China’s Take on Political Democracy

What is China’s definition of democracy and what did the Chinese people have to do to get it?

November 14, 2005

What is China's definition of democracy and what did the Chinese people have to do to get it?

Is China a democracy? Most outside observers would agree it is not. But China's Communist Party has a different view of this issue and recently released a white paper entitled, "Building of Political Democracy in China." We present an excerpt from the ten-chapter report on the inception and history of self-styled Chinese democracy.

China has a history of 5,000 years of civilization. Boasting a splendid civilization in the same league as those of ancient Egypt, India and Babylon, China has contributed greatly to the development and progress of mankind.

The Chinese people are industrious, courageous and full of wisdom. It is generally acknowledged in the world that the Chinese nation has a long, uninterrupted history and a rich cultural heritage.

China had a long history of feudal society and when, from 1840 on, the Western imperialist powers launched, time and again, aggressive wars against China, the corrupt and weak feudal ruling class buckled and China was reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society.

For nearly 110 years after that, China became a target of plunder for almost all the imperialist countries, big and small. The Chinese nation was plunged into the most dangerous situation — suffering from invasion by imperialism from the outside and oppression by feudalism on the inside.

The Chinese people had no democratic rights whatsoever. To change the fate of the country and the nation, generation after generation of Chinese people rose up and waged heroic struggles, one stepping into the breach the moment another fell.

In this movement to save China from destruction, some of the elite turned their eyes to the West for a road that would save the country and the people. They started a bourgeois democratic revolution in China.

The Revolution of 1911, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, forerunner of the democratic revolution in China, brought to an end the autocratic monarchical system that had been in place for more than 2,000 years.

But the bourgeois republic, including the parliamentarism and multi-party system that were subsequently established after the Revolution of 1911 in imitation of the mode of Western democracy, did not fulfill the fervent reactionary forces.

A contemporary said in anger and grief, "Many lives were lost and a lot of blood was shed, but what we achieved was a counterfeit republic." The Chinese people had still not shaken off oppression, slavery and exploitation. What was the way out for China? The Chinese people were pondering, exploring and struggling in the dark.

Through painstaking exploration and hard struggle, the Chinese people finally came to realize that mechanically copying the Western bourgeois political system and applying it to China would lead them nowhere.

To accomplish the historic task of saving China and triumphing over imperialism and feudalism, the Chinese people needed new thought and new theories to open up a new road for the Chinese revolution and establish a totally new political system.

The important historic task of leading the Chinese people to find this new road and establish a new system landed on the shoulders of the Chinese communists. In 1921, some progressive intellectuals who had studied the ideology of democracy and science combined Marxism and Leninism with the Chinese workers' movement — and founded the CPC.

After that, under the leadership of the CPC, the Chinese revolution entered the period of New Democracy, characterized by thorough opposition to imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism. After fighting bravely for 28 difficult years, China finally achieved national independence and the people's liberation.

Not long after the founding of New China, the first general election in Chinese history — with the biggest-ever turnout of the people — was held all over the country in 1953. The people exercised the power of being masters of the state by electing their own deputies and people's congresses were held first at lower levels and then at higher levels.

After China adopted the reform and opening-up policies in the late 1970s, the CPC summed up both its positive and negative historical experiences — and led the people into a new period in building China's socialist political democracy.

Without democracy, there could be no socialism — much less socialist modernization. The socialist legal system had to be strengthened so that democracy could be institutionalized. It was necessary to govern the country by law and build a socialist country under the rule of law. Therefore, China's socialist political democracy shows distinctive Chinese characteristics.

China's democracy is a people's democracy under the leadership of the CPC. China's democracy is a democracy in which the overwhelming majority of the people act as masters of state affairs.

China's democracy is a democracy guaranteed by the people's democratic dictatorship. China's democracy is a democracy with democratic centralism as the basic organizational principle and mode of operation.

Adapted from “The Building of Political Democracy in China ” by the Chinese Communist Party, published October 2005. For the full-length report, click here.