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Frontlines of Democracy: Does China Protest?

In the absence of democracy, how do Chinese citizens convey their frustrations to the government?

October 18, 2010

In the absence of democracy, how do Chinese citizens convey their frustrations to the government?

1. What is a certainty about China's development?

"As their income increases, the Chinese people will demand more than merely economic gains."

2. How about the political effect?

"It will become increasingly difficult for China's Communist Party to contain or discourage social discontent by administering the medicine of economic growth alone."

3. How have China's leaders dealt with this challenge in the past?

"The Chinese government generally tries to manage such popular discontent by providing various ‘pain relievers.'”

4. Such as?

"Think of programs that quickly address early signs of unrest in the population, such as reemployment centers for unemployed workers, or migration programs aimed at lowering regional disparities — and the recent ‘new countryside movement’ to improve infrastructure, health care and education in rural areas."

5. Will these steps be successful?

"Those measures may be too weak to discourage the emergence of powerful interest groups seeking to influence the government."

6. Why else is there nervousness in Beijing?

"Beijing’s ongoing efforts to promote GDP growth will inevitably result in infringements on people’s economic and political rights."

7. What are examples?

"Arbitrary land acquisitions are still prevalent in some cities. The government closely monitors the Internet. Labor unions are suppressed — and workers have to endure long hours and unsafe conditions."

8. So what will happen?

"Chinese citizens will not remain silent in the face of these infringements, and their discontent will inevitably lead to periodic resistance. Despite its absolute power and recent track record of delivering economic growth, China's Communist Party has still periodically faced resistance from citizens."

9. What are specific examples of that?

"The Tiananmen incident of April 5, 1976, was the first spontaneous democratic movement in PRC history, then there was the June 4 movement of 1989 and numerous subsequent protests. All of them proved that the Chinese people are quite willing to stage organized resistance when their needs are not met by the state."

10. And what do you ultimately expect?

"Before long, some form of explicit political transition that allows ordinary citizens to take part in the political process will be necessary."
Editor's Note: The quotes in this Read My Lips are sourced from Mr. Yao's February 2010 Foreign Affairs article, "The End of the Beijing Consensus."

Each edition of “Read My Lips” presents quotes made by the featured individual at the time specified in the answers. However, it is a “virtual” interview only — insofar as we have added questions in order to provide a better context to the thoughts expressed.