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On the Question of Term Limit

Recent announcement of the revision of Chinese constitution removing term limit for President and Vice President generated a lot of commotion in the Western press and some opposition from small group of intellectuals, mostly liberals, human right lawyers, and some with bad memories from Cultural Revolution. The superficial reflexes are it’s bad for China, Lord Acton’s maxim, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”, and Xi wants to be the next Mao. Instead of suppressing the opposition I would like to examine the issue here on the merits of the criticisms.
The question whether it’s good or bad for China obvious only history can answer. For all we know Xi may decide after this term is over that he has found his successor and retire. FDR got elected for 4 terms because he felt with the war emergency it would be disruptive to change administration. China is at present in middle of war against corruption, consolidation of socialism values, and achieving China Dream. Xi may feel the need to push ahead to lay the foundation for the victory. If we pay attention on Xi’s speech, ” 功成不必在我”, he doesn’t consider he or any leader is essential for the success of socialism. For western reporters claiming it will be bad for China smack of arrogance like colonialists claiming colonialism is good for those colonies because they bring civilization to those unenlightened. For they always proclaim China will collapse and now feel it will be bad for China is the height of hypocrisy.
As for Lord Acton’s maxim, there is certain truth in it, but by no means all. For what is power? Which has no intrinsic value of good or evil, it’s the imperfect human being wielding power that tends to corrupt. Nuclear power can generate electricity for masses or nuclear weapons can kill millions. Who has absolute power? For Christians, it’s the almighty God. Do we infer since God has absolute power, he is by definition corrupt absolutely and is the Devil?
As for Xi wants to be Mao, the implied criticism is Mao was bad, but overwhelming majority of Chinese consider Mao as the founding father of China, a great man, and revered by Chinese. He may have make some errors impatient to change human nature. Some whom suffered during CR may blame him for their wounds. Do Americans blame George Washington for slavery? I am sure some American Indians and African Americans would.

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  1. N.M.Cheung
    November 30th, -0001 at 00:00 | #1

    If democracy is how government reflects the will of the people, rather than the formality of voting by unqualified voters, then China definitely is more democratic than U.S.. I very dislike those big Vs on Weibo and those younger Chinese commenting on the NYT editorial pages, praising U.S. and making sarcastic comments on China, or that Chinese student making graduation speech at University of Maryland, praising democratic air in U.S. without understanding history of U.S. and China. U.S. is a plutocracy given that money controls the government, giving the constitution as written to be undemocratic and very difficult to amend, given the voter suppression of blacks and poor, given that Pennsylvania with voters in democratic and republicans are evenly split, while old gerrymandering given republican 15 of the 18 house members advantage. And above all given the history of genocide of native Americans, slavery, and millions killed by the U.S. empire in Vietnam and Iraq. How can anyone except ignorant ones can praise U.S. democracy?

  2. ltlee1
    March 19th, 2018 at 02:00 | #2


    “Yet Xi’s revolution is a gamble. In much of Asia, systems lacking the West’s liberal norms and institutions have accomplished remarkable things — and China, since the reforms undertaken by Deng Xiaoping starting in 1978, is the most astonishing example. But elsewhere in the region, enduring success has so far involved two elements that Xi appears to have set his face against: sufficient internal rivalry to keep policymakers on their toes; and a path to political liberalization, so that one day it might be possible to accommodate a more prosperous, better-educated and increasingly opinionated populace.”


    China is now an epistocracy. The CCP could certainly accommodate a more prosperous, better-educated and increasingly opinionated populace. Epistocracy and democracy are, after all, not mutually exclusive. If all Chinese citizens are also CCP members, China would then become a direct democracy.

  3. N.M.Cheung
    March 19th, 2018 at 10:37 | #3

    I would not call China an epistocracy. I would be more inclined to agree with Professor Zhang and Eric Li that China is a meritocracy. To be an official you need to go through various hurdles like Gaokao, various lower layers of offices before you are entrusted with more power and responsibility. China has the imperial examinations through the ages for understanding of Confucian ethics before you can be an official. The term limit became an issue because of the antipathy to FDR and the Tea Party rebellion, but few if any Tea party rebels term limit themselves. Epistocracy is a response to shortcomings of democracy, the fact Donald Trump can become president showed its defects. He’s without any experience in government, without any moral character or compass except greed. Democracy as an ideal is way overrated. The Citizen United decision told us money is speech, given about only 55% vote in general election, much lower in off year and local elections, long waiting lines, Tuesday while people have to work, I would guess those in the top 20% participates 80%, while bottom 40% participates 20%, the addition of gerrymandering and discourage of voting by poor, electoral college, it’s much more a plutocracy than democracy.

  4. ltlee1
    March 20th, 2018 at 05:01 | #4


    Yes, epistocracy is a response to shortcomings of democracy. And it is suggested and/or considered as a kind of democracy. Rather than universal suffrage, an epistocracy would only allow wise people to vote. Meritocracy and epistocracy are not mutually exclusive. The issue is whether the people’s views are effectively translated into public policy.

    By the way, representative democracy was at first conceived in the US primarily as a means to counter democracy. It was not accepted by democratic purist such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau as any kind of democracy. Election based democracy, despite its short history and not tested by history was later accepted as another kind of democracy and then the best or only kind of democracy in the West. While election is assumed to give the consent of the governed, this is now proved to be a myth.

    Rasmussen Poll has six polls since 2010, “Few Think Government Has Consent of the Governed” in all of them.


    At this stage of democratic development, democracy should not be seen as a matter of all citizens being allowed to vote but a matter of citizens’ views/expectation being translated into public policy effectively. According to this measure, China is already a democracy. At least an epistocratic kind of democracy.

  5. ltlee1
    March 20th, 2018 at 09:25 | #5


    “If democracy is how government reflects the will of the people, rather than the formality of voting by unqualified voters, then China definitely is more democratic than U.S.”

    Actually, there is no “if”. Democracy is about reflecting the will of the people just like monarchy is about reflecting the will of the monarch and oligarchy about reflecting the will of a few.

    Of course, no one should reject election as a valid prcoess of reaching democratic goals especially in lower level governments. But at the same time, one must recognize voting’s inherent problems as pointed out by Warren Rudman long time ago:

    “One third of the Senate know why they’re here, know what they want to
    do, and know how to do it. The second third know why they’re here,
    know what they want but don’t know how to do it. And the last third,
    I’m not sure why they’re here.” ( “THE POWER GAME: How Washington
    Works” by Hedrick Smith)

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