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Zhang Weiwei and Martin Jacques against Western assumption liberal democracy is panacea for China

November 13th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Following is a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared recently pitting Zhang Weiwei and Martin Jacques arguing together against Western assumption that liberal democracy is panacea for China. A few points raised by these two really struck me. Jacques cautioned the West to tone down its arrogance and engage China with more humility. Zhang pointed out that China’s present day system is one of meritocracy and intra-party elections. Zhang also stated that the Chinese are confident of their system. In the 1700’s when the British Empire first encountered the Chinese, China was arrogant and failed to recognized that a country of measly 20 million could industrialize and pull far enough ahead to invade it – then the wealthiest civilization on the planet. He cautioned that arrogance is gripping liberal Western democracies. China’s continuing rise economically will further undermine those who believe in this false dichotomy: that anything not exactly a Western liberal democracy must be “anti-democracy.” It’s like during the Crusades where many Christians believed non-believers must be evil.

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  1. November 14th, 2012 at 13:59 | #1

    I think the big problem with this debate, & every other that we’ve seen online, is that “liberal democracy” is the “default” position anchored in the dogmatic discourse.

    In other words, people such as Chan point out all the flaws of the Chinese system, & therefore by default liberal democracy must be better. That is the very first myth that I sought to dispel when I wrote my article about the three common myths of democratic institutions.

    This anchoring effect puts liberal-democratic ideologues in an advantageous position. In reality, since they’re the ones advocating for change, it is the PRC’s authoritarianism that is the actual default position. So if the liberals want to realize the change they seek, it is they who must sufficiently prove that their liberal dogma – when applied to China – would actually resolve the problems/shortcomings that they point out, while not sacrificing the gains made under the authoritarian system. From the examples I gave in India, Russia, and the US, it is far from clear that western liberal institutions are capable of fixing the Chinese social problems that they repeatedly wave around as a stick to bash Beijing.

  2. N.M.Cheung
    November 15th, 2012 at 23:27 | #2

    An interesting 1 1/2 hrs of presentation which didn’t change any minds. Those for Zhang Weiwei and Martin Jacques gain 1 vote from supposedly neutrals and the other side gained more than 100 votes from that. I suspect those professed neutrals were probably against them to start with as I was surprised that originally for were ahead by 50 votes with more than 100 neutral.
    Zhang Weiwei agrues in favor of meritocracy; Martin Jacques argues for humility and cultural diversity. Anson Chan argued like a proper colonial lady, for British Hong Kong against China; while Jonathan Mersky mostly raved against Chinese government for suppressing dissent, Tiananman Square, and Tibet. No body was against transparency, rule of law, or for corruption and income inequality. The opponents did concede one-man one -vote and multi-party may not be applicale at present but still insist them as part of liberal democracy package. They only argued against weaknesses of Chinese model and insisting immediate reform while dismissing the reforms proposed by Chinese government as window dressing and ineffective.

  3. November 16th, 2012 at 07:48 | #3

    It’s ironic to be trying to defend the CCP using a Youtube video during the Party Congress…

    Anyway, my reaction prior to having seen the video is that all this talk about “democracy” is obscuring a much-needed discussion about rule of law. Whatever the rules are, at least make them consistent.

  4. perspectivehere
    November 16th, 2012 at 08:12 | #4

    I’m glad Zhang Wei Wei mentioned the Republican Period from 1911-1949 as a time when China experimented with liberal democracy and it was a disaster. People commenting on China seem to ignore the fact that the success of the CCP revolution was largely related to the failures of that period.

  5. Wahaha
    November 16th, 2012 at 17:41 | #5

    Whatever the rules are, at least make them consistent.

    Human beings are not consistent, hence can’t be ruled by a book, no matter how thick the book is.

    Otherwise, right procedure would lead to desired result, like election would lead to democracy.

    This is not true, in real world.

    BTW, a must character of democracy is that the government doesn’t work for any special interest group, otherwise it is not democracy. Therefore, except several super-rich north European countries that are close to democracy, there are no democratic countries on earth.

  6. November 16th, 2012 at 22:55 | #6

    Wahaha :
    Human beings are not consistent, hence can’t be ruled by a book, no matter how thick the book is.

    On the contrary, diversity is the exact reason for a well-written set of rules, allowing people to do any activity that is not explicitly prohibited. Thickness is not a criteria of how well-designed it a legal system is – quite the opposite.

    ‘Developmentalism,’ on the other hand, assumes that everyone wants the same set of goods and services.

  7. aeiou
    November 17th, 2012 at 01:06 | #7

    @maofucious

    It’s ironic to be trying to defend the CCP using a Youtube video during the Party Congress…

    no more ironic than invading sovereign nations to defend freedom.

  8. William
    November 17th, 2012 at 09:37 | #8

    @Mister Unknown

    Excellent point, a very straightforward one, and very well put. This is a very good starting point for a proper discussion of the issues. Unfortunately in the video some of the speakers don’t really get beyond grandstanding – and this is a topic that requires quite a lot of thoughtful treatment.

    @aeiou

    That, I’m afraid, is called “derailing”. You take us out of the realm of sensible debate, only satisfy people who are already convinced, and try to move the topic to something else entirely. The clue is in the name of this site – which country is mentioned?

  9. William
    November 17th, 2012 at 09:42 | #9

    @N.M.Cheung

    I’d generally agree, though I still think Zhang Weiwei is overrated. His point about serving two terms as a provincial governor – basically just a smarter version of the “China has a huge population” argument. I agree that the audience was by nature skewed from the beginning, and that the antis are arguing the wrong point.

    My point to the pros (Zhang and Jacques): pick a theory of how China works, stick to it, explain it, and anticipate some more of your opponents’ counterarguments, particularly the obvious 暗箱操作 criticism of the leadership selection.

  10. Wahaha
    November 17th, 2012 at 12:10 | #10

    @maofucious

    On the contrary, diversity is the exact reason for a well-written set of rules, allowing people to do any activity that is not explicitly prohibited.

    Are you talking about freedom of speech?

    You can talk to yourself or talk to the mirror, that is your right. But if you want to talk to public, then you are not allowed to mislead, or present only the pro about something you like and only the con about something you don’t like.

    I can give you an example how media messed up their own countries :

    We know there have been widespread debt issues in “free” world, almost all of them are due to unreasonable demands from unions and parasites.

    Are vast majority people in “free” world unreasonable? obviously not. But here is the situation :

    1000 people, 990 of them are reasonable people with reasonable demands, 9 of them are greed and want more, but don’t want to be the first one tagged as bad apple in a bunch. The last one is very greedy, demand unreasonable money.

    With one standing out, the 9 will demand lot more too. What about 990? is it fair for them to keep quiet? No, so 90 of them join in and demand a lot more, so on and so on, finally all 1000 become unreasonable.

    So here who gave the right to the first one to demand unreasonable amount money?

    Answer : media, they claim that it is “human right” for anyone to demand any amount of benefits or compensation they want, no matter how unreasonable the demand.

    And you know, the economy will fall apart sooner or later.

  11. Wahaha
    November 17th, 2012 at 12:58 | #11

    maofucious

    ‘Developmentalism,’ on the other hand, assumes that everyone wants the same set of goods and services.

    Yes, that is right, and I believe that in any developing country, this is what vast majority of people want.

    Only in some developed countries, people take good life for granted, like a gold fish who has spent all his life in a fish tank, never worry about next meal, and try to educate others about how to live in a pond or river.

    Given two choices :

    (1) you can vote but no flush toilet.
    (2) you can’t vote but has flush toilet.

    Which one do you pick? This may sound outrageous, but this actually what Chinese people are facing because western democracy and human right advocated by “free” media paralyze government, as I showed in last post.

  12. November 18th, 2012 at 05:14 | #12

    I’m surprised by the result of the debate. Even if the two speakers “for” the motion should lose, it would not have been by such a ridiculous margin. I try to speculate the reasons:

    1. Exactly as the 1st comment by Mr. Unknown. I fully agree.

    2. Many in the audience are facing great uncertainties within their own society, without a true leader in sight. There are plenty of great brains in their country but they have been successfully marginalised by their brand of politics. Furthermore, their own system could never emulate China’s for fundamental cultural reasons. It must therefore be very uncomfortable to hear how China’s has served the country well, or comparatively better. Those “against” the motion therefore has an overwhelming emotional advantage.

    3. Younger audience especially grew up watching (more than listening critically) to sophistic grandstanding. If Anson Chan had learnt anything at all from her colonial masters, that was it, and nothing else. She has mastered reasonably well the art of uttering gibberish with confidence, in a haughty tone, nearly public school with Chinese characteristics. Contemporary patsies are much more comfortable with that then Zhang and Jacque’s relative lack of showmanship. To them, content and logic don’t matter here any more than in presidential debates.

    Every society deep down deserves the government they get. China never wants to compete with the Democracy Empire for an international award in good government design. I remain puzzled as to why the Empire harbours so much angst about China’s domestic practice. It seems to me that they are spending way too much energy in critiquing the safety features and colour co-ordination of someone else’s home, while their own house is on fire. I would also expect democrats who view China as a competitor to deviously encourage the country to remain fatally undemocratic, then snigger and wait for the collapse with arms folded. Instead, they pontificate most anxiously about their secret of success to a rival. Isn’t that mind boggling?

  13. November 22nd, 2012 at 23:42 | #13

    @Wahaha Your post very much shows the rationale for the ‘middle income trap.’ If people design their institutions around worrying about having a toilet, then a toilet they will get. But no country becomes rich without any willingness to take risks.

  14. November 24th, 2012 at 02:02 | #14

    Inspired by this piece, and the bewilderment caused by so much “Western” interest in China’s imperfect political model which really should be none of their business, I wrote a flash fiction “Democracy Debate and Chinaman’s House”: http://guo-du.blogspot.hk/2012/11/democracy-debate-and-chinamans-house.html to get some amusement out of it 🙂

  15. Wahaha
    November 24th, 2012 at 14:53 | #15

    maofucious :
    @Wahaha Your post very much shows the rationale for the ‘middle income trap.’ If people design their institutions around worrying about having a toilet, then a toilet they will get. But no country becomes rich without any willingness to take risks.

    Do you have evidence that it is worth the risks?

    http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/poverty-rises-with-wealth-in-indonesia/
    JAKARTA, Jun 29 2012 (IPS) – If in the words of Gandhi ”poverty is the worst form of violence,” then the Indonesian government is accountable to some 120 million citizens who live on less than two dollars a day.
    .
    Living without basic necessities like clean water, proper nutrition, healthcare, education, clothing and shelter, 29-year-old Parwan fits the dictionary definition of absolute poverty. But not that of the Indonesian government, which sets the poverty line at 7,800 rupiah (about 86 U.S. cents) per day – less than half that of the World Bank, which defines poverty in Indonesia as living on less than two dollars a day.
    .
    In the south Jakarta slum of Ciliwung that stretches along a fetid river bank, Parwan survives in a one-room shack shared with his wife and baby girl. He supports his family on a little more than 700,000 rupiah a month (75 dollars) which places him just above the government’s poverty line.
    .
    But he and tens of millions like him – in a country of 240 million which boasts Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest growing economy – are unlikely to get a helping hand from authorities who do not even acknowledge their poverty.
    …..

    ********************************************

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/10/suharto-indonesia
    So it may seem astonishing that not three years later, and just over 12 years since his rule was finally brought down and democracy introduced to Indonesia for the first time since 1955, the government is proposing that the former dictator be declared a “national hero”.
    Suharto’s role in creating rapid economic growth in Indonesia is indisputable. For most of his 30-year rule, our country experienced a significant growth and industrialisation, and there was remarkable progress in people’s welfare. Infant mortality declined, public infrastructure was overhauled. Education, health care and living standards improved greatly. Despite the systemic corruption, economic inefficiencies and the hubris of Suharto’s children and cronies, POVERTY WAS REDUCED DRAMATICALLY.

  16. December 23rd, 2012 at 19:42 | #16

    mr unknown makes a point I also had in mind watching the video. it burden of proof is on the advocates of policy change and the standards ought to be proportional for how large the policy changes. these are massive policy changes they are advocating and thus the standards are set ever so much higher for proving it is better. but there isn’t even the slightest evidence that they are better.

    mr unknown also makes a good point about the status quo bias in the audience.

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