Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

China's multi-party system

Many textbooks don't even bother to mention the parties that aren't The Communist Party in China. Can your students figure out why?

Non-Communist Parties Lend China an Air of Pluralism, Without the Mess
Largely invisible much of the year, China’s non-Communist parties are thrust to the fore each March for a display of what the official news media calls China’s system of “multiparty cooperation and political consultation.”

Delegates leaving the Great Hall of the People
[A] news conference, held in a gilded meeting room in the Great Hall of the People, is an Orwellian affair, with party leaders referring to the wonders of “democratic centralization,” heaping praise on the Communist Party and then answering fawning questions from the state media.

The parties, some created by Communist strategists during the civil war of the 1940s, bear little resemblance to political organizations elsewhere. For example, they cannot field candidates for public office. Their activities, which include banquets, conventions and the occasional overseas state visit, are wholly financed by the Communist Party.

“They are fake parties, just a mirage created for the benefit of ordinary people, although most people are not fooled,” said Jin Zhong, editor in chief of Open Magazine, a Hong Kong political journal. “People who join them have a fantasy that they can influence the Communist Party.”…

The parties are not entirely empty shells. They raise money for college scholarships, study social problems and issue detailed reports that are submitted to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the advisory body that meets alongside the National People’s Congress…

Managed and financed by the Communist Party, the alternative parties are in some ways an ingenious attempt to neutralize would-be opponents among the educated urban elite while parrying critics who describe China as a single-party dictatorship. Like China’s state-run trade unions and officially sanctioned religious organizations, the parties are the handiwork of the United Front Work Department, the party apparatus that seeks to co-opt segments of society that could one day congeal into an organized opposition. Just to be safe, the Communist Party “lends” some of its members to the eight democratic parties. In recent years, those daring to try to establish truly independent political parties were promptly jailed on charges of subversion…

Joining one of the democratic parties is not easy. Prospective members must be recommended by at least two current party members, but more important they must hail from the so-called intelligentsia — academics, scientists and artists — or China’s growing entrepreneurial class.
In addition to providing the Communist Party with a vehicle for assimilating would-be adversaries, the parties give their members an ego boost, opportunities for career advancement and perhaps a chance to hobnob at the annual consultative congress in Beijing, said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong. “For a segment of the political elite that does not want to join the Communist Party, it can be an attractive way to get ahead,” he said…

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