via 《经济学人》中文版 on 12/19/09
Democracy in China
Dec 17th 2009
From The Economist print edition
A growing dilemma for Hu Jintao: how should he deal with democracy
inside the Communist Party?
YOU might have thought China's leaders would be brimming over with
confidence just now. Even as the West is struggling, their economy is
growing strongly. China's eclectic mix of free-market principles,
spoon-fed state enterprises and intolerance of dissent may be
contradictory, but it seems to have paid dividends. Around the world
those disillusioned with American capitalism have half an eye on China
as an alternative.
Yet the ruling Communist Party is acutely conscious of its own
frailties. Although students are still desperate to join the party,
that is not because they believe in Marxism, but because they are
worried about their job prospects and party membership can pull
strings. Once in, they find an organisation that cloaks itself in the
mind-numbing dogma of yesteryear, pays little heed to the will of its
76m members and revels in costly, time-wasting meetings to
rubber-stamp the leaders' decisions. It is a formula that buys the
party short-term comfort at the expense of long-term instability.
Seven years ago the party abandoned its scruples about recruiting
private entrepreneurs. It has worked hard to restock its grassroots
after the havoc caused when thousands of state-owned enterprises
closed. As a result, party cells have been sprouting in private
businesses, including in many which are partly foreign-owned. But
within the party's ranks, power still flows much as it did in the
dictatorial days of Mao Zedong.
Party leaders admit that this is a weakness. The party's immunity to
scrutiny, even by its own members, fosters corruption and leaves
decisions prone to error. Giving supposedly elected posts in the party
to hand-picked favourites generates resentment and cynicism. Members
from the private sector are often still marginalised. So too, at the
top, are women.
Let a hundred flowers wilt
China usually scorns lessons from the developing world, but party
scholars have travelled to study Vietnam. Many have come back
inspired. The Vietnamese Communist Party brooks no opposition, but in
recent years it has introduced a semblance of competition for top
positions. Hu Jintao has often spoken of the need for "inner-party
democracy" in China too. The media have heaped dutiful praise on his
words. But China's experiments have been timid and puny (see article).
This is bad news for those in China who had believed that Mr Hu's
inner-party democracy would foster the countrywide sort. In fact it is
becoming clear that Mr Hu is as fearful of giving a voice to the party
as he is of giving one to the country. It is also bad for China's
stability. Mr Hu himself has often warned that corruption could
destroy the party. Its isolation from public opinion makes it
vulnerable to nasty surprises such as the explosions of unrest in
Tibet and Xinjiang.
China's leaders have begun manoeuvring their favourites into senior
positions in readiness for them to take power in 2012 when Mr Hu, it
is assumed, steps down as party chief. Success or failure in the
struggle for power will be decided not by the ballot box but by
backroom deals between factions. Mr Hu's rise to power in 2002 went
smoothly, but previous post-Mao transitions had resulted in a coup and
a popular uprising.
Mr Hu appears to worry that his remaining years in office could be
marred by turmoil. Intense security remains in force in Xinjiang and
Tibet. Controls on the internet have been tightened in the past few
months. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been
blocked: their role in Iran's recent upheaval clearly spooked China's
leaders. The lawyer of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent dissident, has learnt
that his client will face trial for subversion. Mr Liu's offence,
apparently, was to organise a petition calling for more democracy.
Optimists in China have suggested that internal democracy could help
the party evolve into something like Japan's Liberal Democratic Party,
which ruled for 54 years with only a brief interruption until its
defeat this year. But that would happen only if party factions could
compete openly before facing the electorate. Mr Hu, for all his talk
of democracy, stresses the need to uphold the party's tradition of
"centralism"--following the leader, with no open dissent.
Party bosses can either choose their successors themselves or give the
members a say. They cannot do both.
Things you can do from here:
Subscribe to 《经济学人》中文版 using Google Reader
Get started using Google Reader to easily keep up with all your favorite sites