Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, March 29, 2013

Change in China

Zhang Jun is a professor of economics at Fudan University in Shanghai and Gary H. Jefferson is a professor of economics at Brandeis University in Boston. They seem to be optimistic about democratization in China. This is an explication of how economic change and prosperity will promote democratization.

How do these changes compare with changes in Mexico and Russia? Are the arguments sound?

China’s Hidden Democratization
Since Xi Jinping was anointed as China’s new president, reports of official repression of dissent have hardly abated. But, while criticism of China’s human rights record clearly has merit, it is important not to lose sight of the extent of genuine political change in China.

Since 1978, China’s political system has overseen the transfer of a wide swath of economic power from the state to its people. As a result, Chinese may operate family farms, own homes and businesses, control their educational choices, patent inventions, and amass fortunes. It is precisely the exercise of these individual rights that has created the foundation for China’s ongoing economic transformation.

By creating the diverse and conflicting private economic interests that are typical of a capitalist society, China has had to create a set of institutions to clarify and mediate the exercise of these rights. These emerging institutional arrangements include contracts and commercial law, bankruptcy and labor codes, and courts to oversee their enforcement…

Another avenue through which Chinese residents advance their interests is public protest. Across the country, residents often protest wrongful eviction from their homes, frequently at the hands of corrupt local officials…

Such protests against public agencies, employers, and developers are now commonplace (though not always authorized)… Generally, provided that protesters seek mediation and redress for their economic rights and do not attempt to encroach on the CCP’s authority, Chinese residents can advocate for their interests.

Some observers see the outline of a democratic system emerging. China’s president and prime minister are both limited to two five-year terms. Legislative debates within the National People’s Congress, whose nearly 3,000 members are elected from a wide range of local and national organizations, can be quite spirited…

In short, though China’s political system functions in a manner that is far more centralized than outlined in the country’s constitution, it provides an increasingly meaningful set of avenues through which citizens can exercise influence over political life…

The Chinese leadership’s motivation in making such changes is not to embrace the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or to placate foreign demands. Bound by the goal of economic prosperity, China’s leaders let the genie of individual rights out of the bottle. These same leaders now must tolerate – even facilitate – the creation of institutions to mediate the conflicts over these rights that inevitably result.

So long as China continues to offer basic economic rights to its citizens, these incremental changes, though slow, will drive the country’s gradual democratization. Where rights are well established, progress in building a civil society will surely follow.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

The First Edition of What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools is now available from the publisher

The Fifth Edition of What You Need to Know is now available from the publisher (where shipping is always FREE).

Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home