Yu Keping: How to Achieve Orderly Democracy

The following is a translation of Yu Keping’s (俞可平) essay 如何实现有序的民主 that appeared in the July 13 edition of the Beijing News. Yu has an influential job as Deputy Director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (中央编译局) of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

In this essay Yu Keping is not really saying anything he has not said before. The New York Times even profiled him in 2010 in A Chinese Official Praises a Taboo: Democracy. But it is still interesting, both for providing another view into how some parts of the Chinese government define and discuss democracy, and for how it may fit into other signs that in spite of the recent political tightening the new administration is looking for ways to build a more responsive authoritarian government, all while maintaining the unchallenged rule of the Communist Party.

A Sinocism subscriber named Frazier translated the essay gratis. Frazier is a professional translator who is available for contract work and provided this translation as a way to get his name out there. I am happy to connect any readers with him.

On to Yu’s essay:

Yu Keping: How to Achieve Orderly Democracy

Deputy Director at the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Professor, doctoral supervisor for dual degree students of philosophy and politics, has written works such as Democracy is a Good Thing, and Fear the Public Opinion, etc.

“Democracy is a good thing,” means that democracy can benefit the people. If democracy is to benefit the people, a precondition for this is that social order cannot be lost, and hardship may not be allowed to come upon the people. If democracy causes unrest throughout the nation, the people will lose all hope, corruption will go unchecked, and in this case, who would still desire democracy? Those who are against democracy often take this (as an example) to frighten their audience. The truth is that there are many facts that prove that the advancement of democracy will not necessarily cause the loss of order. It is, in fact, the opposite: over the long-term, it is only democracy and the rule of law that will provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of the nation. Well then, how is it that orderly democracy will be able to be achieved under China’s actual conditions?

1. The correct direction must be chosen

It isn’t a matter of whether or not one likes democracy: Democracy is a trend that cannot be impeded

Let us now talk about the Chinese dream. The Chinese dream is the realization of the great revival of the Chinese nation. There is a lot included in this great revival, and an indispensable part of it is a high level of democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy is the developing trend of human society. The ceaseless march towards democracy is a developing political trend that cannot be reversed. It is the same in any country, and it is no different in China. Sun Yat-sen once said: “World-wide trends are powerful. Going with them will bring success, going against them will bring disaster.” The world trend that he was primarily referring to was that nations are to be independent, countries are to become wealthy and strong, and the people will want democracy. When we speak of political culture, we are primarily referring to democracy and the rule of law. Democracy is the lifeblood of our republic. The central meaning of “The People’s Republic of China” is that the people are the masters and make the decisions. The 16th congress emphasized that intra-party democracy is the lifeblood of the party, and the 17th congress emphasized that the people and democracy are the lifeblood of socialism. It is no longer a matter of whether or not one likes democracy: Democracy is a trend that cannot be impeded. Let us now talk about the Chinese dream. The Chinese dream is the realization of the great revival of the Chinese nation. There is a lot included in this great revival, and an indispensable part of it is a high level of democracy and the rule of law. The political development of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is in fact the unification of three things, which is an organic unification of “the leadership of the party, the position as master and decision maker held by the people, and the ruling of the nation in accordance with the law.” The central part of these three components is the position as master and decision maker held by the people. The objective is to have “the people be the masters,” and the “leadership of the party” and “the rule of law,” at the end of the day, serve to ensure that the people remain the masters. The 18th congress emphasizes that the people must indeed remain the masters. The continual advancement of democracy and the rule of law is the historical responsibility of those in the Communist Party. This is our correct direction.

2. The correct time must be chosen

If there are no breakthroughs in the reform of important areas, illegal corruption may transform into legitimized special privileges

The delay of political reforms and establishment of democracy will bring on a host of problems. If there are no breakthroughs in the reform of important areas, then illegal corruption may transform into legitimized special privileges, which would be even more frightening.

The achievement of democracy is subject to the requirements of real-world conditions. It needs to become accustomed to the economic and cultural realities and the actual foundations of society. Any kind of misplacement would bring with it disastrous consequences. Rushing ourselves will not work, and moving too slowly will not work either. We have learned painful lessons from rushing ourselves in the past, just like when we “went running into communism”; Moving too slowly when it comes to political reform or the establishment of democracy will also bring with it a host of problems, such as the problem of corruption that we hate to the bone. The fact that (corruption) has, until this day, been unable to be effectively controlled, is directly related to the slowness of some of our systematic reforms. If there are no breakthroughs in the reform in important areas, then illegal corruption may transform into legitimized special privileges, which would be even more frightening. Compared with the corruption of some officials, the special privileges of these officials is even more frightening, because the threat of the latter is more serious, and are often not the topic of investigation. Also, certain dilemmas, such as those involving the publication of the property holdings of officials or the dropping of public trust in the government, are problems that are caused by loopholes in the system and the slow progress of reform. Identifying the proper time to advance political reform is the responsibility of the politicians, and this is where we can see the capabilities of the politicians, who need to have the great wisdom of a politician and the willingness to take action. Of these qualities, the willingness to take action and a sense of responsibility are more important than wisdom and overall capabilities.

3. The correct route must be chosen

From intra-party democracy to social democracy; from base-level democracy to upper-level democracy

In political life, the ideal situation is that the people trust the government at all levels. But in reality, the people have high levels of trust in the central government, but the trust in base-level governmental offices tends to be lower.

China, as a great power, must design a rational road map for political reform. I have always believed that there are three routes from which to choose: The first is a transition from intra-party democracy to social democracy. This is also what has always been insisted upon, during the 16th Congress, the 17th Congress, and the 18th Congress of our Party. Democratic development needs to select a road that exacts the lowest toll, and provides the greatest efficiency. intra-party democracy is a road of this kind. intra-party democracy is, in fact, an expansion from the core to the periphery. The second is a transfer from base-level democracy to upper-level democracy. China’s base-level democracy is controllable, and exacts only a small toll. On the one hand, the nation has a great enough amount of strength to manage and control local democratic practices. On the other hand, base-level democracy is directly aimed at the common people, and brings direct benefits to the common people. In political life, the ideal situation is that the people trust all levels of government. But in reality, China is the exact opposite of America: American citizens have a very low level of trust for the federal government. We (in China) have high levels of trust in the central government, but the trust in base-level government tends to be lower. “If the base level is not solid, the ground will shake and the mountains will sway.” This phenomenon must raise our level of alertness. The third is a transition from a lower amount of competition to a greater amount of competition. Democracy requires the presence of competition: without competition, how are we to elect the most outstanding individual? Our democracy will naturally be one with Chinese characteristics. But even if it is completely one of “Chinese characteristics,” democracy cannot be separated from elections and competition. Consultative democracy is of course very important, but consultation does not equate to the exclusion of elections.

4. The correct method must be chosen

Freedom and equality are two basic values of democratic governance

We need to achieve balance in six areas: We want democracy and we also want the rule of law; we want consultation and we also want elections; we want freedom and we also want equality; we want efficiency and we also want justice; we want participation and we also want order; we want individual rights and we also want public rights.

Choosing the correct method for democratic development requires achieving balance in six areas: Number one, we want democracy and we also want the rule of law. Democracy and the rule of law are two sides of the same coin. They are inseparable. Any politician that discusses democracy is unable to avoid discussing the rule of law: Regardless of if one looks to the experience of the West, or to the experience of our nation, China: Everywhere, this is a proven fact.

Number two, we want consultation and we also want elections. Chinese democracy, to a great degree, is in fact consultative in nature. This has its historical tradition. Elections, on the other hand, have been a product of the modern age. However, democracy is naturally inseparable from elections. The two need to be combined together.

Number three, we want freedom and we want equality. These are two more basic values of democratic governance. In the past we have overemphasized equality, and after the reforming and opening up (of China), we have put more emphasis on the value of freedom. Now, the two are the subjects of great tension.

Number four, we want efficiency and we want justice. These are two indispensable basic values. In the early stages of the reform and opening up, the issue of efficiency was more salient. Now, the issue of justice has become more salient.

Number five, we want participation and we want order. Huntington said that the greatest challenge for political modernization is in managing the relationship between public participation and political stability. We can clearly feel the tension between the two. Now we have found ourselves with this problem: As the interests of the different social groups continue to diversify, the desire of the citizens for participation becomes more intense by the day. Even if one wished to block this participation, it is incapable of being blocked. This requires that there are more open channels available for the expression of (the peoples’) interests and for political participation. If there is a lack of legal channels, then these citizens will certainly utilize irregular, or even illegal channels. That will result is social unrest, and democratic participation could possibly lose control.

Number six, we want individual rights and we also want public rights. Rights belong to the individual, and the legal rights of the citizen are ensured by the constitution. But we also want to ensure public rights, because the nation and its society is a community, and if the relationship between these two is to be managed well, then individual rights and public rights have to achieve an appropriate level of balance.

5. The correct strategy must be chosen

Successful reform experience needs to be elevated to the institutional level

There are a lot of reform tasks that we are facing, and we should get a firm grasp on those most important. We must find those reform breakthrough points that will enable us to “move the entire body by pulling one strand of hair.” Intra-party democracy is one of these important breakthrough point areas, including issues such as power restraints in intra-party democracy.

First, there needs to be overall planning. To put it in the terms of mainstream political theory, there needs to be scientific development. This means that economic development needs to be combined with political development, social development and cultural development, etc. There needs to be an upper-level design, and there needs to be a reasonable plan that can explained with factual basis. There needs to be an institution responsible for comprehensive policy that is able to coordinate each party’s interests, especially at the level of the central government. Governmental reform should be matched with Party reform. Second, there needs to be continued expansion of the testing points, and the work at these points should eventually be expanded to cover wider areas. This is what is referred to as “crossing the river by feeling the stones.” This is one of the important experiences of our reform success. The key to “crossing the river by feeling the stones” is that it is necessary to summarize experiences that were successful in test-point areas, and then elevate this experience to the institutional level to be further promoted. Many of our reforms that have been very effective have suffered a lack of continuity. The problem is that when a politician leaves, his or her policy ceases to be implemented, and their policies have not been raised to the institutional level. Third, efforts need to be made to achieve advances in areas of greater importance, and strive for overall advancements. There are a lot of reform tasks that we are facing, and we should get a firm grasp on those that are most important. We must find those reform breakthrough points that will enable us to “move the entire body by pulling one strand of hair.” Intra-party democracy is one of these important breakthrough point areas, including issues such as power restraints in intra-party democracy. We speak a lot now of supervision, but speak too little of restraints, and we speak even less of restraints on the number one leader.

All in all, everyone fears that advancing democracy will cause a loss of order, and will bring social unrest. We all hope that while we advance democracy, we will be able to maintain social stability. However, as I see it, it is only through the deepening of the reform of our political system, and the true advancement of democracy and the rule of law, that we will be able to provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of the nation, and will be to allow democracy to benefit the people.

Yu Keping (Deputy Director at the Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party)

Subscribe to the Sinocism China Newsletter email. Free