let's be clear though, China is not in any meaningful way Marxist today. It's state capitalism with a dictator for life. This is Chairman Mao leadership on top of 21st century capitalism type stuff.

Marx’s theory is that societies go from feudalism to capitalism to socialism though. Since China was still basically feudal in 1950, it seems consistent with Marxism for it to be in a capitalist stage now. The only question is whether the Communist Party leaders will be willing to move towards socialism how they have tasted the fruits of the capitalist stage (my guess is no...)

China has a crony capitalist system. Jack Ma is the world's richest "communist" and business owner.

Interesting that the most successful people in society, East or West, hold views more favorable to liberalism. Why is that? Is it virtue signaling or is it genuine?

So, the Party supports political pluralism, really, but they just can't allow it because the mass public wouldn't support pluralism? Got it. If only there were some way to protect liberalism, even from populist passions, through a system of checks and balances and constitutionally limited government. Of course, under that system the purportedly pluralist elites would also have to limit their own power.

I notice that the authors are from China and Hong Kong. Could an academic in China even publish a paper critical of the Chinese Communist Party without putting his own and his family's safety in peril? If not, then shouldn't that affect our evaluation of the credibility of any paper published by someone working under such duress?

A point well made. How can 'the Party' be for ideas which we know 'the Party' repudiates in its practices and official ideology at the highest levels?

The way we resolve this contradiction is to consider who we are talking about exactly.

The Party membership, polled here, mostly consist by a good degree of China's would-be-elite, who get jobs in the low level bureaucracy, have enough involvement in political corruption that their business enterprises can survive, and so on.

Probably by and large the same urban families who would be in power under any system (as per the general intransigence of social status to any system change as observed by Clark's 'The Son Also Rises'), and who'd constitute its elite under democracy. They're allowed to hold these views under the Chinese system, which is authoritarian, not Jucheist totalitarianism or the like.

But for the most part, these people are largely immaterial to China's actual political leadership, mostly to its big picture domestic policies, certainly to its international relations. The Chinese Communist Party does not practice internal democracy in any meaningful sense. The 'political nation' is a small slice of these people, selected for connections and their loyalty to Communist ideology, the core of the Party and an instrumental loyalty at most to capitalism and any sort of pluralism. The 'Inner Party', perhaps we could say (if we felt the literary reference wasn't distorting), and the 'Outer Party' for most of the above.

Democracy would almost certainly mean a shift towards the general public from the 'Inner Party', and to the 'Outer Party' only to the degree the public trust them. This might lead to an excess of enthusiasm for 'illiberal democracy' and 'populism'. But it would also likely lead to peace by lacking the hostility that China's current elite hold towards democratic systems, and it would lead to the ability of the Chinese people to assert their rights towards an elite, which at least holds the promise of a China which the West can trust to respect the rights and well-being of its people.

President Xi's consolidation of power is political pluralism with Chinese characteristics.

Pretty much same situation in much of Africa

Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat have been posting some interesting columns recently about the liberal views among Americans that the many announced Democratic candidates for president have been trying to tap into. What Stephens and Douthat point out is that, sure, Americans may have liberal views on a host of issues, but not on all issues, and it's the issues on which Americans lean right that, in the end, are what motivate them to vote for a particular candidate. Immigration for example. Older readers may recall the so-called "liberal hour", when otherwise conservative Americans, for the hour it takes to vote, would pull the lever for candidates that were more liberal than the expressed views of Americans. Today, that same time period might be called the "illiberal hour", when Americans who have expressed support for liberal views, in the end vote for the more conservative or even right-wing populist candidates. I suspect the same would apply to Chinese if they could vote.

"We find that ________ party members on average hold substantially more modern and progressive views than the public on issues such as alcohol, drug legalization and gambling."

Let's also drill down into the actual survey questions: CCP members show greater support for equal treatment of men and women, putting checks-and-balances on political power and learning from foreign ideas

"Equal treatment of men and women" is a Communist ideal so hardly surprising to see that represented among the Party membership.

"Learning from foreign ideas", in Chinese parlance, mostly means adopting economic models and innovations from outside China to enhance Chinese growth and power, and in these questions it also means not practicing protectionism on trade to protect the working and lower class, which an elite class may be expected to lean against (if they'd phrased the questions to be about protecting Chinese SOEs I guess the results would skew a little differently). This is not the proposition of Baizuo cosmopolitanism, as such.

"Checks and balances", if you look at the questions, means essentially the control of the wider Party over the leadership and army, certainly not the ability of the people at large to check the leadership. It'd would be some strange thing to be surprised that Party members would support that?

This is exactly why we should let China become a democracy at its own pace. Western countries slowly democratized over hundreds of years, only gradually expanding the franchise. Democracy is only stable when most people are fat and happy; otherwise people are easily swayed by demagogues and use the vote to take resources for themselves at the expense of smaller voting blocs or non-voters. Almost all developing country democracies end up electing pretty authoritarian rulers. China does not need its own Chavez or Putin.

Putin hardly seems worse than Xi. The case for his regime being more kleptocratic than the Chinese is weak. (Putin brought the oligarchs to heel at the behest of the people!) Supporting authoritarian Xi to avoid the possibility of authoritarian Putin hardly seems to make sense.

Chavez, perhaps, but his rise would be unlikely there - a democratic China would not wholly abandon East Asian export fueled developmental economics, and would indeed have an easier time continuing them by selling to West that didn't fear it politically.

This said, frankly, it doesn't matter too much. Talk of China democratizing in its own good time is increasingly hard to credit. When we talk of Right dictatorships, the likes of Rhee Syngman's Korea, Francisco Franco's Spain, Augusto Pincohet's Chile, Chiang Kai-shek's Taiwan, we can see precedent for these inevitably democratising in time. The commitment to authoritarianism of the middle class commerical society on which these regimes depended would be weak compared to the allure of being an accepted part of the Anglo-led American order and Franco-West German led EU order. This is not the case in Communist Party China; an internal democratisation may happen, but it is by no means guaranteed.

Nor is democratization something the West can make happen (not without disastrously high cost).

So if to talk of the inevitability of China democratising at its own pace or the West imposing democracy are both fairly foolish, what is right? To at least try and not and follow policies that actively speed China's relative development, and to cooperate and aid the development instead of other powers that will serve as a check on the ability of Chinese to operate and exert power outside the mainland, and to allow Chinese demographic trends and slowing growth to work their magic within Chinese society at turning a young and optimistic nation into an older and less confident one.

"to cooperate and aid the development instead of other powers that will serve as a check on the ability of Chinese to operate and exert power outside the mainland"


Here are GDP per capitas (PPP) in 2017 dollars when some countries became democracies:

Spain $20,000
Russia $20,000
Taiwan $15,000
S. Korea $13,000
Chile $9,000

China is at $15,000, so democracy coming up!

Coming up when, after dictator for life Xi is dead?

Haven't you heard? There will be an overthrow Xi party in 2022 and all the masses are invited.

Russia is more aggressive than China, as seen by its invasion of Crimea and Ukraine. China has not engaged in aggressive military acts abroad in 40 years.

We should not enact policies to slow the development of any country. That’s an abuse of our world domination. The interests of billions of people in enjoying the same living standards as Americans outweigh our government’s geopolitical interests.

I agree with aiding the development of other powers, but to improve their people’s living standards, not to be a check on China. In fact, this is something we should work with China on—I suspect China would be very happy with developing its Asian neighbors and other developing countries as that will mean more trading and wealth-creation opportunities for China, particularly because newly developing countries won’t be as locked into US finance and technical standards. Many of these countries will also be politically aligned with China out of developing country solidarity, as India was politically aligned with the USSR.

Crimea and Ukraine seem both sort of one example, but Georgia you could add to that list. The non-aggressiveness of China, might be easier to take wholly seriously without those military drills around Taiwan (which is not considered much differently in China than Ukraine is in Russia, though Ukraine and Taiwan differ entirely in their wealth and the degree to which they offer a political alternative). I'm not confident in the ability of you or I to distinguish China being institutionally less bellicose than Russia (Putin vs Xi and the systems that surround them) from their different relative geopolitical situations.

Re; improving living standards and responsibility, here's how I would look at the questions your comment raises: China has reached levels of wealth at which further improvements in standards of life expectancy, child mortality, literacy, primary education, tend to be fairly marginal. (The relationships are pretty clear). 'Living standards' arguments for lifting Chinese "out of poverty" had more currency against the threat of the Party when China *was* very poor. Further convergence of living standards would be essentially further growth in Chinese mass consumption. That's a lot less clear as tenably any sort of moral responsibility. 50 inch screens and the latest model Huawei phone isn't exactly babies dying of typhoid.

In line with Todd's comment above (where he, by my reading, rightly skewers the notion that China is still too poor for democracy, by the example of other successfully transitioning nations), China today probably shouldn't be considered through the lens of a very poor developing country. The choices here are less about lifting people away from severe deprivation, illness and death, more about following policies actively assisting a large, politically authoritarian country without too much severe deprivation (assuming the official statistics are at all reliable) to become an even richer one without changing its system. Potentially a richer trade and science partner yes, but with significant downsides as a political actor and hegemon. Western responsibilities to political freedom (particularly to their own citizens), may tenably outweigh the benefits of further Chinese consumption (what 'living standards' would really mean here).

But if China truly does want to develop nascently democratic countries around it (and including established democracies like India), to equal prosperity without changing their political systems or subjecting them to a geopolitically dependent relationship, they can certainly bring that on.

Why is this surprising? Marxism/communism is a liberal, progressive ideology. Left authoritarianism is not the same as right authoritarianism.

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