An interesting question. Is China fixed in its ways or is it embracing new things? Are changes made on an impulse or are they the product of deep thought?
Consider some of the changes;- Billionaires flourish; foreign companies can own a wholly-owned subsidiary in China; marriage law gives increasing property rights to deserted wives; gay marriage is in the offing; patent law in China increasingly protects the foreign company; citizens travel overseas in large numbers (140m in 2019); there is much less use of execution as a legal punishment; Chinese citizens, exposed to US democracy in the US, return to China more impressed with Chinese democracy; the people boycott goods produced by foreign companies who have turned their back on Xinjiang cotton. The list is long but little is left to impulse or ‘spur of the moment thinking.
China plans – not in a dull repetitive bureaucratic manner but in an embracing wide-ranging style of debate and discussion. Often a Communist country is seen as “top-down”. Orders come from the top and are obeyed without question or dissent. In fact, things are quite different. China depends on “the bottom up and the top-down”. There is discussion and argument and debate and review and, for sure, mistakes are made and will continue to be made. Consider two points;-
First, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping were a long time in the making. They were a product of widespread discussion and review – first, within the Party and second, between the people and the Party. Success is not guaranteed and questions remain outstanding about the Tian’anmen deaths in June 1989 – why was there such discontent?. Something had gone very wrong for the People’s Liberation Army to be brought into the centre of Beijing to restore law and order. So the process does not always deliver success. Usually, mistakes are the fault of senior leaders and 1989 was not different. But if you step back and take the long term view – without ever making light of ‘mistakes’ and ‘errors’ – you can see that the Party has delivered stability and prosperity to an increasing number of people to the shock of Western “experts” who have always made dire forecasts about China’s development. China will soon be the largest economy in the world.
Second, China has made some very brave and forward-thinking changes. Western critics have never really understood why Billionaires flourish in China. Surely, this flies in the face of Communism. Why allow Billionaires to accumulate wealth? Why permit wage differentials?. These are such big questions in a country run by a Communist Party and for these policies to be introduced, embraced and encouraged would have required the widest discussion at all levels of the Party. Once the policy was agreed it needed to be taken up by the people – they had to be onside. After years of anti-capitalist propaganda, the Party was making a significant change. But this is lost on China critics. They do not understand the process of “bottom-up and top-down”. It is a key leadership issue in an authoritarian country. It is about the debate, discussion, argument, refinement of policies, adjustment, further debate. And it has worked. The State cannot be the sole source of commercial imagination and creative thinking. It needs stimulus, even an injection of self-interest. The test is not whether it is outdated dogma but whether it brings prosperity to the people as a whole.
These are big questions about democracy that are not understood by a West wedded to the concept of One Man One Vote. Critics struggle with the Chinese Way and immediately dismiss it. Western democracy must prevail despite the fact that the same Western democracy in the UK and US are responsible for 630,000+ Covid deaths.
This is a series of articles that draw attention to issues in Chinese democratic life that are un-appreciated by people in the West who so often miss the significance of what is happening in China and what it means for future world development. Which model works is the question other countries will be asking themselves as they wrestle with making a choice about the best way forward. I am not blind to the argument that an authoritarian government can act in an oppressive manner towards its people and I will consider that question in future posts but make no mistake what China has achieved for its people and what it offers as a blueprint for future development to other peoples is a big challenge to traditional concepts of Western political thought.