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Wu Bangguo on “multi party rule” ruffles some feathers in the West

Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, recently precautioned other Chinese leaders of “chaos unless correct path is taken.”

Wu’s key point is that China should not blindly follow others’ political systems for the sake of following. Rather, China should advance one suiting her own conditions.

He even pointedly said, “on the basis of China’s conditions, we’ve made a solemn declaration that we’ll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation.”

This has ruffled some feathers in the West.

During the Cold War, the propaganda in the West is that anything communist (or not democracy) is “evil” and is to be toppled. That sentiment still lingers today. I will expand on this later.

Couple of years ago, Zhang Weiwei, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s interpreter, wrote an essay entitled, “Reflection on Western Democratization,” and in it he argued there is an order of development and achieving democracy necessitates some key pre-conditions. To some, Zhang may have appeared to be arguing democracy as an eventuality and taken wholesale, but his conclusion (quoted below) speaks otherwise:

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.

Note what I emphasized. Also, “democratic society” comes in varying colors and stripes, so he is not saying any particular form is better or worse. It is more accurate to say that he is arguing pragmatism and that if certain democratic ideas is suitable then apply when the condition warrants.

Some may further recall Wen Jiabao’s interview by Fareed Zakaria on CNN few years ago paying homage to democracy too. Wen said:

I believe I and all the Chinese people have such a conviction that China will make continuous progress, and the people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible. I hope that you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China.

While Wen didn’t clarify what that democracy is, some in the West have quickly jumped unto this idea of a conflict between Wen and Wu. U.K. based BBC reports, “Chinese leader rules out democracy:”

Wu Bangguo – officially number two in the leadership structure – warned that China could face civil disorder if it abandoned its current system.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao suggested last year that China could introduce democratic reforms.

These comments from Mr Wu explicitly say otherwise.

Is the narrative of “reform vs. no reform” correct? Are Wen and Wu fighting and their differences airing in the public?

Recall that China is busy working towards government accountability and transparency among other things. (See my previous article, “China’s determined and long march towards rule of law.”) Local level elections are all over China now.

What is not “democratic” about these reforms?

The “reform vs. no reform” is a false dichotomy. One cannot conclude Wen and Wu are butting heads.

The BBC report went on to say:

But regardless of what Mr Wen believes, China continues to be a state governed by one party, which tolerates very little dissent.

Organisations and individuals outside the Communist Party that call for political reforms are quickly silenced.

Wu Bangguo’s comments at the NPC make it clear that, under this current crop of leaders, there are no plans to change the country’s current political system.

This report wants to preserve this mindset in their readers that “democracy” equals “multi-party rule.” An old trick of the Cold War Western propaganda is to label non-democratic countries “evil.” In order to bank on this sentiment, the report says, “China continues to be a state governed by one party.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with one party. Multi-party ruled states are just as capable at being “evil.” In fact, count the number of invasions the U.S. has carried out vs. China.

Wen has never said “democracy equals multi-party rule.” China tolerates dissent, just that the BBC doesn’t care if certain “dissent” breaks Chinese law or not. Witness their narrative on the Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize (see “Liu Xiaobo Deserves an Ig Nobel Peace Prize – the latest reaction to buzz the West.”)

Did Wu Bangguo say “there are no plans to change the country’s current political system?” Absolutely not. Can what he said be interpreted as no plans to change? I think only with the mindset of this “democracy equals multi-party rule” can one possibly interpret what Wu said in such a way.

Below is the full-text of China Daily’s coverage of what Wu said:

BEIJING – The country’s top legislator on Thursday warned of a possible “abyss of internal disorder” if China strays from the “correct political orientation”.

China will never adopt a multiparty revolving-door system or other Western-style political models, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said while delivering a work report.

The establishment of a socialist law system, with Chinese characteristics, institutionally and legally ensures the country stays on the right path, he told about 3,000 NPC deputies.

“On the basis of China’s conditions, we’ve made a solemn declaration that we’ll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation,” he said.

He ruled out the possibility of separating executive, legislative and judicial powers, adopting a bicameral or federal system, and said privatization was not under consideration.

“Following our own path and building socialism with Chinese characteristics is … the only correct road to development and progress for our country,” Wu said.

“If we waver (from the correct political orientation and major issues of principle, such as the fundamental system of the State), the achievements gained thus far in development will be lost and it is possible the country could sink into the abyss of internal disorder,” he said.

So far, China has enacted 239 laws, over 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local statutes, covering every area of economic, political, cultural, social and ecological development.

Wu said the formation of such a system has generally solved the problem of having laws for people to follow, and more efforts will be made to revise and improve existing laws, enact rules of implementation, and ensure better enforcement.

Wu also made it clear that while China wants to improve its legal system, it will “never blindly follow or imitate others”.

“Different countries have different systems of laws, and we do not copy the systems of laws of certain Western countries,” he said.

NPC deputies spoke highly of Wu’s remarks.

“China’s existing political system is based on our own conditions and can thus better ensure stability,” said Han Yuchen, a deputy from Handan in Hebei province.

“Such a system shows its merits particularly when the country faces emergencies and disasters, such as the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan in 2008.”

Han said the Chinese people have greatly benefited from social and economic development over the past decades thanks to the stable political system.

“Although there’re some social problems existing, the leadership is making great efforts to address them. I don’t think the riots that recently occurred in some other countries will happen in China,” he said.

Wang Dongzhou, a deputy from Chengdu in Sichuan province, said the recent chaotic situation in Libya and Egypt once again demonstrates that internal disorder will ruin the fruits of years, or even decades, of social and economic development.

“The establishment of a socialist law system has laid the foundation for the rule of law in China and institutionally ensures the right direction for the country,” he said. “We must follow it to prevent any disorder.”

Note the highlighted numbers above. Chinese reforms are ongoing.

I think there is a fear in the West of a Chinese government that is successful. The Economist has been on a trend to “discredit” the government by dis-attributing success. Recently, it reported, “Bamboo capitalism, China’s success owes more to its entrepreneurs than its bureaucrats..”

Feel free to read the article. However, a much better read is comment by a reader, tp1024, who defends China’s central planning. In my view, The Economist might be better off hiring tp1024. Below is what the reader said:

It is strange. China is growing at a faster pace for a longer time than any country ever before. And yet, the Economist can’t help but give prescriptions of what to change in order to do it better. But how could you, given the miserable track record (in comparison) of any other country?

How about forgetting about the prescriptions and simply stick to description.

Many of the prescriptions come down to do whatever we did. Perfect assurance of property, perfect liberty of economic activity. Whatever good happened to China must have come from the market and nowhere else.

Well, hardly so. Central planning and market mechanisms are exactly that – mechanisms. They are part of the economic toolbox of governments – although the both Communists and Capitalists eschew the one or the other. What both fail to realize is that both, the brains behind communism and liberal capitalism didn’t belong to idiots. They expressed valid ideas for very good reasons and curiously enough, both consist to refined ideas expressed in Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”.

There is a place for markets, especially when it comes to consumer goods. No central planning authority can possibly judge how many eggs, potatoes etc.pp. people will consume next year. If it was just one product – maybe. But there are thousands. The Soviet Union was great wherever the government put its focus on – it was all the rest that was falling apart and eventually took the government with it. That was mostly because there was no market to do all the micromanagement that no human being can do anyway – the fad of cybernetics in the 40ies and 50ies nonwithstanding.

That is what China started experimenting with in the 1970ies and led to its current success. It started reforming central planning to hand the micromanagement over to markets and concentrate on the big picture.

There is a place for central planning and strong regulation. (There is even a place for governments taking away private property when it is not being used or abused to the point of being a harm for the population.)

For example, you need central planning for optimized railroads these days, because conditions have changed. It is no longer the only means of transport nor is there anywhere near the amount of open land as during the heyday of railroad tycoons. The closed thing to central planning in railroads in europe is France.

Take a train from Rome to Paris and will take almost 10 hours from Rome to Switzerland, having switched trains three times – the other half of the way is a 3-hour trip in the TGV. You think that’s just because Italy is a mess? Think again. Rome-Berlin takes almost 20 hours and you need to change trains 5-7 times – despite being almost the same distance and all the claims of German punctuality.

You also need some sort of central planning for energy, and especially renewables despite their supposedly decentralized nature. Germany’s famous windmills usually start spinning down as the wind is getting stronger. Why? Well, most of them are in the deindustrialized wreck of Eastern Germany, which can’t possibly use the peak amount of electricity generated under such conditions – but power line capacity towards the west has not been build, much less optimized for its distribution. (Similar things are true for the US.)

Central planning is needed for things a market can’t do – and quite contrary the western dogma, markets can’t do everything. The West should do what China did, but in reverse – keep the markets wherever they are doing well and start to do central planning again, where it is needed. There would be no highway system in the USA without central planning. And there will be no fair and efficient health care system without some sort of central planning.

In fact, the very heart of large companies like GM or GE *is* central planning – although it is completely irresponsible toward the public (it is towards their shareholders), it is outside the grasp of the democratic process and their irresponsibility is backed by the government under the guise of economic freedom. And this is certainly worse than central planning by a government that you can vote out of office, and possibly still worse than central planning by a government that rests the stability of society on a constantly improving economic conditions and hence the hope that the public won’t rise up and kick it out.

The Cold War has built up a psyche in the West this idea that “democracy” is good, and everything else is bad. China still represents an “anomaly.” I think it is the ongoing success of China that will help the West shed this mindset. Winning the Cold War apparently hasn’t done it. What an irony. When China is genuinely “democratic,” she still won’t be recognized.

  1. March 14th, 2011 at 05:12 | #1

    It is indeed quite amusing to see people who do not completely understand China’s political and economic system comment on it. What is more amusing is that these people do not even attempt to understand why and how China is what it is. And what is most amusing of all, is that that minuscule fraction that do attempt to understand it, do so through their own lenses of “Democracy”.

    The basis fact remains – China still remains an enigma in most of the west – and the media is most certainly not going to present an even-handed view of the matter.

    The Economist article linked to above is a typical rant. The ending, in fact, gives the impression that the author is simply trying too hard:

    “Capitalism with Chinese characteristics” works because of the capitalism, not the characteristics.

    Yeah right! That’s why capitalist developing countries are performing so well nowadays! That is why the recession occurred – because capitalism works! And that’s why India – the largest democracy in the world – has more people owning a mobile phone than access to a proper toilet!

  2. March 14th, 2011 at 09:46 | #2

    @Maitreya

    Yeah, very much so. For BBC lately, their attempts in understanding in China shall be hunting for their “jasmine revolution.”

    Since they are reporting from within China, why haven’t they shared anything else Wu Bangguo said at that speech? That is because they choose not to spend any such efforts. What a bunch of clowns.

  3. Charles Liu
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:59 | #3

    Isn’t CCP pretty much fractioned within? If the CCP splits up and a two-party oligpoloy is created, will the criticism stop? I bet the criticism would not stop, not even withstanding the fact that is what we have in US.

  4. March 14th, 2011 at 12:10 | #4

    You are right, Charles, it wouldn’t stop.

    Russia went to “democracy”, hasn’t stopped the criticisms from the West.

    It’s just another badge of Western superiority, colonialism by another name. Ie. we can treat others like crap, because we are better, (better for all kinds of reasons that others will never understand). Others might try to copy us, but they will still be behind us. So no matter what, we are always better. And if we are not better, it’s because others are lying or cheating.

    If we criticize others, it’s because we are better. No matter what others do, we will still be better.
    If we criticize ourselves, we are still better, even if we don’t change anything in what we do. Our trashing talking makes us look smart, even if we don’t really know what we are talking about.

  5. daddeldumm
    March 14th, 2011 at 12:22 | #5

    Fact check:

    Rome-Berlin takes almost 20 hours and you need to change trains 5-7 times – despite being almost the same distance and all the claims of German punctuality.

    A quick check on the website of ‘bahn.de’ (the German railway company) shows that a trip is possible tonight in little more than 15 hours with 2 changes (starting Berlin 4:31 a.m., arriving Roma Termini 7:59 p.m.). Given that there are at least two national borders and the Alps in the way, this seems not great, but passable for 1200 kilometers.

    But this might be due to the fact, that the German long-distance railway system is centrally planned, so the example might have been badly chosen in the first place … 😉

    Anyways, coming back to the initial question (what was it? — ah, not centralism vs. regionalism, but one party vs. many parties)*:

    In my eyes the Chinese system of one party, and of meritocracy, has yet to prove that it can solve one principal problem:
    At some point, the merits and ideas of the ‘old’ government and its supporters will run dry and will not be capable anymore to solve the current problems of the country (like literature and philosophy in the 19th century). Does the Chinese system allow a peaceful transition to a different group of people, who might find better solutions? I think that meritocracy may have many advantages over an all-out democracy, but one has to take a lot of care to avoid ‘old’ merits (and their representatives) to take a whole civilization captive and refuse new and more timely / appropriate merits their place in control. I know that there seem to be very different political ‘wings’ within the CCP. But still, the current government still seems to largely be a continuation of Deng’s government. For the moment it looks very successful — but what happens, when this political ‘wing’ (for lack of a better word) does not have good ideas and good solutions anymore? Is there a way for peaceful transition?

    *) I apologize for the snide remark. I think that the OP is one of the less well written pieces on this site, because it tries to address too many important topics at once, without really convincingly connecting them. You can do better! I have seen that! 😀

  6. daddeldumm
    March 14th, 2011 at 12:41 | #6

    @raventhorn2000
    I think you are a little bit unfair. Among those people, who are interested in China, it is certainly known that there are different groups inside the CCP. (Witness e.g. occasional problems of Premier Wen to make himself heard in some of China’s media.) I think that actually many knowledgeable people follow quite closely and with a lot of interest the development of the different systems, and their respective advantages and disadvantages.

    Russia was actually recognized by many as a democracy, and positively welcomed by many European democrats. But it seems quite unclear where it is heading right now. Secret service, mafia, corruption etc. seem to destroy all mechanisms that would be necessary for any coordinated exchange of opinions and ideas. In my eyes, the main problem in Russia seems to be, that these forces do not only destroy what might have been a democracy, but also arguably more important things, like the rule of law. In this regard, my impression is that China has a much more promising development than Russia (and if I had to choose between one of the two countries to live in, I would probably not choose Russia right now).

    Finally: Of course, there are always people anywhere, who claim that their country, their system, their government, their economy is best. Be honest, such people exist in China as well as in other countries. And in any country, the most knowledgeable and thoughtful people are often not the loudest.

    (OK, too many different topics for one comment — without a really convincing connection. I will work on this.)

  7. March 14th, 2011 at 12:59 | #7

    On the contrary,

    The current system, I think, adds a lot of individuality of leadership.

    From Deng, Jiang, now to Hu, each one has tried to define their own philosophy (albeit the differences are slight in some people’s minds). Some might call it window dressing.

    But there were significant, if not noticed, differences in policies.

    (1) Jiang started to force the PLA to take fewer and fewer seats in the Chinese Parliament, and to force them to privatize their industries, as a condition to give them additional funding for defense.

    (2) Hu started to increase number of non-CCP people in the Parliament as well as in the Ministries, and increased CCP recruitment in universities and among business people.

    (3) Jiang was very much Shanghai centered in his policies, and tended to favor urban development.

    (4) Hu had to crack down a lot of on entrenched urban elite interests, in favor of more rural development, as a retreat to rein in too much urban development and inflation.

    *Undoubtedly, I think the next leadership will be even more populist than Hu and Wen, as the CCP is seeking other (non-economic) methods to make the Party more populist supported, and more representative of younger Chinese generation.

    Even the CCP party structure itself is historically very flexible to gain young talents, and not fixated on old entrenched powers.

    People tend to underestimate the ability of the CCP to recruit talents, but Deng, Jiang, Hu all had to make their mark when they were young, they didn’t get promoted just because they supported some CCP factions’ entrenched power.

    Continuation of Deng’s government? That’s too much of generalization, and frankly not true. Deng didn’t define any of the specifics of modern Chinese policies, such as IP laws, the new personal property laws, the new marriage laws, the WTO policies, the mineral quotas, the Green Energy policies, etc.

    Indeed, if Deng is alive today, he might strongly disagree with some of the new policies. And some people in the past have labeled Hu as a figurehead, when Jiang was still holding onto his CCP power, but that turned out untrue as well. Jiang retired, and Hu took over and made the Presidency his own. (Far better transition than Putin in Russia).

  8. March 14th, 2011 at 13:00 | #8

    At some point, the merits and ideas of the ‘old’ government and its supporters will run dry and will not be capable anymore to solve the current problems of the country (like literature and philosophy in the 19th century).

    I don’t get it. You mean that China invaded by foreigners and the population relegated to struggle for subsistence was a “normal” thing?

    Or you were talking about the Qing dynasty trying to not repeat the mistakes of the Ming?

    As I have always said, civilizations get cocky and run out of ideas. That has nothing to do with one party or multi-party. Countries can get outright invaded and be relegated to misery and again have nothing to do with one or two parties.

    Does the Chinese system allow a peaceful transition to a different group of people, who might find better solutions? I think that meritocracy may have many advantages over an all-out democracy, but one has to take a lot of care to avoid ‘old’ merits (and their representatives) to take a whole civilization captive and refuse new and more timely / appropriate merits their place in control. I know that there seem to be very different political ‘wings’ within the CCP. But still, the current government still seems to largely be a continuation of Deng’s government. For the moment it looks very successful — but what happens, when this political ‘wing’ (for lack of a better word) does not have good ideas and good solutions anymore? Is there a way for peaceful transition?

    It really depends on your mindset about time frame. Is 20 years long? Is 50 years long? The Chinese government is generally lauded for having a long term perspective. Certain things at the scale of 1.3 billion people takes a while to accomplish.

    By the way, do you have any brilliant ideas on how to solve some of China’s present problems?

    And I am not sure how you came to the conclusion that the government today is the same as Deng’s. You mean the fact that they are “opening” up?

    *) I apologize for the snide remark. I think that the OP is one of the less well written pieces on this site, because it tries to address too many important topics at once, without really convincingly connecting them. You can do better! I have seen that!

    No need to apologize. Constructive criticisms are always welcome.

  9. March 14th, 2011 at 13:04 | #9

    “Of course, there are always people anywhere, who claim that their country, their system, their government, their economy is best. Be honest, such people exist in China as well as in other countries. And in any country, the most knowledgeable and thoughtful people are often not the loudest.”

    I think quite a few Western nations make it a national past time to proclaim their systems as the best. (Not so much in China, “honestly”).

    Obviously, China and Chinese people spends far LESS time criticizing other countries, than say, US or France or UK.

    SO, NO, NOT every country “claim” so loudly as the West does!

    Western “claims” in public is rather indicative of Western thoughts, ie. far more Nationalistic than other countries.

    (Obviously, we are not telepathic, so I go by what people CLAIM in public).

  10. daddeldumm
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:21 | #10

    yinyang :

    At some point, the merits and ideas of the ‘old’ government and its supporters will run dry and will not be capable anymore to solve the current problems of the country (like literature and philosophy in the 19th century).

    I don’t get it. You mean that China invaded by foreigners and the population relegated to struggle for subsistence was a “normal” thing?
    Or you were talking about the Qing dynasty trying to not repeat the mistakes of the Ming?
    As I have always said, civilizations get cocky and run out of ideas. That has nothing to do with one party or multi-party. Countries can get outright invaded and be relegated to misery and again have nothing to do with one or two parties.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that China is currently achieving a lot in the area of technological progress and research in Technology and the Sciences. My understanding is, that the late Qing actively prohibited any (existing) developments in this direction during their time.

    So, I would claim that (and again, please correct me if I’m wrong) China would have had a substantial chance never to be controlled by any foreign power, if the Qing government and administration had not been that ‘cocky’ about their traditional merits. China has, for a long time, been among the technological leaders among the world civilizations. That it lost this position is, at least in part, due to its government’s decisions. (That other nations abused their position, not. Of course. Invasions should never be “normal” — I absolutely agree with you there.)

    Does the Chinese system allow a peaceful transition to a different group of people, who might find better solutions? I think that meritocracy may have many advantages over an all-out democracy, but one has to take a lot of care to avoid ‘old’ merits (and their representatives) to take a whole civilization captive and refuse new and more timely / appropriate merits their place in control. I know that there seem to be very different political ‘wings’ within the CCP. But still, the current government still seems to largely be a continuation of Deng’s government. For the moment it looks very successful — but what happens, when this political ‘wing’ (for lack of a better word) does not have good ideas and good solutions anymore? Is there a way for peaceful transition?

    It really depends on your mindset about time frame. Is 20 years long? Is 50 years long? The Chinese government is generally lauded for having a long term perspective. Certain things at the scale of 1.3 billion people takes a while to accomplish.
    By the way, do you have any brilliant ideas on how to solve some of China’s present problems?

    No. I have great respect for what Deng and later heads of government, together with their respective administrations and the Chinese people, have achieved. I am not talking about the current situation, and I certainly do not know how to govern a nation.

    What I am saying is, that my understanding of history is, that the concepts and approaches of any group of decision makers, successful as they might be for a long time, will at some point arrive at their limits. In such a situation, there needs to be a possibility to give room for new ideas. I believe, that a fundamental problem of meritocracy and one-party-government in the form history has seen in the past is, that they have not yet proven, that they can allow such a possibility in a peaceful way.

    And I am not sure how you came to the conclusion that the government today is the same as Deng’s. You mean the fact that they are “opening” up?

    I am not saying ‘the same’. I am saying, that there seems to be a substantial continuity. Which, until now, has proven quite successful. But what happens, if this continuity does not offer the necessary solutions any more?

    Of course, it is very well possible that the current system manages to stay sufficiently dynamic. There seems to be an enormous rate of change, of progress in terms of economic and social development, rule of law, etc. I am not claiming that there has to be a necessary breakdown (and I certainly do not wish it to China or anybody else). I am saying, however, that I see a potential problem, because the current situation might allow for the people in power to lock up any dynamics, like (as I mentioned above) the late Qing administration seems to have done.

    (If you believe, that my understanding of the actions of the late Qing is wrong, I would be very glad about suggestion for reading.)

  11. daddeldumm
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:30 | #11

    @raventhorn2000
    Thanks a lot for your detailed and very informative reply. (And, by the way, thanks a lot also to yinyang for the detailed post I have just replied to.)

  12. daddeldumm
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:38 | #12

    @raventhorn2000

    I think the difference is not so much between the different countries / civilizations / nationalities / peoples, but rather between the different amplifiers (= media). The perfect model to organize reasonably reasonable information for the general public is not yet found, I fear …

  13. March 14th, 2011 at 17:03 | #13

    @daddeldumm

    Late Qing tried to industrialized too, but their goals were too ambitious. Once the Europeans and other foreigners invaded, it was impossible for China to modernize.

    The question is why didn’t the Qing dynasty embark on industrialization earlier. There’s a lot of discussion in China over this topic.

    Some point to failures in how power is shared amongst the Emperors, eunuchs, and officials. My personal view is arrogance. They never imagined the foreigners could be so much more powerful so quickly.

    China has, for a long time, been among the technological leaders among the world civilizations. That it lost this position is, at least in part, due to its government’s decisions.

    Civilizations rise and fall. That’s been human history. I wager the dominant countries of today continuing to be arrogant will eventually decline too. Arrogance causes bad decisions.

    In such a situation, there needs to be a possibility to give room for new ideas. I believe, that a fundamental problem of meritocracy and one-party-government in the form history has seen in the past is, that they have not yet proven, that they can allow such a possibility in a peaceful way.

    Can you explain why a one-party government inherently cannot breed new ideas? Japan has been ruled by one party until recently. Did they run out of ideas?

    Conversely, what makes you think a two-party system after a “peaceful” transition is guaranteed to have new ideas? From the looks of it in the U.S., there is absolutely no idea on how to cut back spending in a meaningful way.

    In case you don’t know, China has limits on terms of office. Peaceful leadership transition is part of Chinese constitution.

  14. March 15th, 2011 at 05:22 | #14

    Daddeldum,

    “I think the difference is not so much between the different countries / civilizations / nationalities / peoples, but rather between the different amplifiers (= media). The perfect model to organize reasonably reasonable information for the general public is not yet found, I fear …”

    I wasn’t talking about merely the media. It’s clear enough that Western governments openly and loudly criticize other countries, as a form of nationalistic superiority/inferiority complex. The media only echoes the Governments as a nationalistic propaganda.

    Not many other countries’ governments do such regular nationalistic broadcasts to ridicule other countries.

  15. daddeldumm
    March 16th, 2011 at 00:19 | #15

    yinyang :
    @daddeldumm
    Late Qing tried to industrialized too, but their goals were too ambitious. Once the Europeans and other foreigners invaded, it was impossible for China to modernize.

    I have learned that e.g. in the counter-reform movement of 1898, the old Qing establishment successfully stated a coup d’etat against the attempts of the young emperor to progress science, technology and related education.

    (But then again, you probably know China’s history better than I do.)

    The question is why didn’t the Qing dynasty embark on industrialization earlier. There’s a lot of discussion in China over this topic.
    Some point to failures in how power is shared amongst the Emperors, eunuchs, and officials. My personal view is arrogance. They never imagined the foreigners could be so much more powerful so quickly.

    China has, for a long time, been among the technological leaders among the world civilizations. That it lost this position is, at least in part, due to its government’s decisions.

    Civilizations rise and fall. That’s been human history. I wager the dominant countries of today continuing to be arrogant will eventually decline too. Arrogance causes bad decisions.

    How can the governing principle of meritocracy be modified such as to avoid institutional arrogance? (Which seems to have been one of the reasons for the actions of the old Qing establishment, at least based on what I have learned.)

    In such a situation, there needs to be a possibility to give room for new ideas. I believe, that a fundamental problem of meritocracy and one-party-government in the form history has seen in the past is, that they have not yet proven, that they can allow such a possibility in a peaceful way.

    Can you explain why a one-party government inherently cannot breed new ideas? Japan has been ruled by one party until recently. Did they run out of ideas?

    Japan has had very substantial problems over the last decades. Which, I assume, contributed to the fact that the people elected a different party.

    Conversely, what makes you think a two-party system after a “peaceful” transition is guaranteed to have new ideas? From the looks of it in the U.S., there is absolutely no idea on how to cut back spending in a meaningful way.

    I do not claim that democracy, as practiced today, is perfect. I merely claim that I do not perceive meritocracy to be perfect, either.

    In case you don’t know, China has limits on terms of office. Peaceful leadership transition is part of Chinese constitution.

    I am aware that there are terms of office for president and premier. Actually, I have a question there: There seem to be many very powerful people in different political institutions in China (Politburo, etc.). Are there term limits for those people in ‘prime positions’, which are less visible than the two at the top?

  16. Charles Liu
    March 16th, 2011 at 01:02 | #16

    Are there ‘prime positions’ in US, such as senate or congressional seats, that are not subject to term limit? AFAIK both democratic and republican party leadership are selected behind closed doors by a few old people, and are not subject to term limit.

  17. March 16th, 2011 at 01:58 | #17

    How can the governing principle of meritocracy be modified such as to avoid institutional arrogance?

    I bet the entire Chinese and other civilizations have been seeking answer to this question. I don’t know the answer.

    Some say arrogance is human nature and is in all of our DNA.

    Japan has had very substantial problems over the last decades. Which, I assume, contributed to the fact that the people elected a different party.

    If you think your response is valid, then my response must be valid too: a Chinese President’s 2nd 5-year term may not be renewed if he is not performing well. Or the next President that comes along will have fresher ideas.

    I do not claim that democracy, as practiced today, is perfect. I merely claim that I do not perceive meritocracy to be perfect, either.

    Sure. But recall, the point in my article is that “multi-party” is not the only criteria for being a democracy.

    But if you really like to know, it is extremely easy to find out. Go to China’s National Peoples Congress web site or go to some place like the Wikipedia pages. You can learn how all that works.

  18. March 16th, 2011 at 06:39 | #18

    Daddeldumm,

    The electoral voting system is an exercise of moral choice, rationalized as “reason” and progress in humanity, but it is not.

    For example, if “reason” was the actual prevayor of a voting system, then “slavery” would have been abolished long before it was. Every institution of civil rights would have been “reasoned” into existence within reasonable debate, very quickly. But they did not.

    Why? Voters make choices based upon personalized moral value systems, which OFTEN are unreasonable, because the voters have no historical learning for their choices, and no incentive to learn from their own voting choices.

    No. Voters very much hold onto their own moral value systems, and make decisions based upon that. (Hence, slavery was not abolished until MANY years after people of North found slavery unnecessary. And even then, there was a Civil War. And even then, there was still “segregation”.)

    The system of voting, and multiparties, and minority rights, do not foster collective learning. Every issue becomes a MORAL issue, a VALUE issue in politics. There is NO measurement of actual effectiveness of policies.

    For example, a simple 5 year study in the economic impact of slavery could have easily demonstrated that “slavery” was not economically profittable at all, (which was universally acknowledged much later on in US).

    The issue could have been easily reasoned out with HARD economic study, WITHOUT trappings of morality.

    In fact, morality doesn’t have to be in any issues at all. Simple reasoning would illustrate that it’s pointless to treat other human beings as inferior, it only heightens tension and social chaos.

    (Hence, even in the 2000 years of Chinese imperial rule, slavery was pretty much outlawed very early on. You don’t need a multiparty to tell you that.)

    *
    Is there an advantage to a One party system? Perhaps, in that there might be more collective learning, more reasoning, and less moral judgment.

    Morality is a currency of politics in a multiparty electoral system. Voters vote on issues AND candidates based upon moral appeal. Candidates and Parties campaign on moral appeal. The entire system is flooded with morality that one see no point in reasoning any thing. (Hence, “legislate morality” in US? YES, of course.)

    A one party multi-faction system with minimal elections is perhaps less prone to the effects of morality, because the system can reason the policies’ effects, try them out, and test the effectiveness, without JUSTIFYING the morality behind it to the populous.

    Explaining MORALITY is pointless. One can’t possibly do it reasonably to the satisfaction of the populous.

    Just imagine trying to explain the IMMORALITY or the IRRATIONALITY of slavery to a slave owner in 1800 US. You won’t succeed.

    The Founding Fathers failed to convince their own to get rid of slavery. Then you know how difficult that argument was, or how difficult to change the moral mindset of a populous.

    *Yet, it is necessary often that a government must make policies that people will not have the moral mindset to prepare for.

    The “1 child” policy in China, came to mind. Not only were many non-Chinese against such an idea, it was very much against the mindset of most Chinese at the time it was implemented. It was against the MORAL value of most humans to control reproduction.

    Yet, now looking back, it looks more and more correct. If China had not implemented that policy, China would not have possibly controlled its population growth today, and it would still be mired in poverty today.

    How did China do it? The leaders saw a rational policy that needed to be DONE, and did it after some discussion.

    The explanation given at the time was entirely rational, not moral at all. The government simply said, we have too many people in China, and if we keep going, we are all going to be poor, and many of us will starve.

    And they shut out the morality discussions as backward and ignorant, and ignored all outside criticisms.

    *Now, India sees a need to implement the same policy to control its population growth. Yet, it can’t, because it’s running up against the WALL of MORALITY of its voters.

    (See the difference)?

    I caution that the One party system could have irrational leaders who also make decisions based upon morality. And that would be perhaps WORSE than a multi-party system that make morality decisions.

    But I think in China, where education and respect for education is culturally ingrained, such morality leaders will not last long. The Chinese populous eager for educated and rational (and stable) leaders more than passionate popular leaders.

    The foundation of Chinese culture based upon Confucian philosophy formed around a core belief that no government can last without virtuous rational educated leaders, who practice selfless restraint, and lead the people by teaching of reason and history.

    *Morality should be formed from policy effectiveness in a society, and not the other way around.

  19. March 16th, 2011 at 06:40 | #19

    It’s just another badge of Western superiority, colonialism by another name. Ie. we can treat others like crap, because we are better, (better for all kinds of reasons that others will never understand). Others might try to copy us, but they will still be behind us. So no matter what, we are always better. And if we are not better, it’s because others are lying or cheating.

  20. RW
    March 16th, 2011 at 07:50 | #20

    “The Cold War has built up a psyche in the West this idea that “democracy” is good, and everything else is bad.”

    “The West” is always an interesting term. Sounds like people in the West that oppose democracy aren’t true Westeners. I guess Belarus’ government would be slightly surprised to hear that. Besides that is democracy really such a Western thing? What about South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, just to name a couple of China’s neighbors.

  21. March 16th, 2011 at 07:59 | #21

    Confucius Analect 1:

    “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?
    “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? (Openning Line of 2008 Olympics)
    “Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?”
    (the 1st line emphasize on learning. The 3rd line emphasize on virtue of learned scholar who are not disturbed by social mores).

    “The superior man bends his attention to what is radical. That being established, all practical courses naturally grow up. Filial piety and fraternal submission,-are they not the root of all benevolent actions?”

    “Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.”

    “To rule a country of a thousand chariots, there must be reverent attention to business, and sincerity; economy in expenditure, and love for men; and the employment of the people at the proper seasons.”

    “A youth, when at home, should be filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnes and truthful. He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies.”

    “If the scholar be not grave, he will not call forth any veneration, and his learning will not be solid.

  22. March 16th, 2011 at 10:10 | #22

    It may sound very Machiavellian, but I believe a “Vulcan style” rationalistic government system should be the future for China, one that casts out emotive Moralistic arguments on policies.

    It is not to say that emotions are outlawed in any fashion, (frankly, outlawing emotions and morality would not be logically/rationally feasible).

    But the rational government system should casts out influences of cult of personality, emotive sloganeering, and do-nothing politics.

    Within the government itself, it is entirely possible to outlaw morality and irrational arguments in discussions, as a prerequisite for government services.

    Recognize that self-interest undoubted will affect government officials, but also recognize that survival and viability of a government depends on its rationality, and survival is the highest degree of self-interest and national interest.

    We cannot be blinded by the short-sighted irrational moral “value” systems of the West.

  23. March 16th, 2011 at 11:11 | #23

    @RW

    We are aiming at the hypocrisy, and hence notice our usage of the quotation marks around “democracy.”

    South Korea, Japan do not preach “democracy” or use it as a pretext to antagonize (or even invade) others.

  24. March 16th, 2011 at 11:25 | #24

    People like to consume all they possibly can, even at the expense of future generations. Noam Chomsky once replied to my question of what he thought the biggest threat confronting us all, and he said unchecked consumption.

    Even in the corporate world, some people chant this mantra, “customers are always right.” Some times I say, “customers want goods for free.”

    The customer or the public citizen can’t always be right if everything distills down to what they want is right.

    I actually think many “democracy” fanatics understand this point, just that their politics require them to look the other way and to treat it like a type of religion. “democracy” is the pretext today. Tomorrow they might adopt a different religion.

  25. Wukailong
    March 21st, 2011 at 03:24 | #25

    But the question is, where is there less consumption over time? It’s not like the rich, developed countries are getting better – they’re just joined by the BRIC countries.

  26. March 21st, 2011 at 09:59 | #26

    That is why I argue that eventually, we humans must reach for a system of governance based upon subjective utilitarian rationalism, not morality based objective rationalism.

    Unfortunate, the doctrine of separation of Church and state has not gone far enough. It is not Religion that we must separate from Politics, but rather Morality from Politics.

    Too many secular governments in the world still make policies based upon their own assumptions of Morality, rather than pragmatic rationalism of policy effects.

    Such a Morality based governance will never be sustainable, because such morality systems are not easily changeable.

  27. March 22nd, 2011 at 07:05 | #27

    Morality is like a set of Rules of Thumb, quick guidelines that can be found in many different professions and aspects of life.

    But Rules of Thumb are never designed to be perpetual.

    It is not wrong to have “morality”, but moral codes must be constantly challenged and updated by scientific methodologies.

    Even in scientific governance system, the question of “what constitutes the GREATER GOOD” must be continuously challenged and questioned.

  28. Rhan
    March 22nd, 2011 at 08:25 | #28

    rv,

    I always thought Chinese is the one that place morality as the utmost values above everything, their politic is often about moral principles and judgment is either good or bad. Li Zehou (李泽厚) oppose the return of Confucianism in the form of neo-Confuciannism advocated by scholar like Du Weiming (杜维明) and Yu Yingshi(余英时)mention that this way of life are not secular enough, and permeates with aspect like mission to save/serve. Even the passion of May Forth and June Forth were arise from such calling. Don’t you think the West is relatively objective in this context, for instance by looking at President Clinton and that womanizer from Italy?

  29. March 22nd, 2011 at 10:12 | #29

    Rhan,

    I disagree. I think Chinese philosophy emphasizes more on “balance” of morality, rather than the notion of absolute moral standards of the Western version.

    Remember, in traditional Chinese view, things in the universe are portrayed as in balances, Ying/Yang are not considered to be either all good or all evil.

    Indeed, in Lao Tzu terms, Good and Evil are locked in a cycle with each other, and one cannot have one without the other.

    I think classical Eastern philosophy recognizes the inherent subjective nature of morality, and thus adopt “collective good” as a concept of nonfixed set of objectives that fluctuates with the populous. (That’s why China is the Dragon, being nimble, and having strength in nimbleness).

    *The Western core is a Judeo-Christian tenent of absolute “moral standard”, which is self-servingly characterized as “objective”, when in reality, it is completely subjective to its own fluctuating definitions.

    The West recognizes that its values must fluctuate, call its system “a work in progress”. (That is a start).

    However, it treats whatever its current moral code as “absolute” and claim objectivity.

    But obviously that is illogical. A moral code in flux is, by definition, not “absolute”.

    Even the concept of “relative objectivity” is a self-contradiction, and means nothing at all.

    The West claims “objectivity”, in comparison to what? To its own standards. That is “subjectivity”, as equal to mark one’s own spot as “X”, and say one is at “X”.

    China, I think, does not even want to engage in such false comparisons of objectivity. China stands where China stands. It does not need to mark its spot/policy philosophy, does not need to rationalize it, only need to understand its effects through testing.

    *Western Objectivity, I think, is a set of false pretenses that clouds one’s ability to learn.

    When one’s policies are mired with too much morality, one can only rationalize based upon morality. Subjective upon subjective.

    When one cares too much about what is “right”, one forget what effects come follow.

  30. March 22nd, 2011 at 11:30 | #30

    Wukailong :

    But the question is, where is there less consumption over time? It’s not like the rich, developed countries are getting better – they’re just joined by the BRIC countries.

    I should put it this way. Have a look here at the developed countries CO2 emissions vs. the developing countries:
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2011/02/team-equality-vs-team-democracy-and-freedom/

    “democracy” would be much more compelling for the world if it has a roadmap on how to bring down consumption (CO2 emissions) more towards the per capita average of the whole world.

    My fear is that the “individual is always right” type of attitude in “democracies” with unchecked consumption is going to bankrupt the planet soon.

    In raventhorn2000’s words, this attitude is another “morality based objective rationalism.”

  31. March 23rd, 2011 at 06:39 | #31

    Again, I like to emphasize that there is Nothing wrong with having “morality”. I believe “morality” is always necessary.

    Individuals need “morality”, because they cannot always perceive the long term effects of their actions, they need “moral codes” to fill in the gaps to guide their actions.

    However, “morality based rationalization”, what I call “moralization”, that is, JUSTIFYING one’s irrational actions by morality based reasoning, is absolutely wrong, because it is simply pig-headed-ness, and will almost always lead to bad consequences.

    For example, if a society has not enough tax revenues for its government, running huge deficits, the rational decision would be obviously to raise taxes and reduce spending and deficits and repay debts. Generally, it requires sacrifices from everyone, in tax increases and loss of social benefits.

    But individuals who do not want to pay higher taxes NOR lose social benefits, justify their decision with moralization, that high taxes are really taking away personal property, and loss of social benefits will cause more “hardship”, both inherently “anti-liberty”.

    So then, taxes remain low, social benefits stay in place, no one wants to sacrifice any thing.

    “Moralization” is the fatal flaw in the Western Democratic systems, it is where individuals’ short-sightedness is propped up as the core value standard of the collective.

    *As I have said before, “moral codes” must be adjusted overtime by scientific policies. In the East, there is a reason why people have higher average saving rate than the West. That being, Eastern cultures have learned over long history of collective decision making that they must save, rather than consume, to weather bad economic times.

    It is the simple historical learning that one cannot eat to full today and starve tomorrow. Yet, it is a scientific rational policy that has significantly impacted the “moral code” of the East, so that “saving” is considered a virtuous behavior in Eastern cultures.

    But today, “oversaving” may be a problem for Eastern cultures. It may be worthwhile to challenge the age old assumption of that moral code.

    Thus, no “moral codes” are absolute, and they must be subject to continuous adjustment under the principles of scientific governance.

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