admin’s note. The following is a blog post from 多维博客(h/t to Snow). Besides re-posting an article originally published on the Study Times (a weekly publication of the CCP’s Central Party School) in 2008, it drew a vigorous debate among Chinese with nearly 300 comments (I hope that someone could translate them too), many of them are interesting. Although we posted the Chinese version last year and A-gu commented on that, it was until recently that btbr403 volunteered to translate it. DeWang and Allen helped with the translation.
Following is the translation of the original post:
The Study Times of The Central Party School published an article by Zhang Weiwei (he was Deng XiaoPing’s interpreter, and he wrote an opinion piece The allure of the Chinese model ), a senior research fellow at the Modern Asia Research Centre, University of Geneva, Switzerland. He showed his excellent eloquence in the invitation only Marshall Forum on Transatlantic Affairs, saying that he had visited more than 100 countries, but couldn’t find one that achieved modernization via democratization. The European and American scholars present couldn’t find any examples to refute him.
When I saw this proposition, “the Four Dragons of Asia” first occurred to me, but after a second thought, I realized that these countries went on democratization with a certain level of modernization. So I’m afraid it’s not appropriate to take them as examples.
Dimensional Blog(多维博客) is full of wits, so I ask everyone there – are there examples (even one) to illustrate that democratization comes first and modernization comes later, or at least they just go hand in hand at the same time.
Reflecting on Western Democratization
In a beautiful summer resort at the outskirts of Munich in late June, 2007, the well-known Marshall Forum held a seminar on China issues. I was the speaker on the rise of China and its international influences. The discussion after the talk was really interesting.
An European scholar asked me, “when do you think China will start democratization?”
“What is your definition of democracy?” I replied.
He was quite annoyed, and abruptly said, “simple: one person, one vote, general elections, power alternation.” Then he added, “at least, this is how we Europeans see it.”
I expressed my appreciation and respect for the European values. I followed up with the question, “did it ever occur to you that China has its own values too? And one of them is to seek truth from facts.” I continued, “we’ve been researching facts for a long time, but we have never found an example of a developing country realized its modernization through democratization that you talked about. I have visited more than 100 countries, but couldn’t find any.”
Then I politely asked him to offer an example. He couldn’t come up with one right away. I suggested, ”you may think about it and tell me later.”
At this time, an American scholar raised his hand, and shouted, “India!” I asked the scholar whether he had been to India or not. He said “no.” I said, “I’ve been there twice and canvassed the country thoroughly. My impression is that India is 20 or even 30 years behind China economically. The poverty I saw in Mumbai and Calcutta is worse than anything I’ve seen in China in the last 20 years.”
He did not counter.
Then the first scholar came up with Botswana as an answer. I asked him, ”have you ever been there?” He said “no.” I explained, ”I have been there, and I had a meeting with the president of Botswana. It’s a small country with a population of only 1,700,000. Indeed, Botswana has carried out western democratic system, and there have been no big turmoil. This country is rich in resources and has relatively simple ehtnic composition. In spite of these advantages, Botswana is still a poor, developing country, average life expectancy is less than 40.”
“What about Costa Rica? ” another scholar asked. I asked again, ”have you ever been there?” Another “no.” I elaborated, ”I visited this country in 2002. It’s a small country too, with a population of 4,000,000. Compared with other Middle American countries, Costa Rica is politically stable and economically prosperous. More than 90% of its population is descendent from the Europeans. They had a head start in many aspects. However, Costa Rica is still a rather less developed country, and the gap between the rich and the poor is tremondous, with 20% of its population living in poverty. The capital San Jose leaves people an impression of a big village with a lot of houses made of sheet iron and slums.”
I figured that the audience might not come up with other examples, so I just asked, ”should I give examples of western democratic models that didn’t work out for developing countries? 10? 20? 30? even more?”
I talked briefly about democratic Philippines that Americans founded, democratic Liberia that African Americans created, Haiti next to the US, and the unfortunate Iraq.
Some people in the audience nodded but others shook their heads. Still, none stood up to provide a counter argument. Then I asked another question, ”all of you come from developed countries, so can you give me an example – one is enough – to illustrate that the today’s developed countries put forth general election before or during their modernization?”
I continued, ”African Americans didn’t truly get the right to vote until 1965. In Switzerland, not until all women got their right to vote in 1971, has the country truly realized general election. If you want to put forth western democratic systems, the west should firstly explain why the approaches to democratization are exclusively gradual and are all after modernization. If we sort this out, then I think we have a common ground.”
I talked about my personal proposition at the same time. ”What will it be if China carries out the general election? Provided that fortunately China doesn’t have a civil war and disintegrate, we may elect a peasantry government since the peasants have the largest population. I don’t discriminate against the peasants. If we go back 3 or 4 generations, everyone was a peasant. I will never forget that I come from a peasant, and I don’t discriminate against the peasants and people come from the countryside. However, Chairman Mao, who himself have led times of peasant movement, once said, ‘the serious problem is to educate the peasants. A peasantry government can’t lead the cause of great modernization. You know this better than I do.’ ”
A scholar was not so satisfied and objected, ”democracy is sacred and noble. It’s the universal value which should be accepted by China.”
I replied, ”democracy is universal value indeed, but the western forms of democracy are not. They are still controversial. Why can’t you be a little more confident? If your systems are perfect enough, others will adopt them, but if you try to implement your systems-even with force- in the name of universal values, that’s out of the line. Take a look at Iraq, according to the latest BBC reports, the citizens of Baghdad started to use the word ‘hell’ to describe their city. Still, the naïve Americans thought that the Iraqi would come to give them a warm welcome with flowers in hand.”
The democratization topic didn’t go on further because of some other interesting topics. In fact, if you look at all the premier western democracy theories, you will find most of the masters of the western democracy theories-from Montesquieu to Schumpeter -don’t advocate democracy for the sake of it. They all think it is a procedure, an institutional arrangement, or some kind of game rules. It is “limited participation” but not “unlimited participation.”
Of course, there are idealists like Rousseau calling for human rights and revolution all the time, but France have paid an extremely heavy price for this, and the democracy achieved in the end is not the independent democracy that Rousseau called for, but tools of democracy.
I wrote an opinion piece (The allure of the Chinese model) in the International Herald Tribune in 2006, talking about the problems the western countries brought to developing countries by exporting their values. ”The west set their own ideology as the best, implementing radical democratization. They ignore the specific situation of the local places. Implementing democracy before liberal political cultural and legal system is formed often make the results frustrating and disastrous. ”
Professor Edward Mansfield from University of Pennsylvania and Professor Jack Schneider Columbia University have published a book, “Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War.” The conclusion of the book is when adopting western democracy models, internal conflicts and external wars are easily provoked, because the politician will get votes if they advocate populism. Many countries fell into wars after liberal election in the 90’s: Armenia and Azerbaijan started a war, Ecuador and Peru started a war, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Burundi – Rwanda Massacre, leading more than 1,000,000 people to death.
So is the hearting-breaking secession and wars in Yugoslavia. I visited all the countries of Former Yugoslavia, the conservative estimate shows more than 100,000 people died in Bosnian war, making it the war which lost most lives since the European Second World War. How much evil has been done under the name of promoting universal values!
And so is the issue of democracy, the west haven’t gotten rid of the “I am the center of the universise” mindset yet. This mindset has led to numerous wars throughout history, almost ruined the western civilization. The west should have learned a lot from it, however, it seems like not the case, especially for the USA. If the west really wants to implement democracy in developing countries, they should take a look at their history of the democracy development and summarize, one of the key issues is the order of democracy.
The evolution of the original ecological civil society can be summarized like this approximately: firstly, the development of economic and education; secondly, the development of civil culture and legal system; lastly, the democracy. If we mess up the order, a society will pay a heavy price. But the west is asking the countries of the third world to be perfectly democratic, making the last step to be the first, or making a leap within the 3 steps, what would you expect to happen?
The world is developing; democracy means more than the monopoly or privilege of the west. The new technology revolution has provided all kinds of new means for democracy. The countries of non-western traditional culture totally have the access of exploring their own unique ways of democratic development and they should.
As a follower, China should learn from the experience of both the developed countries and the countries of third world in the process of democracy development. We should get rid of the narrow and rigid view of democracy and put forth the reform of political system which is suitable for China and also to gradually deepen the reforms at the same time. We will try to catch up with the first runners and build a new civil democratic society of prosperity and harmony.
(The author of this article is a a senior research fellow at the Modern Asia Research Center, University of Geneva, Switzerland. It was published on The Study Time on January 14th, 2008)