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Democracy makes a difference

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posted on Jul, 3 2006 @ 02:40 PM
During his visit to the United States in April, President Hu Jintao said there could be no modernization without democracy. People have noted that Chinese leaders, at each crucial stage of the country's development, show great concern with the progress of China's democratization.

In fact, "democracy" is both an old and a new topic in this country. Today, the Chinese, who are engaged in a modernization drive, know very well that while democracy is not the key factor determining China's progress, it is absolutely indispensable to China's grand undertakings.

Why is democracy not omnipotent?

Democracy is a system as well as a concept. It can be said that ideas tinged with democracy or appeals for equality had long existed in ancient China. As a matter of fact, "people first" ideas and those giving priority to people's well-being are found in the historical records of many countries where ancient civilizations originated.

Democracy as a system appeared twice in Western nations, first during the ancient Greek and Roman periods, and then in the modern capitalist period starting from the English Revolution of the 1640s.

"Democracy" today refers to the latter. Two peak periods mark modern bourgeois democracy.

The first peak came with the primitive accumulation of capital and the Industrial Revolution.

Its progressive nature is reflected in the fact that the medieval system of personal dependency was scrapped, and the extra-economic exploitation associated with it came to an end. This largely promoted productivity, ended fragmented feudalist rule, cleared away barriers for the advance of the market economy and, therefore, greatly boosted the process of industrialization in the West.

Does this type of democracy have a hypocritical side? Yes, indeed. It was manifested by colonial wars bent on expansion and plunder.

The second peak period came after World War II. The death of millions of people in the war, crimes committed by Fascism and Nazism, the impoverishment of people in western Europe, the rise of the socialist countries and the anti-colonial tide sweeping Asia and Africa combined to pose a serious challenge to the modern capitalist system. This helped bring about wide-ranging transformations.

Having survived disasters and misfortunes, the West managed to enter a new phase of social democratization marked by high welfare, high wages, high taxes and a high employment rate.

Viewing these two peak periods of Western democracy against China's history, especially that in the 19th and 20th centuries, we can see that Western democracy attracted the attention of the Chinese in different ways in different periods. We can also understand why China's democracy must take its own road while absorbing useful elements from Western democracy.

Reform-minded Chinese, including Kang Youwei, who masterminded the 1898 Reform, and Dr Sun Yat-sen, whose 1911 Revolution overthrew the Qing monarchy, championed industrialization and learning from the West. But this road led nowhere. The "teachers," or Western powers, kept bullying the "student," or the Chinese. Hence, the Chinese made the historical choice revolution led by the Chinese communists. The root cause of all this is: China and the West were in different conditions. While China just started to break ground for industrialization, the West had already entered the phase of capital's global expansion.

Today, things seem to be repeating themselves. Many things Western are attracting the Chinese. But learning does not necessarily mean indiscriminate copying or cloning. The reason is the same. China and the West are at different stages of development. While the West is already in the post-industrial era, industrialization and the universal application of information technology has yet to be completed in China.

This shows that China simply cannot resolve all its problems using the same methods as the West. China needs to catch up, mobilizing all its financial and human resources to do big things with great efficiency. The traditionally strong social responsibility of the Chinese and the advantage the country enjoys to concentrate resources on the most urgent things lay the foundations for the country's modernization.

But the foundation alone is far from enough. Democracy is absolutely indispensable to the country's modernization drive.

China's modernization will remain a dream without democracy with Chinese characteristics and learning from the world's modern democratic systems.

One of democracy's important institutional attributes is the public's supervision of the implementation of power. One of its most salient spiritual features is helping bring people's initiative into full play.

Without democracy, there would be no institutionalized and efficient public supervision. In this case, "mobilizing all possible resources for major undertakings" could degenerate into abuses of power. Cracking down on corruption, restraining monopoly interest groups and punishing "oligarchies" which harm the nation and people could never be done in this context.

Without democracy, there would be no respect for people. Wisdom and creativity are at the core of human dignity. In the absence of care for and encouragement of people's creativity and wisdom, creating a new type of country would remain a dream.

Without democracy, an effective personnel system is hard to be introduced and the posts at various levels would be occupied by incompetent bureaucrats. Under such circumstances, effective management departments filled with competent people would be hard to come by. China, in turn, would never transform from a country with a huge population to a country with a huge contingent of first-rate professionals.

In the absence of democracy, it would be hard to prevent ideas for development from becoming fossilized. Even the right ideas would be succumbed to the fate that "the ideas die once the man conceiving them leaves the post."

In the final analysis, democracy embodies the modernization of man and is the crystallization of political and spiritual civilizations. The Chinese nation is a creative nation. We are bound to come up with a modern democratic system that possesses unique Chinese characteristics.

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