Chinese People Are Not Suitable for Democracy? A Most Unpatriotic Argument
Author: Mark Blohm
In a recent speech entitled “Reflections on China’s May Fourth Movement: An American Perspective,” Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger addressed the Chinese people in fluent Chinese. Mr. Potter said, “The cliche that Chinese people can’t be trusted with democracy was, as both P.C Chang and Hu Shih knew, the most unpatriotic idea of all. Taiwan today is a living repudiation of that threadbare mistruth.” Individual freedoms and representative government are values inherent to Chinese culture. P.C. Chang(張彭春) and Hu Shih’s(胡適) concepts, as well as Taiwan’s modern history represent a template for future governance in China.
In referring to the imperial examination system in China, P.C. Chang made a noteworthy observation: “Even though the merit might be thought to be based on too formal a programme of studies, the merit idea remained constant and was a unique phenomenon in the governments of the world.” In communist countries, attempting to force equality of outcome resulted in a hierarchy based on personal and political connections; economic and cultural stagnation resulted. Meritocratic institutions, although imperfect, are important features of free societies, and they are not alien to Chinese society.
In his 1914 essay “A Republic for China”, Hu Shih says “The world seems to have the misconception that democracy is entirely a new thing to the Chinese. I call it a misconception because, though China has been under monarchical government for thousands of years, still, behind the monarchs and the aristocrats there has been dominating in China, a quiet, peaceful, oriental form of democracy. To make his point further he quotes from the oldest Chinese classic, The Book of Histories by Sima Qian(司馬遷): “The people should be cherished, and should not be downtrodden. The people are the root of a nation: if the root be firm, the nation is safe.”
Recently, I spoke to Mr. Chen Kuan Ting(陳冠廷), Deputy Spokesman for the Taipei City Government. I asked him, “What role should Taiwan's government play in advocating for individual freedoms and representative government for the Chinese people?” He replied, “Taiwan’s democratic government has actively demonstrated that traditional Chinese culture is more than capable of co-exisiting with democracy. In fact, the traditional sense of collectivism enables Taiwanese citizens to push the government to grant greater individual freedoms for their fellow peoples. As the people in Taiwan firmly believe in the principle of fairness, justice and equality, representative government is the most suitable form of government to ensure that the needs of the population are met. Representative government in Taiwan signifies that should the elected government fail to uphold the values of the Taiwanese and advance their interests as a nation, they risk public distrust and reelection during the midterm and presidential election. This provides an incentive for Taiwan’s political party to behave accordingly; such incentive is not as prominent within China. While the Taiwanese government has called for greater accountability and individual freedom for Chinese citizens, the political history and structure of Taiwan in itself demonstrates what the CCP can transition into and the demands the Chinese people can make towards their government.”
The Chinese Communist Party’s Document Number 9 states, “The goal of espousing ‘universal values’ is to claim that the West’s value system defies time and space, transcends nation and class, and applies to all humanity.” This statement is contradicted by the fact that Taiwan, and many other societies, have been successful at developing individual freedom and representative government while maintaining their own cultural identity. Likewise, the Chinese people don’t have to give up their traditional values to enjoy the benefits of a free society.
Mark Blohm has a B.A. in Geography from George Washington University, an M.A. in TESOL from New York University. Mark lives in Puli township, Nantou county with his wife and three children.