The Chinese call their political system a democracy. That challenges common wisdom and our basic concepts of democracy given what most know of the Chinese since the end of the 1940s and the total eradication of the imperial Chinese dynasties.
The term they use is “whole process democracy” where the term demands a qualification given inherent and obvious contradictions. In clarifying apparent contradictions, the truth should be a good place to start. To reduce the universe of definitions, allow us to start with the parochial.
What does “whole process” democracy mean in the Chinese context? Amid the burning issues razing Hong Kong pitting a long independent and centuries-old democracy historically nourished by Eastern and Western colonial trading houses or “Hongs” like Jardine and Swire Pacific, the historical “Silk Road,” and a free market economy under Western European colonizers, and now, a recently imposed increasingly Asian authoritarian power governing from mainland China miles away via command and socialist economics, the term is strangely applied to describe a rising economic superpower whose inevitable dominance cannot be denied.
That there is an attempt to soften impacts and transform the nomenclature and effective branding of China’s political powers into fuzzy, familiar and friendlier prose seems obvious. The silk veil is not as finely woven and gossamer-thin as we might imagine. Lift its slip and what’s underneath confirms our original concepts as we knew it then and what it remains now.
The speaker is China’s recently crowned President-for-Life. His other titles reveal how he is regarded and the role he plays as a multidimensional modern emperor.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee. He is simultaneously the chairman of the Central Military Commission.
His term limits are unrestrained and unshackled by western-style bureaucracies and cookie-cutter checks and balances that instill accountability. His unlimited position and his chosen prose surrounding the three-word term raise questions and deep doubt, not simply on the definition of this strange term coined from the unlikeliest of places, but whether it appropriately describes the true character of its political sponsors who ironically claim before the free world democratic adherence and advocacy.
Strangely the term is not among those used to describe democracy. In some sense given the allusion to processes and the distinct character of the speaker, democracy in its puritanical sense might have been tweaked, if not aggressively distorted to fit a reality far from democratic and perhaps far from “whole” or even “procedural.”
It has become obvious that those who’ve cavalierly used these words do not know its meaning, or perhaps something was lost in the translation from the original and etymological Greek.
According to the Chinese President, “China is on the path of socialist political advancement with Chinese characteristics, where all major legislative decisions are made after going through procedures and democratic deliberations to make sure the decision-making is sound and democratic.”
Let’s analyze that. A socialist path “advocates that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” A clearer definition under the Marxist theory that says social changes result from class struggles is that a socialist state lies “between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.”
Note where “whole process” is limited to mere consultative phases. If the final objective of socialism is the realization of communism, then where is democracy in the traditional sense part of the journey to communism given “whole process democracy” is defined simply as “going through procedures and democratic deliberations”?
Obviously, in China “decision-making” remains centralized, even authoritarian, in contrast to the etymological Greek that defines classical Athenian “democracy” as “rule by the people.”