“Democracy”: China versus the West

Part 1

After reading Wei Ling Chua’s second book, Tiananmen Square “Massacre”? and its startling revelations of a western disinformation against the Chinese government, I was eager to read his first book, Democracy: What the West Can Learn from China. His analysis is thought provoking and at stark odds with the preponderent western mass media narrative.

Chua quickly gets to the crux of his thesis:

As winning an election is the primary objective [in western political systems]; the welfare of the people is secondary. In sharp contrast to the West, the Chinese culture is basically a corrective one. People who are able to make their way to the top of the leadership ladder in China are usually less individualistic with positive personal qualities. (location 546)

Chua buttresses this with a corporate media rarity from the Christian Science Monitor stating China’s “‘political meritocracy’ … balance[s] the interests of an entire country — and the world, not just finicky voters or big donors.” (553)

Chua seeks to compare and contrast the effectiveness of political systems in a scientific way. Since the well-being of the citizenry is undoubtedly the raison d’être of a government, Chua attempts to gauge government responsiveness to the needs of the people during a disaster. He examines the Australian government aid to victims of bushfire, American government response to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the Chinese government response to victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Upon comparison, Chua concludes, “The speed and quality of the reconstruction [in Sichuan] puts to shame those Western governments who relentlessly demonise China…” (1019)

It is not hard to understand the disparate responses to the plight of citizens in need. Chua explains, “… the culture and beliefs of the Communist Party in China is more people-oriented than those of the capitalist elites in the West.” (1214)

The CPC’s people-orientation, relates the author, drew 600 million people out of poverty between 1981 and 2004 causing the poverty rate to plunge from 85% to 19.5%. (1247)

Chua notes that western political systems are plagued with issues of economic disparity, racism, social integration, warmongering, etc. China is contrariwise. “The strength of China’s political system is that they need not compromise with corporate interests like in the West…” (1692) Instead politics places increasing emphasis on reaching consensus. (1474)

Is there even a genuine democracy in the West? Chua cites anarchist intellectual Noam Chomsky who argues the US is not a democracy but an oligarchy. (3040) Chua writes, “China is obviously more democratic than the West.” (3165) “Democracy,” he argues, “cannot be achieved through Western-style voting system based on the concept of ‘opposition’ and ‘winner-take-all’.” (3235)

What Chua does not mention is that Chomsky considers China a “kind of a totalitarian state” that forces its people to endure living in “probably the most polluted country in the world.”

In a world where societies in nation states are riven by the classist system of neoliberalism and austerity measures, the Chinese government is moving in an opposite direction promoting the welfare of all. ((Li Bingqin, “Social Welfare and Protection for Economic Growth and Social Stability—China’s Experience,” in A changing China: emerging governance, economic and social trends (Singapore: Civil Service College, 2012): 39-60. Accessed at LSE Rearch Online. Li describes reforms in 1) employment “a social safety net with three protection mechanisms was adopted: a social insurance against unemployment; living allowances offered by the previous employers or the re-employment centres funded by the local government; and a minimum living standard guarantee for the unemployed,” 2) the introduction of pensions, 3) healthcare coverage, and 4) increased home ownership. (45-46) To increase social cohesiveness social insurance schemes have been extended and a decrease in rural and urban poverty has been targeted. (53)

“This paper shows that since the Communist Party came into power in China, social welfare has been actively used by the state to boost economic growth and maintain social stability.” (56) )), ((See also Library of the European Parliament, “Social welfare protection: the EU, USA and China,” 8 January 2013.)) However, the path to socialism has been an uneven one, and it offers fodder for critics. China did move from a state socialist economy to a market economy, and it did open up to privatization in the 1990s. This was problematic as pointed out by Marxist economist Mingqi Li:

Privatization and liberalization provide opportunities for the growth of corruption, rent-seeking activities, and stripping of state assets. The layoffs of tens of millions of the state and the
collective sector workers have caused rapid increase in urban unemployment and poverty, social instability, and have contributed to the problem of insufficient aggregate demand … ((Mingqi Li, “Three Essays on China’s State Owned Enterprises: Towards an Alternative to Privatization,” October 2008: 19.))

… privatization is often associated with large-scale corruption, the looting of state assets, and rapid increases in inequality. For several reasons, privatization has failed to contribute to better economic performance. ((Li, 30.))

Nonetheless, Chua is sanguine about China’s future direction: “Through practice and pragmatism, the Communist Party is moving towards the ultimate ideology of communism with genuine social equality, fairness, and justice.” (3707)

Many capitalists are reaping the windfall of China’s low-wage workforce and huge market. However, the success of a socialist China poses an existential threat to capitalism. While critics of China deride its economic system as capitalism by another name — socialism with Chinese characteristics –, this is too simplistic. For example, much of the control of the economy still resides in state hands ((Li finds: “… the large state owned enterprise sector has made a crucial contribution to China’s macroeconomic stability and sustained economic growth and China will continue to need a large state owned enterprise sector for her economic success to be sustained in the future. (103) )) while in the West ongoing privatization concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

Democracy: What the West Can Learn from China causes open-minded people to sit back and consider the supposed superiority of the western multi-party political system ((Granted that the various parties in the West are factions of the business party while in China there other political parties.)) vis–à–vis the one-party system in China. The book details a political system wherein people do not vote nationally for their government members, and yet, by way of comparison, the CPC is, arguably, more responsive and attuned to the needs of the citizenry than are the representatives elected in the West.

I am sympathetic to the socialist aspirations of the CPC. However, as an anarchist, I do not consider it the “ultimate ideology” since I am opposed to the hierarchical structure of the CPC. In a world where there are bosses and subordinates, genuine democracy cannot exist. ((Li favors worker participation: “… it is a widely shared belief among Chinese government officials and economists that workers’ participation [in decision-making], while being of certain political importance, is likely to have a negative impact on firm performance. However, to the knowledge of this author, there has not yet been any study that evaluates the validity of this belief based on empirical evidence in the Chinese context.” (59) ))

Part 2 is an interview with author Wei Ling Chua in which he discusses his books.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.