China’s Stubborn Anti-Democracy

Policy Review, February/March 2007

For more than a decade, successive U.S. presidents have declared that political liberalization leading ultimately to democratization in China would be desirable and decidedly in America’s — and the world’s — interests. The Clinton administration, after some initial tortuous twists and turns, fashioned a policy of “constructive engagement” with the Chinese government that called for close bilateral economic and political cooperation along with U.S. advocacy for democracy, open markets and human rights in China. The George W. Bush administration, though openly suspicious of China’s opaque military buildup and strategic intentions, has exhorted China to become a “responsible stakeholder” of the international community while urging it to embrace democracy. To Washington, a China that is headed down a democratic path — even as it amasses military, political, and economic might — would offer the best assurance for peace, prosperity and cooperation with the United States and the world.

China, however, appears immune to and unmoved by U.S. wishes. American democracy promotion — ranging from economic engagement to democracy programs to lofty rhetoric — has not halted the speed at which the Chinese authoritarian behemoth presses on with grave human rights abuses. For now, U.S. hopes remain just hopes.

The reasons for democracy’s slow boat to China are complicated: They range from American delusions to Chinese authoritarian resilience to Chinese nationalism. Far less complicated is the reality that as the United States trumpets democracy worldwide as a strategic objective and a sign of human progress, China is unabashedly providing a counter-example. Successful democratization in China, therefore, will not only usher in freedom for 1.3 billion Chinese citizens, but also strike a blow against the stubbornness of authoritarianism worldwide. It is therefore vital for U.S. policymakers to examine China’s success in resisting democratization, reassess the tools and assumptions of current democracy promotion efforts, and think of new ways to remove the roadblocks to freedom.


The “inevitability” of change

Many china observers have long been predicting that China’s encounter with market forces or liberal institutions and instruments from the West would spur inevitable democratic change. These observers have been right that China would become more pluralistic and multifaceted. But they have been delusional in thinking that Chinese leaders would simply roll over and relinquish power when presented with new challenges to their rule. On everything ranging from trade to the Internet, from village elections to the rule of law, Chinese rulers have consistently proven China optimists wrong.

Economic engagement. The fundamental underpinning of American policy toward China today — and U.S. democracy promotion in China — is economic engagement. Since the U.S. Congress granted permanent normal trading relations (pntr) to China in 2000, an underlying assumption of economic engagement with China is that the market forces unleashed by international trade and investment will necessarily spur economic and political change in Chinese society. Washington’s assumption is spurred in no small part by the successful democratic transitions undertaken by other authoritarian regimes — such as those in Taiwan, South Korea, and Chile in the 1980s — after they had embarked on economic liberalization. Indeed, two decades-plus of U.S.-China trade have drastically altered the face of Chinese society, resulting in an unprecedented expansion of economic, social, and personal freedoms for ordinary Chinese citizens.

The links between economic liberalization and political reform, however, have turned out to be much more complicated and tenuous in the China case. More than six years after pntr, drastic improvements in Chinese society have not been translated into political liberalization. The Chinese Communist Party (ccp) shows no interest in meaningful political reforms and has continued to rely on repression and brutality to maintain its rule. Since 2000, the U.S. Department of State’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have continued to declare the Chinese government’s human rights record to be “poor” or “in deterioration.” Similarly, Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan human rights organization, has repeatedly rated China “unfree” in its Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties.

Certainly, the lack of political progress was not what successive Republican and Democratic administrations promised. In lobbying for continued trade with China, President Bill Clinton predicted in 2000, “We will be unleashing forces no totalitarian operation rooted in last century’s industrial society can control.” President George W. Bush reiterated Clinton’s prediction in 2005: “I believe a whiff of freedom in the marketplace will cause there to be more demand for democracy.” Just how China is to proceed from “a whiff of freedom” to democracy no one knows. Meanwhile, the ccp is determined to show otherwise: It continues to gobble up Western technology, know-how, and capital without relinquishing its monopoly on power.

Institutions and instruments for change. Unfortunately, Washington has met the resilience of Chinese authoritarianism with grand delusions. Just as successive presidential administrations have subscribed to the overarching principle that economic engagement would lead inevitably to democratization in China, numerous policymakers, scholars, and pundits have touted various instruments and institutions as inevitable agents of democratic change. Such institutions and instruments, often evoking different elements of democratic society, range from village elections to rule-of-law collaboration to the Internet. In some ways, these instruments and institutions act as spokes of the wheel of economic engagement. But just as Chinese rulers have managed to compartmentalize economic modernization from political liberalization, they have also been determined to neutralize the democratizing powers of liberal institutions and instruments.

To Washington, all good things go together. If China encountered some element of what exists in a democratic society, many have argued, it would be unable to stop that element’s accompanying democratic attributes from seeping into society as a whole. When the Chinese government institutionalized nationwide rural village elections in 1998, numerous observers believed they would inevitably pave the way for broader democratization throughout the country. When the Chinese government agreed to conduct rule-of-law cooperation with the United States on legal training, education, and administrative and commercial law in 1997 and 1998, government and academic experts predicted that any progress made in the less politically sensitive legal areas would inevitably lead to liberalization in the political rule of law. When the Internet revolution arrived in China in the late 1990s, Americans were sure that the Chinese government would quickly succumb to the democratizing powers of the free flow of information.

Each time, however, China showed that it was determined to extract the economic or governing benefits of liberalizing forces and instruments while stifling their political powers. Though millions of villagers throughout China have now experienced elections firsthand, such elections are deeply flawed. Many are uncompetitive; many others provide little or no choice over the slate of candidates; fraud is rampant; and those elected, fairly or not, often wield little decision-making power. Furthermore, the government shows little interest in expanding the elections to the national level. On the rule of law, though China now eagerly participates in rule-of-law exchanges with the United States, it has permitted legal reforms for the purpose of facilitating economic development and making its governance more efficacious, not more democratic. As such, Beijing has limited legal reform only to politically safe areas, such as commercial and administrative law, and has barred legal reform from politically sensitive areas such as political dissent, labor unrest, and religious freedom.1 As for the Internet, though China eagerly embraced it as a vehicle for economic modernization and technological advancement, it has aggressively neutralized the medium’s democratizing effects. Though the Chinese online population exploded from a paltry 620,000 in October 1997 to about 123 million in July 2006, the Chinese government uses sophisticated technology and some 50,000 Internet police to censor Internet content; it regularly makes high-profile arrests of cyber-dissidents and has intimidated both Western and domestic companies to engage in self-censorship.

Through it all, Beijing has pressed on, doing what Washington believed was impossible: compartmentalizing economic gain from political challenges. This does not mean that the market forces and various liberal instruments trumpeted by the United States should be dismissed or abandoned, but it does mean that as Beijing strengthens the resilience of its authoritarianism, Washington should cease basking in its delusions for inevitable democratic change.

Authoritarian resilience

To promote democratization in China effectively, the United States must better understand the reasons for authoritarianism’s resilience. Various factors contribute to such resilience, including spectacular economic growth, regime institutionalization, suppression and cooptation of the political opposition, and stringent restriction of what democracy theorists called “coordination goods”.

First and foremost, the Chinese regime’s ability to deliver continued economic growth has prolonged its ability to govern. Between 1978 and 2005, the World Bank reports, China’s gdp growth averaged 9.4 percent annually. For the past four successive years, China’s eonomy has grown approximately 10 percent each year.2 This growth has created jobs, raised living standards, delivered modernization and boosted national pride. According to the United Nations Development Program, 250 million Chinese citizens were lifted out of poverty between 1980 and 2005. Though some critics, notably Gordon Chang, have predicted that China’s economy will collapse before the end of this decade,3 economists such as Thomas Rawski and Barry Naughton and institutions such as the imf argue that China’s prospects for continued economic development appear bright.4 

Ironically, impressive economic growth has bolstered the government’s legitimacy and reduced pressures for it to liberalize politically. As Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs argue, economic growth, at least in the short term, stabilizes and legitimizes authoritarian regimes more than it undermines them.5 For this reason, Chinese President Hu Jintao expects — and fervently hopes — that China’s gdp in 2020 will quadruple that in 2000.<6 

Aside from achieving spectacular gdp growth, the regime has also increasingly institutionalized its bureaucracy. Instead of weakening, floundering or over-centralizing, observes Andrew Nathan, the ccp has smoothed out succession politics, promoted meritocracy over factionalism for the advancement of political elites, modernized a disparate and large bureaucracy, and established the means of political participation at the local and work-unit levels to strengthen legitimacy.7 According to Nathan, this means that leadership successions, such as the recent ones in 2002 and 2003, now occur in an orderly fashion and are no longer characterized by the violent factional struggles of the Maoist era. Senior government leaders arrive at top posts increasingly because of their educational background and technocratic competence rather than pure loyalty to specific ccp leaders. The party has decreased its interference in the work of government organs and bureaucracies, allowing them more leeway to oversee their functional responsibilities. All the while, the central government has also instituted mechanisms for — or created the appearances of — being receptive to citizen opinions at the very micro levels of society. The regime, in contrast to previous eras, has shown little internal disagreement over its overarching approach to governance. Institutionalized and unified, the regime is determined to tackle China’s major economic and social challenges, suppress any viable political opposition, and stay in power.

Of course, regime institutionalization alone cannot quell political discontent, dissent, or opposition, but this is where the effective suppression and cooptation of rival political groups come in. Beijing has brutally suppressed the spiritual group Falun Gong, a Buddhist sect that surprised and alarmed the regime by massing outside of its walled leadership compound in Beijing in a 10,000-strong silent protest on April 25, 1999. Similarly, the ccp has effectively cracked down on the China Democracy Party, which democracy activists in 1998 attempted to organize as the first national opposition party under communist rule.

Simultaneously, the ccp has keenly and successfully co-opted potential political competitors. According to Minxin Pei, the party has built coalitions with 1) intellectuals, who were at the forefront of criticizing the regime in the 1980s and in leading the Tiananmen Democracy Movement of 1989; 2) private entrepreneurs, who comprise the emerging middle class that many believed would demand more rights as they acquired fuller stomachs; and 3) technocratic reformers, who focus on the changes necessary to institutionalize and modernize China’s governance.8 By doling out everything from party membership to senior government positions to financial perks, the party has rendered moot the political threat from these three potent and potential opposition groups.9

The ccp’s suppression strategy is capped off with the restriction of what democracy scholars refer to as “coordination goods.” These goods include political rights, such as free speech and the right to organize and protest; general human rights, such as freedom from arbitrary arrest; and press freedom. Bueno de Mesquita and Downs contend that the availability of coordination goods affects democratization because they drastically influence the ability of political opponents to coordinate and mobilize but have little impact on the continued economic growth that is crucial for sustaining an authoritarian regime’s legitimacy.10 The Chinese government suppresses these goods by censoring the press and the Internet, cracking down on coalition-building and organization among dissident groups, diffusing and discouraging protests through a combination of cash payoffs and outright intimidation, and trampling on the human rights of its citizens. By suppressing these coordination goods, Beijing has in effect elevated and prolonged its survival prospects.

In short, the Chinese regime has not sat haplessly by when confronted with challenges to its rule but has instead aggressively fought to maintain power. Its tactics may have differed with each political challenge, but the result — continuation of ccp rule — has remained the same.

The Chinese people respond

Fortunately, american delusions and Chinese authoritarianism have not stopped the Chinese people from fighting against government repression and injustice. Economic modernization may not have led to political liberalization, but it has led to a much more pluralistic society, offering many more opportunities and outlets for dissent. Unfortunately, just as Beijing has neutralized the democratizing powers of market forces or liberal instruments and institutions, it has also aggressively stifled the democratizing effect of increased social pluralism.

Today, massive unemployment and unrest plague Chinese society. Two and a half decades of economic liberalization have resulted in the state’s withdrawal from the economy and social welfare network. As a result, the official registered unemployment rate in urban areas hovers at 4.2 percent. In rural areas, the unemployment rate could be as high as 20 percent. At any given moment, there are over 120 million rural migrant workers roaming the streets of Chinese cities looking for jobs. Riots take place in China every day. The Ministry of Public Security reported 10,000 protests throughout the country in 1994; 58,000 protests in 2003; 74,000 in 2004; and 87,000 in 2005. Against the backdrop of unrest and unemployment, ordinary citizens — in particular peasants — are clamoring for the central government to address their grievances on the local level on everything from corruption to poor health care. In 2004, they filed 10 million petitions for intervention from Beijing; in 2005, they filed 30 million.

The disgruntled are aided by support networks spawned by two decades-plus of increasing social pluralism. Protestors and activists now rely on booming information resources, such as the Internet and mobile phones. Petitioners and disgruntled citizens are aided by a new thriving civil society, which once did not exist. Whereas in 1988 there were only 4,500 registered ngos in China, there were 288,936 registered in 2004 and 317,000 in 2006.11 Some estimate that there could be as many as 3 million unregistered ngos in China today.12 Meanwhile, Jennifer Chou of Radio Free Asia reports that China’s “vanguard” is finally coming to the aid of its “proletariat.”13 Intellectuals, lawyers, and activists from the big cities have begun to help peasants challenge rigged village elections and uncompensated land confiscation. They have also begun to assist factory workers seeking health care and pensions, as well as religious believers fighting against persecution. Journalists, members of China’s fourth estate, are increasingly pushing against the party line by reporting the pain, agony, and heroics of dissenting citizens, activists, and intellectuals alike.

Top-down control. In many ways, bottom-up pressures for change in China are intense, spontaneous, and multifaceted. Every day, Chinese leaders worry about the challenge to regime stability, but they have responded by continuing to exert brutal and sophisticated top-down control. Their strategy? To allow diversification of activism and expression while suppressing organization, mobilization, and coordination among citizens.

In almost every sector prone to increased pluralism and dissent, Beijing has refused to tolerate any viable political challenge to its rule. It has allowed the vibrant ngo sector to take on social work that the government cannot tackle by itself, permitting them to operate in politically safe areas such as environmental protection, health education (hiv/aids), and services for the disabled, while barring them from sensitive subjects such as human rights, labor, and religious freedom. The Chinese leadership sees rural and worker protests as serious problems, but as they tend to be spontaneous, leaderless, and unorganized, Beijing defuses them with a combination of intimidation and cash payoffs. Where the uprisings are organized and aided by outside activists or urban intellectuals, the ccp cracks down on them severely before they spread. The vanguard that dares to fight for the proletariat is often severely punished through methods that range from beatings by hired thugs to house arrests to job loss.

In addition, Beijing has become increasingly leery of the ngo community, believing that the recent “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan were fomented by ngos under Western tutelage. In response, Beijing delayed passage of a new law that would liberalize some of the restraints on Chinese ngos, cracked down on local human rights groups supported by U.S. funding, suspended plans to permit foreign newspapers to print in China, outlined a “counterrevolution” against democracy that calls for further restrictions on the Internet and the media, and began closer monitoring of the activities of ngos with foreign ties. From one area to another, Beijing is deliberately choking the crucial catalysts for democratic change.

To the Chinese leadership, economic development continues to be the first and foremost priority. To alleviate the political and social challenges from economic liberalization, Chinese President Hu Jintao has exhorted his cadres to build a “harmonious society,” one which would alleviate regional economic disparities, combat corruption, placate protestors, and resist free elections. The government might be willing to tolerate incremental reforms and an increasingly pluralistic society, but such tolerance will be complemented by iron-fisted control of mobilization, organization, and coordination among disparate discontented societal segments. The increasing pluralism that appears as hopeful signs for political liberalization might ironically — and at least in the short term — relieve pressures for democratic change.14

Anti-Americanism and nationalism

Though the chinese people may be pressing for their rights and better lives in their own ways, they have simultaneously exhibited unmistakable signs of anti-Americanism and nationalism that make them less receptive to the virtues of democratization.

In an era when the Chinese communist ideology has become defunct through the pursuit of market capitalism, China has aggressively maligned Western-style democracy as chaos-inducing and unsuitable for the country’s current economic conditions. Chinese citizens, argues Beijing, have the duty to pursue Chinese greatness that would result in a strong China, a powerful China, deserving of influence and glory. Economic modernization is key, with social stability as a mandatory accessory. Through its media, textbooks, and propaganda machinery, Beijing emphasizes that democratization, political liberalization, a free press, and anti-government protests will only bring about the collapse of the current regime and hence are dangerous and destabilizing for Chinese society. When the United States criticizes China’s human rights abuses or advocates democratization, it is therefore acting as an overbearing and domineering hegemon and is only seeking to undermine China’s rise.

Ideological indoctrination has its consequences. Numerous Chinese citizens, particularly those in the emerging middle class, agree with their government that China is not ready for democratization. They see post-Soviet Russia’s social instability, weakened economic growth, declining national power and overall chaos as most unappealing for China. In addition, they are deeply skeptical of U.S. motives. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Chinese newspaper Global Times (Huan Qiu Shi Bao) in 2006, some 59 percent of the Chinese people who live in urban metropolises believe that the United States is seeking to contain China, with 56.3 percent seeing the United States as China’s competitor.15 In addition, Chinese citizens recoil at U.S. criticisms of their government’s human rights abuses. A similar Global Times survey in 2005 reports that almost 79 percent of the respondents have negative views toward U.S. criticism of China’s human rights abuses: 49.3 percent believe that the United States is attempting to destroy stability in China; 10.4 percent believe that the United States is trying to make China look bad, and 19.1 percent believe that America simply does not understand China’s internal situation.16 

In response to the Chinese government distortions, the United States has done little to understand or assuage Chinese citizens’ concerns. Most American leaders merely ignore Chinese concerns about U.S. intentions or about democratization’s side effects, opting instead to reiterate the virtues of democracy in abstract terms. As President Bush emphasizes that “every human heart desires to be free,” many Chinese citizens, sadly, seem to answer, “Don’t be so sure.”

What next?

Despite the wishes of the United States or the efforts of Chinese citizens, the Chinese government has so far quashed and neutralized pressure for fundamental political change. Beijing controls and stunts precisely those instruments that contribute to the success of a broad-based domestic opposition: It cracks down on political opponents, co-opts potential ones, and indoctrinates the masses. It is eagerly attempting to maximize economic modernization while minimizing its liberalizing effects. As the West awaits the next set of pressures or instruments that might force Beijing to reform internally or relinquish its authoritarian rule, the Chinese regime stands determined to remain in power.

The resilience of Chinese authoritarianism does not eliminate all possibility that U.S. economic engagement could lead to Chinese political liberalization and democratization in the long run. Resilience, however, makes that outcome much less certain or straightforward and renders America’s disposition to simply wait for democracy to emerge in China increasingly unwise and untenable. The United States must do more to spur democratization in China.

At the moment, the U.S. government broadly promotes democracy in China by supporting democratic voices and institutions from within while criticizing and shaming the Chinese regime from the outside. On the former, the U.S. government provides support for a host of activities and projects that include funding for rule-of-law collaboration and village elections, direct financial aid for civil society organizations and Chinese political dissidents, broadcasting of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia Chinese-language programs, and cultural and educational exchanges. To pressure the Chinese government from the outside, the U.S. government frequently criticizes China’s human rights record, presses for the release of political and religious dissidents, and publicly and privately calls for the Chinese government to undertake fundamental political reforms.

While current U.S. efforts to promote democracy in China are necessary and important, they do not always counter the sources of Chinese authoritarian resilience discussed here. Certainly, American actions will not and cannot eliminate all of these sources. For instance, the United States should not wade into the quandary of slowing Chinese economic growth and cannot stop the Chinese government from institutionalizing itself or co-opting its rival political groups. Nevertheless, Washington should and can do more to combat other sources of authoritarian resilience by strengthening China’s political opposition and countering the regime’s restriction of coordination goods that range from press freedoms to the ability to organize. In addition, the United States should begin a serious effort to confront the Chinese government’s aggressive ideological indoctrination of its citizens against democratization.

A number of concrete steps might help American democracy promotion in China. First, the United States should boost funding and support for the free flow of information through the Chinese Internet. Already, the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have committed a total of $3 million for technology to counter Internet jamming of their websites by the Chinese government. Yet more can be done. Each year since 2002, either one or both houses of Congress have sponsored a resolution titled the “Global Internet Freedom Act,” the latest version of which calls for a budget of $50 million a year to combat Internet jamming by repressive governments. Examples of anti-jamming technologies would range from those that allow Chinese Internet users to access blocked political websites through proxy servers to those that help mask the identity of Chinese users against the government’s online surveillance. As the resolution suggests, the U.S. government should increase funding to develop and deploy these technologies to counter China’s Internet censorship, surveillance, and jamming.

Second, the United States should more aggressively support another coordination good in China: the political right to organize. After all, technology and information alone cannot deliver democracy and liberalization; the Chinese people must demand them. Currently, their demands are dispersed and scattered by the government’s targeted efforts to prevent organization and mobilization. In response, the U.S. should strive to support and link together Chinese groups and individuals, from those who fight for the ideals of democracy to those who fight against specific injustices.

Some democracy promotion programs funded by the American government already provide Chinese activists and civil society organizations with valuable cross-sectional linkage and support. For instance, the National Endowment for Democracy (ned), which funds a wide range of democracy promotion efforts, currently supports programs that bring together lawyers, advocates, and scholars to strategize about protecting religious freedom according to China’s existing legal framework. Similarly, the Solidarity Center funds programs that train grassroots labor rights organizations to conduct advocacy outreach to the local media and with migrant workers. Intensifying U.S. support for such programs that strengthen grassroots agents and alliances will help counter the Chinese government’s chokepoints on democratization. As a recent 67-country study by Freedom House demonstrates, peaceful, broad-based civic coalitions are a key instrument for forcing through decisive and enduring political change in authoritarian regimes.17

Third, the United States should continue to stand with Chinese freedom fighters who risk their lives and livelihoods for their country and democratic ideals. Such support is most effective when it emanates directly and clearly from the executive branch — from the president down to consular officers. The U.S. government should continue to meet with political dissidents, press for the release of those detained, and express solidarity with their goals but should do so more publicly and persistently. As three Chinese Christian intellectuals who met with President Bush on May 11, 2006 suggested, the American embassy in China could meet more frequently and openly with Christians, opposition writers, human rights lawyers, and reporters to demonstrate U.S. support for their causes.18

Similarly, the administration could do more to stand with Chinese dissidents who are exiled here in the United States. Since the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989, China has denied and distorted the truth surrounding the tragedy, brainwashing the younger Chinese generation while coercing others against speaking history’s truths. Rather than ignoring the annual commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre, as it does now, the Bush administration and its successors should send official representatives to candlelight vigils organized by Tiananmen-era activists and more loudly remind the Chinese government that 17 years of sizzling economic growth since the massacre do not erase the horror on which such growth rests.

Fourth, the United States should engage in much more proactive public diplomacy efforts to promote the virtues of democracy. American political leaders often act as if developments within China should be all about democracy all the time. The U.S. has made little effort to convince the Chinese people that freedom and prosperity are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the democratic experience has not always provided the necessary reassurance. According to recent analysis by Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute, from 1991 to 2005, average gdp growth in countries that are economically free but politically repressed has outpaced growth in countries that are both economically and politically free by more than 3.6 percent.

As if responding to democracy’s unpleasant realities, Chinese citizens harbor serious doubts regarding the compatibility of economic freedom and electoral democracy. The United States, however, appears uninterested in addressing their concerns. American policy reports and pronouncements tend to focus on China’s grave human rights abuses, whereas educational materials focus on the nature and structure of U.S. democracy. For example, of the numerous pronouncements and public diplomacy documents that have emerged from the office of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, none has defended democracy’s virtues in complementing and sustaining economic growth. Most of these documents have instead emphasized the compatibility of combating terrorism and bolstering human rights. Never mind that convincing economically destitute Muslims of Middle Eastern countries to embrace democracy over terrorism is a fundamentally different task from that of convincing a comfortable, confident, emerging Chinese middle class that embracing political freedom does not mean sacrificing economic gains or opportunities.

It is insufficient to utter the word “democracy” endlessly without acknowledging valid reasons for skepticism. The American government should issue fact sheets, brochures, and public statements about the freedoms that democratic countries enjoy and why the risks involved in transitions from authoritarianism to democracy are worth taking. It should meet head on, rather than ignore or dismiss, a central debate in the war of ideas against authoritarianism.

Finally, Washington must be realistic about the limitations of its own influence. The United States — and other democratic countries — can and should do more to facilitate and support Chinese citizens’ efforts to fight for freedom. Americans should also recognize economic progress in China and its compartmentalization from political liberalization without our previous grand delusions. We should continue to criticize the Chinese regime’s crackdowns on political dissidents, activists and nongovernmental groups. We should press on for a China that is not just rich and strong, but also free and democratic. But we must expect the ccp to push back aggressively in every area that the U.S. and Chinese activists tackle. At times China will crack down even more harshly on its citizens because the United States has urged them to fight for freedom. Ultimately, Americans must recognize that democracy in China will not emerge simply because we advocate or support it, but because Chinese citizens are courageous enough to fight for it.

Slogging toward freedom

International peace and security in the twenty-first century will depend in no small part on the future of China and its relations with the world. Peaceful democratization in China will not serve as a guarantee for peace, but it will offer much, much better prospects. Given the tremendous stakes involved, the United States should reconsider the many misplaced assumptions underpinning its China policy. It should recognize the tenacity and resilience of Chinese authoritarianism and relinquish the hope that such authoritarianism will simply and inevitably wilt in the face of U.S. wishes. It should better understand how such authoritarianism adapts to, co-opts, and compartmentalizes market forces and their various accompanying liberal attributes and find better solutions for countering it.

Perhaps one day, freedom for 1.3 billion Chinese citizens will arrive, but until then promoting liberation from the chains of Chinese communist authoritarianism will remain a slog. The United States should start slogging much more seriously today.

1 Matthew Stephenson, “A Trojan Horse in China?” in Thomas Carothers, ed., Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006), 203.

2“China’s Economy on Fire,”Marketplace (November 1, 2006).

3 Gordon Chang, The Coming Collapse of China (Random House, 2001).                                               .

4 “China’s Economy on Fire,” Marketplace, November 1, 2006; Loren Brandt, Thomas G. Rawski, and Gang Lin, eds., “China’s Economy: Retrospect and Prospect,” Asia Program Special Report 129 (July 2005); Xu Dashan, “China’s Economy to Grow 8% Annually from 2006 to 2010,” China Daily (March 21, 2005).

5 Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs, “Development and Democracy,” Foreign Affairs 84:5 (September/October 2005).

6 President Hu Jintao, Address at the Fortune Global Forum (May 16, 2005).

7 Andrew J. Nathan, “Authoritarian Resilience,” Journal of Democracy 14:1 (January 2003).

8 Minxin Pei, Remarks at Panel Discussion on “Economic Development Without Political Liberalization,” American Enterprise Institute (December 14, 2005).

9 Pei, Remarks.

10 Bueno de Mesquita and Downs, “Development and Democracy.”                                                          .

11 Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2006 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), 120

12 “NGOs to Gain Greater Influence,” Xinhua News Agency (March 10, 2005). 

13 Jennifer Chou, Remarks at Panel Discussion on “Looking for the Next Tiananmen Generation,” American Enterprise Institute (March 24, 2006).

14 See, e.g., Joseph Fewsmith, “Feedback Without Pushback? Innovations in Local Governance”, Statement to Congressional-Executive Commission on China Roundtable on “Political Change in China? Public Participation and Local Governance Reforms” (Washington, May 15, 2006).

15 Cheng Gang, “Majority of Chinese Optimistic About Sino-American Relations,” Global Times (March 17, 2006). The study surveyed Chinese citizens in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Chongqing.  

16 “Exclusive Survey: How Chinese View Sino-American Relations,” Global Times (March 2, 2005).    .

17Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman, How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (Freedom House, 2005), 6–9.

18 Jim Hoagland, “A Chinese Dissident’s Faith,” Washington Post (May 28, 2006)


One thought on “China’s Stubborn Anti-Democracy

  1. [Note: The following translation is submitted by a Chinese netizen and not provided by the author of the article.]

    By Ying Ma

    十多年以来,美国历届总统一直宣称,政治自由化将最终导致中国的民主化,这将是可取的、也是符合美国和世界利益的。克林顿行政当局在经历了一些初步的曲折往返之后,盛行的政策是与中国政府进行“建设性接触”(“constructive engagement”),那种政策要求相应美国在中国倡导民主,开放的市场以及人权的同时进行密切的双边经济和政治合作。小布什政府虽然公开怀疑中国的不透明的军事集结和战略意图,却也一直告诫中国要成为国际社会的“负责任的利益相关者”(“responsible stakeholder”),同时敦促其接受民主。对华盛顿当局来讲,一个走向民主道路的中国——即使它积聚了军事,政治和经济方面的能力——也会为和平和繁荣提供最好的保证并且会与美国和世界进行合作。

    然而中国看来对美国的这种意愿是不为所动和无动于衷的。美国的民主推动(democracy promotion)——从经济参与,到民主项目,到高谈阔论——并没有停止中国的威权主义庞然大物以严重侵犯人权的行为来进行施压的速度。就目前而言,美国的愿望仍只停留在愿望阶段(没有能付诸实施)。


    许多中国问题观察家早就预测说,中国遭遇到来自西方的市场力量或自由主义的制度和工具(liberal institutions and instruments)后,就会激发起不可避免的民主变革,在中国将变得更加多元化和多面向这一块上这些观察者当初所作的预测一直都是对的。但是他们在设想当对中共领导人的统治提出了新挑战的时候,中共领导人只会从权力宝座上跌倒以及放弃权力方面则一直都在做着大梦。在从贸易到互联网,从村民选举到法治的一切事情上,中国的统治者已一再证明持乐观主义的中国问题观察者对于这方面的看法是错误的。

    经济接触 。美国今日对华政策最根本的基础,以及美国在中国所作的民主推动——就是经济接触。由于美国国会在2000年时给予了中国永久正常贸易关系(PNTR)地位,与中国进行经济接触的一个基本假设在于,国际贸易和投资所释放出来的市场力量将必然激发中国社会的经济和政治变革。华盛顿当局的假设在不小程度上是由其他威权主义政权——例如1980年代的台湾、南韩、智利在他们从事了经济自由化之后所进行的成功的民主化转型这些先例所激发出来的。确实, 美中20多年的贸易已经戏剧化的改变了中国社会的面貌,造成了普通中国公民的经济,社会和个人自由的前所未有的扩大。

    然而经济自由化和政治改革之间的联系,在中国这个案例中已经呈现为更为复杂的和微妙的关系。在对华永久正常贸易关系6年多后,中国社会的大幅度的改善并没有转化为政治自由化。中共(CCP)没有显示任何兴趣去进行有意义的政治改革,而是继续依靠镇压和残暴以维持其统治。自2000年以来,美国国务院的年度国别人权报告继续宣布中国政府的人权记录是“糟糕的”(“poor”)或“在恶化的”(“in deterioration”)。同样的,自由之家(Freedom House),一个非盈利性,非党派的人权组织,不断地在其年度政治权利以及公民自由调查中把中国归类为“不自由的”(“unfree”)国家。




    然而每一次,中国都表明,它决心汲取自由化力量以及工具在经济或治理方面的好处而反抗他们在政治上所能发挥的威力。虽然整个中国数以百万计的村民现在已经在经历第一手的选举,但是这种选举是有着严重缺陷的。许多都是缺乏竞争性的;其他的情况是,只提供了很少或根本没有的候选人名单选择;欺诈行为十分猖獗;那些当选的,不管公平与否,往往很少行使决策权。此外,政府表明了没有兴趣扩大选举到全国层级。在法治方面,中国现在急切地参与与美国的法治交流,它已经允许旨在促进经济发展的司法改革,使治理变得更有效率,而不是变得更为民主。因此,北京当局有限的司法改革,只有在那些政治安全领域方面,如商业法和行政法,并已经禁止了诸如政治异议,劳工骚乱,和宗教自由这些政治敏感领域内的司法改革。 1至于互联网,虽然中国急切地拥抱它作为经济现代化和技术进步的一种工具,但它一直在积极消除这种新媒体的民主化效应。虽然中国网民数量从1997年10月微不足道的620,000爆炸增长至2006年7月的1亿2300万,但中国政府利用先进的技术和大约50,000名网警审查互联网内容,它经常高调的逮捕网络异议人士,并已恐吓西方和国内企业进行自我检查。


    威权主义的韧性(Authoritarian resilience)
    为了有效的推动中国的民主化,美国应该更好的理解威权主义韧性的原因所在。各种各样的因素导致了这样的韧性,包括耀眼的经济增长,政权制度化,镇压以及吸收政治上的反对派,以及紧密的限制被民主理论家们称为“协调性事物”(“coordination goods”)的东西。

    首先并且最重要的是,中共政权实现经济持续增长的能力已经延长了其统治能力。据世界银行的报告,1978年至2005年,中国的国内生产总值平均每年增长百分之九点四。在过去连续四年,中国经济每年增长约百分之十。2这种增长创造了就业机会,提高了生活水平,提供了现代化并且增强了民族自豪感。根据联合国发展规划(United Nations Development Program)的报告,1980年至2005年间有2.5亿的中国公民已脱离贫困。虽然有一些批评,特别是章家敦,他曾预测,中国的经济将会在2010年前崩溃,3经济学家如罗斯基(Thomas Rawski)和劳福顿(Barry Naughton)以及类似国际货币基金组织(IMF)这样的机构认为,中国持续经济发展的前景似乎是光明的。4

    具有讽刺意味的是,令人印象深刻的经济增长加强了政府的合法性并减少了要求其政治上实行自由化的压力。正如Bruce Bueno de Mesquita和George W. Downs所认为的那样,经济增长至少在短期内,稳定和合法化威权主义政权的作用超过了它对它们所造成的破坏。5基于这个原因,国家主席胡锦涛预计并殷切希望——中国在2020年将比2000年的国内生产总值翻两番。6.

    除了取得耀眼的GDP增长,政权也也日益制度化了其官僚制度。黎安友(Andrew Nathan,)的观察是,不是削弱了,也不是处于挣扎或过度集中的状况,中共已经平稳走出继承政治(succession politics),在政治精英提升方面推动了绩效制(meritocracy)而不是派系主义(factionalism),现代化了它那截然不同的、大型的官僚制,并在地方以及工作单位层级建立起了政治参与的方式以增强其合法性。7根据黎安友的说法,这意味着领导层继承,例如发生在2002年和2003年近期的这一次,现在呈现出了一种有序的方式,不再是毛时代以暴力的派系之争为特点的那种。政府高层领导取得最高职位越来越多是因为他们的教育背景以及在技术官僚主义方面的竞争力,而不是因为其单纯的忠诚于某位具体的中共领导人。党已减少其在政府机关和官僚机构里的介入程度,允许他们有更多的回旋余地去监督他们的职责。与此同时,中央政府也已经建立了机制——或创造了表现——正在社会非常微观的层面接受国民意见。现政权,与以前时代相较之下的话,在其施政的总体方式上没有显示出有多少内部的分歧。现政权是一个制度化了的、团结的政权,它下定决心要去解决中国的主要经济和社会挑战,禁止任何可行的政治反对派,并继续掌权。


    同时,中共已敏锐地以及成功地吸纳了潜在的政治竞争对手。根据裴敏欣的说法,党已经与以下三个群体建立起了联盟关系1)知识分子,他们在1980年代以及1989年领导天安门民主运动方面处于批评政权最前沿的位置; 2)民营企业家,他们构成了新兴的中产阶级,许多人相信当他们收入渐丰的时候他们会要求得到更多的权利; 3)持技术专家治国论的改革派(technocratic reformers),他们侧重于制度化以及现代化中国治理所必须进行的变革。8 通过少量发放从党员身份到政府高级职位到财务补贴这类做法,党已经解除了这三个潜在的以及具有潜力的反对派团体所能形成的政治威胁。9

    中共镇压策略的高潮是对研究民主的学者称为“协调性事物”所进行的限制。这类事物包括诸如言论自由和结社权以及抗议的权利这样的政治权利;诸如不受任意逮捕和新闻自由这样的一般的人权。Bueno de Mesquita和Downs认为,协调性事物的可获取性影响了民主化,因为他们大大地影响到了政治反对派去协调和动员的能力,但在对于维持一个威权主义政权合法性方面起至关重要作用的持续性经济发展方面的影响却是非常微弱的。10中国政府通过审查媒体和互联网抑制了这些事物,打击了异议人士群体之中的联盟组建以及组织化,以混杂着现金收买以及赤裸裸的恐吓这种方式去稀释以及阻碍抗议,践踏其公民的人权。通过压制这些协调性事物,北京当局实际上已增加、延长了其政权存续下去的机率。



    今天,大量的失业和社会动乱困扰着中国社会。二十多年来的经济自由化已导致了国家撤出经济和社会福利网络。其结果是,城市地区的官方登记失业率徘徊在百分之四点二。在农村地区,失业率可能高达百分之二十。在任何时候,都有超过1.2亿的农民工流浪在中国城市的街头以寻找工作。中国的骚乱每一天都在发生。公安部报告说1994年有10,000起抗议; 2003年有58000起抗议; 2004年有74,000起抗议,2005年有87,000起。相对于动乱以及失业的下降,普通公民——尤其是农民——正非常渴望中央政府去解决他们在地方一级,从腐败到糟糕的卫生保健方面的不满。2004年,他们记录了1000万起要求北京当局干预的上访活动;在2005年,他们记录了3000万起。

    这样的不满得到了由二十年以上的日益增加的社会多元主义(social pluralism)所诱发的支持网络的援助。示威者和活动人士现在依赖蓬勃发展的信息资源,例如互联网和移动电话。上访者和不满的公民得到了一个新的令人振奋的公民社会的援助,这种社会曾经是不存在的。而在1988年,在中国只有4500个注册的非政府组织,2004年有288936个登记注册,在2006年则有317,000个。11有些人估计,中国今天可能有多达300万个未登记的非政府组织。 12与此同时,自由亚洲电台的Jennifer Chou报告说,中国的“先锋队” (“vanguard”),最终将受到其“无产阶级”的援助。13大城市知识分子,律师和活动人士已开始帮助农民挑战受操纵的村民选举,以及遭无偿没收的土地。他们还开始协助工厂工人寻求医疗保健和退休金,以及宗教信徒去反抗迫害。新闻记者,中国的第四权的成员,正越来越多地通过报道异议公民、活动人士以及知识分子那类人士的疼痛,痛苦以及英雄事迹去对党的路线施加压力。



    此外,对非政府组织社群北京当局已变得越来越持怀疑态度,他们认为最近在格鲁吉亚,乌克兰和吉尔吉斯斯坦发生的“颜色革命”(“color revolutions”)是在西方非政府组织指导煽动下产生的。作为回应,北京当局推迟了通过一项新法律,这项法律将放宽对中国非政府组织的一些限制,打击由美国资金支持的地方人权团体,暂停例如允许外国报纸在中国印刷的计划,要求进一步限制互联网和新闻媒体,并开始密切监测有着外国关系的非政府组织的活动,勾勒出了一个“反(颜色)革命”的方案 (“counterrevolution”)以抵制民主。一个地区接着一个地区,北京当局正在蓄意地扼杀民主变革所需要的关键催化剂。

    对中国的领导层来讲,经济发展仍是首要的优先事项。为了减轻经济自由化所带来的政治上的和社会上的挑战,国家主席胡锦涛已告诫他的干部要建立一个“和谐社会”(“harmonious society”),这将减缓区域间的经济差距,打击腐败,安抚抗议者,抵制自由选举。政府可能愿意去容忍增量的改革以及日益多元化的社会,但这种容忍将辅之以铁腕去控制不同的、对现状不满的社会阶层中的动员,组织和协调(行为)。越来越多的多元主义似乎是实现政治自由化很有希望的迹象可能是具有讽刺意味的——至少在短期内它只是为民主变革减轻压力而已。14

    虽然中国人民可能在用他们自己的方式迫切要求他们的权利以及更好的生活,他们同时也明确的展示了反美主义与民族主义的迹象,那使他们较不容易去接受民主化的优点(virtues of democratization)。

    在一个当中国的共产主义意识形态通过追求市场资本主义(market capitalism)已经变得失去功效的时代,中国政府一直在积极的诬蔑西式民主是会让中国当前的经济状况导致混乱的并且是不适合的。中国公民认为北京当局有责任去追求中国的伟大,而那将导致一个强大的(strong)中国,一个强权型的(powerful)中国,那样的中国理应得到影响力和荣耀。经济现代化与社会稳定一道作为实现那种使命的强制性附件(mandatory accessory)是个中关键。通过媒体,教科书和宣传机器,北京强调民主化,政治自由化,新闻自由,反政府抗议活动只会带来现政权的崩溃,因而对中国社会是危险的和具有破坏性的。当美国指责中国侵犯人权或主张民主化的时候,因为(美国)作为一个霸道和专横的霸主,只会试图去破坏中国的崛起。

    意识形态灌输有其后果。大量的中国公民,特别是新兴的中产阶级,同意他们政府的说法认为中国还没有为民主化做好准备。他们视后苏联时期俄罗斯的社会动荡,削弱了的经济增长,下降的国家实力以及整体上的混乱为对中国最不具吸引力的地方。此外他们深深怀疑美国的动机。根据一项中文报纸环球时报在2006年所进行的民意调查显示,生活在大都市的59%的中国人民认为,美国正试图遏制中国, 56.3%的人视美国为中国的竞争对手。15此外,中国公民闪避美国对他们政府侵犯人权的所作的批评。2005年一份类似于环球时报做作的调查显示, 几乎79%的受访者对于美国批评中国侵犯人权行为有着消极看法:49.3%的人认为,美国正试图破坏中国的稳定;10.4%的人认为美国正努力使中国看起来是糟糕的,并且有19.1%的人认为,美国根本不理解中国的内部局势。16






    很多具体措施可能有助于促进美国的民主推动计划在中国进行。首先,美国应当提高资金并且支持信息通过中文互联网自由流动。目前,美国之音和自由亚洲电台已承诺总额为300万美元的资金去支持能反击中国政府所做的干扰他们网站的互联网技术。然而还是有更多的事情可以做。自2002年以来的每一年,要么是两院中的其中一个、要么是国会参众两院都赞成了一项名为“全球互联网自由法案”(“Global Internet Freedom Act”) 的决议,该决议最新版本所要求的预算为5000万美元一年以打击由专制政府所实施的互联网干扰行为。例如抗干扰技术,范围则是从通过代理服务器允许中国互联网用户访问被封锁的政治网站,到帮助那些匿名的中国用户去对抗政府的在线监测。正如决议所表明的那样,美国政府应增加资金,用于开发和部署这些技术,以对抗中国的互联网审查,监视和干扰。


    一些由美国政府资助的推动民主的计划以有意义的横向联系和支持已经提供给了中国的活动人士以及公民社会组织。例如,全国民主基金会(National Endowment for Democracy,NED) ,为广泛的推动民主的努力提供了资金,目前支持的项目把律师,律师,以及学者召集到一起去策略化的在中国现有的法律框架之内去保护宗教自由。同样地,团结中心(Solidarity Center)资助了培训基层劳工权益组织在地方媒体进行宣传推广并且与移民工人进行合作宣传推广的项目。强化美国对于这些能增强草根代理人和联盟项目的支持,将有助于反击中国政府对抗民主化的瓶颈点(chokepoints)。最近由自由之家所做的67国的研究表明,和平的,基础广泛的公民联盟对于在威权主义政权中强制进行有决定意义的、持续性的政治变革而言是一个关键性的手段。 17



    第四,美国应该进行更为积极主动的公开外交努力,以推动大家认识民主的优点。美国的政治领导人往往表现出似乎中国内部的发展应该在所有时间都必须是与民主有关的态度。美国没有努力说服中国人民自由与繁荣其实并不是相互排斥的。不幸的是,民主的经验并不总是能提供必要的这样的保证。根据最近由美国企业研究所Kevin Hassett所做的一份分析发现,从1991年到2005年,经济上自由政治上压制的国家的平均国内生产总值已经超过了经济上、政治上都自由的国家3.6个百分点。

    似乎是在回应民主那并不令人愉快的现实,中国公民在对待经济自由与选举式民主的兼容性方面包藏了严重的质疑。然而美国似乎对此并不感兴趣去解决他们的关切。美国的政策报告和言论往往侧重于中国严重侵犯人权,而教育材料则集中于美国民主的性质和结构上。例如,许多从美国国务院负责公共外交与公共事务(Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy)副国务卿Karen Hughes办公室出来的言论和公开的外交文件,没有一件是在捍卫民主在辅助和保持经济增长方面的优势。大部分这些文件是在强调打击恐怖主义和促进人权方面的兼容性。要知道以令人信服的方式说服中东国家的经济上一贫如洗的穆斯林们去拥抱民主而不是恐怖主义与说服一个安逸的,有自信的,新涌现出来的中国的中产阶级去拥抱政治自由并不意味着牺牲经济利益或机会是两个根本不同的任务。





    1 Matthew Stephenson, “A Trojan Horse in China?” in Thomas Carothers, ed., Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006), 203.
    收录在Thomas Carothers所编辑的《推动国外的法治:寻找知识》(卡耐基国际和平基金会,2006年)一书中的Matthew Stephenson所撰写的“中国的特洛伊木马?”一文

    2“China’s Economy on Fire,”Marketplace (November 1, 2006).

    3 Gordon Chang, The Coming Collapse of China (Random House, 2001).

    4 “China’s Economy on Fire,” Marketplace, November 1, 2006; Loren Brandt, Thomas G. Rawski, and Gang Lin, eds., “China’s Economy: Retrospect and Prospect,” Asia Program Special Report 129 (July 2005); Xu Dashan, “China’s Economy to Grow 8% Annually from 2006 to 2010,” China Daily (March 21, 2005).
    Loren Brandt, Thomas G. Rawski, and Gang Lin三人所编辑的《中国经济:回顾与展望》,亚洲项目特别报告129(2005年7月)

    5 Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs, “Development and Democracy,” Foreign Affairs 84:5 (September/October 2005).
    Bruce Bueno de Mesquita和George W. Downs,“发展与民主”,外交事务杂志(2005年9月/10月)

    6 President Hu Jintao, Address at the Fortune Global Forum (May 16, 2005).

    7 Andrew J. Nathan, “Authoritarian Resilience,” Journal of Democracy 14:1 (January 2003).

    8 Minxin Pei, Remarks at Panel Discussion on “Economic Development Without Political Liberalization,” American Enterprise Institute (December 14, 2005).
    裴敏欣在美国企业研究所(December 14, 2005)

    9 Pei, Remarks.

    10 Bueno de Mesquita and Downs, “Development and Democracy”

    11 Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2006 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), 120

    12 “NGOs to Gain Greater Influence,” Xinhua News Agency (March 10, 2005).

    13 Jennifer Chou, Remarks at Panel Discussion on “Looking for the Next Tiananmen Generation,” American Enterprise Institute (March 24, 2006).
    Jennifer Chou在美国企业研究所(2006年3月24日)“寻找下一个天安门世代”小组讨论上的讲话

    14 See, e.g., Joseph Fewsmith, “Feedback Without Pushback? Innovations in Local Governance”, Statement to Congressional-Executive Commission on China Roundtable on “Political Change in China? Public Participation and Local Governance Reforms” (Washington, May 15, 2006).

    15 Cheng Gang, “Majority of Chinese Optimistic About Sino-American Relations,” Global Times (March 17, 2006). The study surveyed Chinese citizens in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Chongqing.

    16 “Exclusive Survey: How Chinese View Sino-American Relations,” Global Times (March 2, 2005). .

    17Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman, How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (Freedom House, 2005), 6–9.
    Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman《自由是如何获胜的:从公民抵抗到持久的民主》(自由之家,2005年)

    18 Jim Hoagland, “A Chinese Dissident’s Faith,” Washington Post (May 28, 2006).
    Jim Hoagland所撰写的“一个中国异议人士的信仰”华盛顿邮报(2006年5月28日)

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