Chаrter 08 and political change in China

Written by Julen Madariaga on December 25th, 2008

Barely two weeks after the publication of the Chrter 08, it has already become old news, lost in the indifference of Western media (with notable exceptions), and erased in China by the cold intervention of the censors. I want to examine here the importance of this document and give some more thought to it and its possible impact.

There is one line in Chrter 08 which concentrates in my understanding the essence of the document:

“Human Rights are not bestowed by a State. Every person is born with inherent rights to Dignity and Freedom. The government exists for the protection of the Human Rights of its citizens.”

This principle, inspired in the long tradition of the Enlightment and the famous 18th century Declarations, is at the heart of the matter. Should these rights apply to China, or are they just an interference of foreign ideas in Chinese affairs? This mostly unspoken debate that rages today in China is putting in doubt the universality of Human Rights, and questioning it in view of the singularities of the Chinese culture.

Of course, this line of argument does not resist the minimum intellectual scrutiny, but it’s marketable to avid patriots. One doesn’t need to put many brain cells in contact to see that the entire ideology of Maoism -or today’s wild capitalism for that matter- are also based on foreign ideas. And that great Ideas, like print and paper, cure to cancer or Human Rights, belong to Humanity.

One of the most influential political thinkers of the Enlightment, who inspired the precursors of this Charter, wrote 3 centuries ago:

“I am a man before being French. For I am necessarily a man, but French only by accident.”

This Charter is up to now the boldest effort in mainland China to speak out for the Universality of Human Rights. Its influence, directly or indirectly, will no doubt be decisive at the time when these questions will have to be seriously debated by the Chinese government. Whether this happens in turbulent 2009 or many years later, China will be in debt with those 303 brave men who dared to stand up for their ideas.

Reflections on the Chrter 08

Before I write these reflections, I want to state my respect for all the authors and supporters of the Charter in China. My points below are not rejecting their fundamental principles, and they should be understood as constructive critic.

1. The fact of publishing the Charter and obtaining a few thousand signatures in the Mainland is in itself the most important action for Human Rights ever done in China, and it represents a qualitative leap from previous actions which were: 1- Purely reactive, 2- Mostly isolated, 3- Strongly supported by Western actors. This is a serious challenge to the Chinese government, and a very dangerous one for the signers, as it is well known how China reacts to coordinated efforts of this kind.

2. One important difference from past actions is the positive nature of the movement. The Charter is not merely a reaction or complaint; it is a statement that stands in its own right. Note, however, one important difference between the line quoted above and those in the classic American and French Declarations: this one is formulated in the negative, “Human Rights are not bestowed by a State”. There is still an important element of reaction which will have consequences on the future of the Charter.

3. A document of this kind should try to seek the maximum consensus in mainland China. This is, in my understanding, the main weakness of the Chrter 08. Going into particular details, such as proposing federalism for Taiwan, or putting in question sacred figures like Deng Xiaoping (by mentioning Tiananmen*) is not working to achieve maximum consensus. Neither is aggressively criticizing Mao’s legacy while failing to recognize the important successes of the present regime. These points can be easily utilized by detractors to turn public opinion against the Charter.

4. Most importantly, from a theoretical point of view, figures like Mao or KMT should have no place in a Charter that wants to unite the Chinese. The recent History of China is an amazing tale of cruel failures and unequaled successes. Events that need to be openly discussed at some point, certainly, and compensation given to the victims. But direct accusations are altogether at a different level and unworthy of sharing the same document with the generous ideals stated in the Charter. These things do not only weaken the Chrter 08 from a practical point of view, but also reduce its soundness as a Universal Statement.

Will Chrter 08 fly into 09

I have written it before in this blog, and I am convinced of this: China has an intelligent government. For each propaganda muncher crying traitor at Liu Xiaobo, there is one thoughtful official that reads the Charter and understands the challenges that his country is facing. The government of China is as skillful to control internal issues as it is unable to control the external image of the country, and it has done an impressive job this time at downplaying and silencing the Charter. The lesson of 1989 is well learnt.

The sad consequence of this is that today the vast majority of the Chinese population has no idea of the existence of the Chrter 08. And I am not only speaking of the masses of peasants. A quick survey among my personal Shanghai friends, all of them with university education and speakers of at least one foreign language, gave discouraging results: Not a single one of them had even heard the term “lingbaxianzhang” (Chrter 08) one week after its publication.

It is unlikely that this Charter -or any other Charter for that matter- will in itself spark political change. Its direct impact is limited, and it has probably already run all it had to run. It is not Charters, but Leaders that start revolutions. And when they do, they look back to the works of the intellectuals to give a meaning to their actions. Inevitably, the time will come for political change in China, and Chrter 08 can be the precursor and the basis for future debate.

However, for these changes to happen peacefully they should first reach the largest possible consensus, not only among the intellectuals, but among the people of China. This includes millions of honest middle aged Chinese who still regard Mao as a respectable leader, and who understand that it is him and his followers, with all their faults, that led China from misery and humiliation to the present prosperity.

These people are not criminals or radicals, nor did they consciously cause any suffering to others during Mao’s terrible years. They are simple, honest Chinese who lived the time they had to live working quietly for their country. Brainwashed or not, these are today the good people of China. And when the intellectuals draft and sign a charter they should always bear in mind that it is for them that they are fighting.

History shows that there are two ways to change the system in China: the violent revolution way (Mao) and the peaceful consensus way (Deng). I believe that this second way is the one that most Chinese desire for their country, and China has proven in the past that it is capable of taking it successfully.

However, to move the massive inertia of the CPC requires some level of distress, like the one existing prior to 1978. Whether the impact of the crisis in 2009 will be enough to lead to this situation and whether the leaders in China will be willing or brave enough to push the changes, remains to be seen. But 2009 might very well bring the first real opportunity in many years, and this well timed Chrter 08 might still have its word to say in the coming months.

Conclusion and note to censors

I am living in China, where I have always been treated with patience and generosity by the Chinese people. For this I have learnt to love and admire this country. I know my obligations as a guest, and with my work, my life and my writing I try my best to return all that China has given to me.

Therefore, I state here my respect to Chinese of all ideologies. Dear censor, I would much appreciate it if you can continue to afford me the privilege of living in your country, not only physically, but also through my little voice on the internet. Please, do not block my blog.

Finally, my best wishes to Liu Xiaobo and his family in these difficult moments. Lu Xiaobo is the main drafter of the Chrter 08 and at this moment he is still detained by the police. He should be released immediately.

I want to show him all my support here, and give my tiny contribution by spreading his work below.

Happy Christmas.


The Principles

These are the noble principles that 303 brave men published in China in 2008:

Freedom. Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights. Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person—regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief—are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism. Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule. Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

*For the mention of Tiananmen incidents and discussion on discrepancies in the Charter, see my previous post here.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Dec
    Johnny Justice

    “This includes millions of honest middle aged Chinese who still regard Mao as a respectable leader, and who understand that it is him and his followers, with all their faults, that led China from mi
    sery and humiliation to the present prosperity”

    Do you think they wouldn’t have been led from misery and humilation by any other group of leaders? Perhaps maybe even a group that would have avoided millions of deaths? Mao is a war criminal and the worst of the worst. There is no amount of good deeds that can balance out the damage he has done.

    “History shows that there are two ways to change the system in China: the violent revolution way (Mao) and the peaceful consensus way (Deng)”

    So what happened at tiananmen was “peaceful consensus”? Deng is just as guilty as Mao and equally a creep.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Dec
    benjamin from the outside looking in!

    Changes in government are always accompanied by the sacrifice of many lives spent in voicing out discontent or disagreement.

    Rulers or the governing powers fight for their own existence and the ruling power always has the guns.

    Mao may have been a war criminal by the standards of the writer, but who could have inspired or carried on to initiate the change. The rulers of that time were abusive. Deng might have been a creep but it was just another step to what it is today and there are changes that are evolving. What change/s do not include sacrifice. Sacrifice always cost lives.

    Millions died in the hands of Hitler (without a fight). Did he think it was for the betterment of what?

    The USA had to fight the British Empire to get the freedom they are enjoying. Were lives not lost? There were abuses! Now let us just wait and see if the present dispensation is a change for the better.

    No one should pontificate or point fingers at wrong doing of others. The changers’ believe that it is for the betterment of their country and their people. They sometimes go beyond control. Then they begin to love the power of life and death and the wealth within their reach.

    Lives are spent (presently) in wrongdoing in all parts of the world, in the belief that they are doing right. China had to spend lives only as a step for a better tomorrow. They seem to be getting somewhere. So it must have been right or wrong according to the observer/s. We outsiders can only hope that some good changes follow. We have our own problems too.

    Charter of 08 might be another start that would cost lives. Can someone do something about it?

    Whatever criticisms are bandied around must necessarily include the whole world.

    Just look at what is happening to Africa, Israel and listen to the mouthings of Iran’s crazy President. The purpose of his ramblings? Another Hitler (do not forget) in the making.

    Tiananmen was again another history in the making where the aggrieved wanted a change in the musical chairs.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Dec
    kenneth pipher


    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Dec
    Victor Manuel

    Dear Johny Justicy:
    What a crap of conclusions you draw, why you do not look into your country’s history before critizing somebody else’s nation?
    Best regards.
    The eye.

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Dec

    I have lived and worked in China for over 5 years and I too respect and love the Chinese people. Although I do not agree with some of the past actions of the government, I do believe that they did the best they could with what they had. They bestowed a hope on the masses that was previously unknown, a chance to rise above their birth or circumstance and become a valid member of the world society. My husband is 29 years old, born in a small village in the mountains of ChongQing and yet he still remembers the hardships and struggles of just living. But it was BECAUSE of the government that he had any chance to go to university and fulfill his dreams. It may not have been perfect and it may not have gone as planned but in small steps it did help the people. Mao was a great man at a chaotic time and we as foreigners cannot possibly understand what it was to be Chinese at that time, nor what it would take to create change. And yet this single man inspired a nation to come together and start to heal. Deng was also a great man, for it was among the ashes of the first attempt to heal that he gave them the goal of becoming an equal nation in the world through financial means. These men stepped up to power at a time of great crisis and tired their best to provide for the people. Western countries should have such great leaders…and yet for all the wealth and power that we enjoy all of our recent leaders are merely mediocre at best, and still we belittle a nation that has surpassed any and all hardships that we have had to endure. I think it is we ‘civilized’ people that should face the cold reality that we may be the ‘creeps’.

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Dec


    I am troubled by the notion (which you implicitly implied) that those Chinese who “still regard Mao as a respectable leader, and who understand that it is him and his followers, with all their faults, that led China from misery and humiliation to the present prosperity” are on the other side of Chrter 08. Isn’t it a fact that “him and his followers, with all their faults, that led China from misery and humiliation to the present prosperity”? Why can’t we be honest about it? Must “him and his followers” and those who still revere Mao oppose Chrter 08 and what it stands for?

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Dec
    H. Parker


    Blogs entries can be more focused than some people believe. Try using hyperlinks for the details about Reflections, Note to censors, and Principles.

    Keep up the good work.

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. Dec

    @Johnny Justice: Do you think they wouldn’t have been led from misery and humilation by any other group of leaders?

    I just think that, unfortunately, History is what it is and noone can change it. Someone else might have done it better? Perhaps, but nobody did. It is always interesting to daydream, but that is no serious analysis of History. Mao happened, full stop. It brought good things and bad things to the Chinese. I only want to look at these events with an unbiased mind.

    By the way, the righteous Western countries that today call Mao a monster were very powerful in China long before he came. They had a good opportunity to help the Chinese then, but instead they got busy selling them drugs and slicing the territory to give it as a present to Japan.

    So there you got the answer to your question: yes they could have. But no, they didn’t.

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. Dec
    Ignorant Intellectual

    What the charter shows the most is the ignorance of China’s so called “public intellectuals”. After so many years, they are still only capable of coping what some others have done, and shouting slogans that others have shouted. The call for federalism that you’ve mentioned is a good example. There are heated debates in the international academic/intellectural community about the merits and shortcomings of federalism, with no obvious winner in the debate. Without having done any research on this topic, or at least reading the researches by intellectuals of other countries, how can China’s “public intellectuals” be convinced that federalism is best for China? Just because it’s a buzz word?

    I agree that Liu Xiaobo is a nice and courageous guy and should be released. Some other signatories, however, seem more like copy cats of the latest political fashion. Now, they are pretty good political activisits, and on that I can support their human rights cause. But when I see them signing their names as “professor”, “intellectual”, “scholar”, etc, I lose respect for them. In terms of intellectual knowledge and vision, these Chinese public intellectuals still live in the first half of 20th century, or even 19th century. Yet they will never forget bragging about their identity of “public intellectuals”.

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. Dec

    “The sad consequence of this is that today the vast majority of the Chinese population has no idea of the existence of the Chrter 08.”

    Yes,this is true,but I don’t think you should feel sad about it. After I finish reading what you call “the noble principles that 303 brave men published in China in 2008”,I
    feel a little bit disappointed. I’m not sure whether these principles are “noble”,but I’m sure they are not inspiring,not even new. They are just the same old story,repeated by countless people for countless times. You don’t have to worry about your Shanghai friends.I bet they know no less than these 303 intelectuals in terms of human rights,freedom and so on. And I bet they care for China no less than these intelectuals.

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. Dec

    @Ignorant Intellectual

    Since there are merits and shortcoming of federalism, and there’s no obvious winner in the debate, I don’t see why it should not be an option.

    And you make a statement about how not a single scholar among the 303 signers has ever done ANY research on this topic, I’m wondering: how did you know that?

    FYI, titles (professors/intellectuals/scholars/citizens, etc) are required for signers, according to the original signing guideline published along with the 08 Charter.

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. Dec

    @Pfeffer: Yes, it is a fact that the CPC has led the country to where it stands today. And actually I am pretty sure many of those “followers” who still respect Mao would not necessarily be opposed to the principles of this charter today. At least the intelligent ones who understand that times have changed.

    The trouble is, those “followers” will never get past the preamble if it contains an unbalanced, harsh criticism of the regime without a word for its achievements. They will dismiss it as the work of a radical.

    That is what I called the weakness of the Charter.

    [Reply to this comment]

  13. Dec

    @Xu: Yes, of course these principles are not new. They are not modern, and probably they are not very cool. Could you be any more shallow?

    The merit of the authors and signers is not about drafting the document. Any student of law could have done it. Their merit lies in that they are risking their lives to stand up for these principles. And the principles are noble because they speak of the freedom and dignity of every human being.

    @Ignorant Intellectual - Whether the signers are real intellectuals or goat herders is completely irrelevant. They are brave men who are risking their lives for a great cause. It is more than most people ever do.

    [Reply to this comment]

  14. Dec

    “Their merit lies in that they are risking their lives to stand up for these principles.”
    Is anyone of these authors killed by the government? It is said one of them is in prison,but I really doubt that it is because he drafted this charter that he got detained. I prefer to believe he has done something more than that. Maybe I’m too brainwashed.

    “And the principles are noble because they speak of the freedom and dignity of every human being.”
    Speaking of freedom,let me tell you my story. Recently, I became the target of the relentless efforts of a group of mid-aged ladies who wanted to convert me. They told me if I believe in god,I could get whatever I want. They told me a lot of testimonials. One boy prayed for pricy cigarette and mobile phone,he got them from god. One girl was cured of cancer as she kept praying. A Sichuanese was threw out of the house by god and thus survived the quake. A small student said that god told him that someday he(god) would teach his teachers a lesson if they continue to prohibit their students from believing in him. I view all these testimonials as crap and I guess to a certain extent you would agree with me. But I think according to the Chrter 08, these nonsense shoud be given full freedom to spread. I for one would not call any principle like that “noble”. There should be no absolute freedom in China. Restriction is necessary. Without restriction,the country will be full of liars and swindlers and gets messed up.

    [Reply to this comment]

  15. Dec

    As a 19 year-old student, I am confident and optimistic of my country. I see China as Taiwan 1979 version or S.Korea 1980 version. Though in late 1970s ans early 1980s the situations in Taiwan ans S.Korea were no better than the present China, they both achieved democracy in early 1990s about 10 years after the Kaohsiung Incident and Kwangju Incident. Who knows whether a “Kwangchow(Guanzhou,the city near Hongkong) Incident” will happen in China one day, so the K.K.K. Incidents lead to a new and democratic East Asia? Lets predict and watch what will China be like 10 years later when China should follow S.Korea and Taiwan’s examples and become a democracy.^( OO)^

    [Reply to this comment]

  16. Dec


    I got it. I have not read the charter itself but if it completely denies the legitimacy of the CCP and its contributions, if it is just like the typical trashy FLG and Minyun rant it won’t get beyond more than 100,000 people.

    [Reply to this comment]

  17. Jan

    @张旭 - (who I am going to moderate in a minute).

    You just wrote a post saying you are a university student and stating 3 times that 08charter signers are traitors to China. I am glad to get different opinions as long as they:

    1- Contain some kind of rational argument to back your statements.
    2- Limit the number of “!!!!!”s to a reasonable amount.

    You are welcome to comment again if you can comply with the above.

    Regards, Uln

    [Reply to this comment]

  18. Jan

    Uln, this is the most sensible response to Chrter 08 I’ve read so far. Now I’ll check your blog more often.

    [Reply to this comment]

  19. Jan
    David Ferguson

    Hi Uln,

    I work in the English Department of I’m interested in your blog and I hope it remains open and available for comment. I agree with some of the other comments here that it’s a very sensible response to Chrter 08 - a lot more sensible that the uncritical adulation with which the Charter has been received in the west. I’m in the process of writing an article on the subject as well - feel free to contact me if you have any further views you would like to express.

    [Reply to this comment]

  20. Jan
    Charles Liu

    My own US constitution, an article devoid of any semblence human rights (only white men are human, women and blacks are property) was not abolished, but allowed to reform slowly over hundreds of years.

    Wouldn’t a reform turely in the interest of China, 1.3 billion Chinese, and the spirit of democracy, be amendments to China’s existing constitution under currnet political realities and existing socialist framework - rather than advocacy of abolition made with undue foreign influence?

    [Liu Xiaobo's dissident orgainzations received US$300,000 a year from the NED for the last 5 years. I don't think Liu would've gotten the funds for supporting socialist reform.]

    That’s really it isn’t it? Gotta get rid of them communists. Is this really how the Chinese people feel? Or is this our agenda?

    Look, it took us 100 years between emancipation and basic semblences of civil rights for African Americans. Why wasn’t this accomplished thru a “new constitution”?

    If our yet perfect union took 100 years to act on basic human rights, via incremental amendments not outright abolition of existing framework, what right do we have to opin less generousely about others?

    [Reply to this comment]

  21. Jan

    Actually the original Chinese version of the Charter says “ammend the constitution” not “abolish”, like you pointed out yourself in another comment.

    As for the NED’s funding to CIPC, yes, it is public. Whether Liu’s actions are dictated by the funders is very difficult to prove either way, but I give him the benefit of the doubt. If only for one reason: I really can’t see what interest USA could have in destabilising China. On the contrary, both economies are interdependent and the US would have more to lose than to win. Democracy in China is not necessarily in the interest of the US.

    Besides, the importance of the Charter for me lies not in the drafter but in its content and in the people that signed it. As far as I know most of the 7,000 signers don’t belong to CIPC, and couldn’t have possibly been “bought” by the US.

    US against communism? You must be joking, Cold War is over almost 20 years ago. Can you tell me what exactly is “socialist” about China today, other than the name? It is a purely capitalist system that mirrors the American one.

    But above all, let us not forget what is the main difference between China and the democratic states:
    Chinese government is blocking, silencing and detaining the drafters if this Charter. Openly and shamelessly suppressing freedom of speech.

    I am afraid this alone already disqualifies any defense one could make of the Chinese government. Check and ponder the quote that you will see on the tab instructions above: “Without the freedom to criticize, there is no valid praise”.

    [Reply to this comment]

  22. Jan
    Charlotte Stant

    I for one am rather tired of people pleading for patience on the part of the Chinese people for democracy, saying that the country has had too little time. It took CCP less than a decade to plunge China into a disastrous collective socialism (at the cost of millions starving during the Great Leap Forward), and 30 years in a predatory unregulated capitalism, worsening the gap between the rich and poor and decimating China’s environment. C’mon, isn’t that one of the Party’s most loudly vaunted achievements? So why is it when it comes to political reform the Chinese people are suddenly stunted and stupid and slavish and must bide their time?

    Moreover, the CPP won power in 1949 by promising democracy. They had the thoughtfulness to censor the information below a couple of years back, but it creeps back onto the Chinese internet whenever there’s a creak. Read these words by the Party’s own paper back in the forties before it came to power and as it was negotiating for a multiparty state with the KMT, indeed by Mao himself, and tell me why the CCP broke this promise to the Chinese people.





































































      (《新华日报》1945 年6月26日)















    [Reply to this comment]

  23. Jan
    Charlotte Stant

    I agree with you uln that the Charter should not have gotten so specific. The call to privatize land is a policy issue I can sympathize with, for example, but did think for the purpose of achieving consensus would have been better left out.

    I would be very curious to talk to the Charters signees and find out why the decision was made. There is a list of intellectuals who are “politically on the right and economically on the left” out there, and I wonder if they overlap with the Charter crowd. It looks like Daiqing was on both lists:

    艾未未 [柏杨] 北岛 曹思源 长平 陈丹青 陈奉孝 陈桂棣 陈家琪 陈奎德 陈小雅 陈彦 陈志武 程益中 程映虹 戴晴 丁学良 杜导正 杜光 冯崇义 甘阳 郭国汀 韩寒 汉心 郝劲松 何清涟 贺卫方 胡杰 胡舒立 胡星斗 贾樟柯 简光洲 郎咸平 李大同 李和平 李欧梵 李炜光 李银河 连岳 廖亦武 林达 林贤治 凌沧洲 刘晓波 刘再复 龙应台 毛寿龙 莫之许 南方朔 彭志恒 浦志强 钱理群 钱永祥 秦晖 丘岳首 邱立本 冉云飞 沙叶新 沈志华 孙立平 唐德刚 滕彪 童大焕 王从圣 王建勋 王力雄 [王元化] 巫宁坤 吴冠中 吴国光 吴敬琏 吴祚来 夏志清 萧雪慧 笑蜀 谢泳 徐友渔 许志永 杨国枢 杨恒均 姚监复 易富贤 于浩成 于建嵘 余杰 余光中 余英时 袁伟时 远志明 张博树 张成觉 张思之 张祖桦 章立凡 郑也夫 郑永年 周其仁 朱大可 资中筠 邹恒甫

    Moderator: For convenience I erased the list of websites of the above authors whcih was included in the comment. They can be easily found on the internet searching for these names.

    [Reply to this comment]

  24. Jan

    @Charlotte Stant,

    Yes, Mao and CCP around 1945 asked seriously for democracy and human rights. But the KMT Government and their US advisors denied them these. Why?

    [Reply to this comment]

  25. Jan

    @Charlotte - Interesting to read what Mao wrote in the 40s. But I can’t really see how this is significant today other than to prove the already well known inconsistency of Mao’s Thought.

    @Leo - I’m not sure I get your point. Do you seriously believe that Mao wanted Democracy and Human Rights, and there was a sort of conspiration by KMT and USA to deny these to the Chinese people? Yes, right.

    [Reply to this comment]

  26. Jan
    Charlotte Stant

    Uln, the reason what the party organ pushed for was significant because it explains in part why the CCP had such overwhelming victory despite the KMT’s superior military and economic advantages after taking over Japanese assets from WWII. If Chinese people supported the CCP because among other things they promised free press, real elections and a multiparty system, then they were ready for it. Or do you take their support as tacit acceptance of automatic autocracy?

    Leo, I assume you mean KMT refusal proves that China did not provide the historical conditions for democracy. Please see my response from above. By that sort of tautological reasoning, as long as the government is not prepared to loosen its control over the population, the population is unprepared for democracy. If indeed as you seem to be hinting, democracy is such a difficult and perilous enterprise requiring many preconditions, then surely the sooner baby steps are taken the better. That way, the people have the chance to learn the responsibilities of citizenship and to exercise their rights effectively. Village elections over the last twenty years have shown that the party has nothing but contempt for such exercise, and stomp down attempts at civic society organizing at every turn.

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  27. Jan
    Charlotte Stant

    Another reason the CCP’s call for democracy is significant is the events surrounding the Anti-rightist movement in the late fifties. If there was not the risk of widespread agreement and possibly social organization around democratic reform, the Party would not have cracked down on critics of its dictatorship so vigorously. (This error led to, among other things, the denunciation of 马寅初。As the writer 黄裳 reminded us in the early eighties, 错批一人,多生三亿。 China unfortunately has now many more than 300 million to show for the CCP’s mad decision to encourage more births rather than follow Ma’s advice and practice birth control.)

    Of course, some may argue that the Party overreacted, and that even if the democracy advocates had been given free rein and allowed to publish and organize as they please, the majority of the Chinese people would not have bothered to listen. If that hypothesis holds water, then the CCP has been ruling through nothing but miscalculation and overreaction every step of its rule: from the GLF, to the Cultural Revolution, to Tiananmen, to the crackdown on 08 Charter today. Why anyone should defend a political party that unjustifiably treats its own population as 1 billion domestic enemies is beyond me. Can you make an argument that such mistakes lend any government legitimacy? And we have not even touched on the right of self-governance as a universal principle yet!

    [Reply to this comment]

  28. Jan
    Charlotte Stant

    One of the most cogent arguments for political reform in China is that many of the past mistakes with gargantuan consequences for China’s forseeable future may not have been made if many segments of society have been allowed to give more input. If China had a more participatory political process and the “consultative parties” not mere flower-vases as they came to be known, the radical communization that led to PLA soldiers guarding granaries and turning away starving peasants would not have happened. In today’s context, China’s economic reform would have been more tempered, the pains and gains shared more evenly, and the environment, worker and farmer rights better protected.

    Frankly, I find apologists for the CCP baffling if admirable in their intellectual undertaking. Do they delight in defending the worst behavior on earth? At least genocides sometimes occur between warring peoples; these folks are too weak to take on, kill and oppress anyone except their own.

    Please do not give me the sob story of what a difficult job the CCP has always had and would others have done better. As a surge of Chinese people would tell you on the message boards in China, a) China would not be such a mess now if the CCP has not f*ck’d it up so badly and b) if it’s too hot get out of the kitchen and let others have a go at it! c) the Chinese people are tired of being told that they are the most intelligent race on earth, beating out even the Germans and the Jews (Yes, the leadership is racist to bat, but no surprises there!), and the most hard-working, and the most moral, etc. Except that they are not fit to rule themselves. Just a tiny caveat, that.

    [Reply to this comment]

  29. Jan

    Excellent discussion going on here and I really liked the blog post. But, I think something that can contribute to this discussion is what the CCP actually thinks democracy is. I wrote something readable on this:

    I think that this article ( can also contribute to Charlotte’s comments on the CCP’s refusal to let the Chinese people self-govern.

    [Reply to this comment]

  30. Jan

    Hi cc,

    Thanks for the comment and the links. I just had a quick look at your blog and it looks really good, looking forward to reading you from now on. I am increasingly interested in Chinese politics and I find there is a lack of English speaking blogs centered on this as opposed the the massive number on buisiness, internet and anecdotes.

    @Charlotte: thanks for your contribuions. I’ve been a bit scared recently since you suggested in a comment that I give my life for the revolution.

    [Reply to this comment]

  31. Jan
    David Ferguson

    “Village elections over the last twenty years have shown that the party has nothing but contempt for such exercise…”

    This seems a rather superficial analysis of the problems in making village democracy work. Others argue that the party supports village democracy specifically because it reinforces the party’s grip on power. Both views can’t be right.

    Here’s an alternative analysis. Democracy is not a pair of magic underpants that you can put on one morning to solve all your problems in one fell swoop. It is an instrument that is fragile, blunt and complex.

    When village democracy was first introduced large numbers of people, amounting to significant majorities in specific rural constituencies, would have been functionally illiterate. When you are functionally illiterate you cannot read either documents explaining processes or candidates’ manifestos. You are therefore entirely dependent on having things explained to you by word of mouth, a process which is both inefficient and subject to whatever interpretation the ‘explainer’ chooses to put on it. Want an example? Here’s one: “It’s easy. Just mark a cross here.”

    Even today, very large numbers of rural people (for example many of those over 40), although no longer illiterate by WHO or UN standards, will have received only a rudimentary education. You can implement democracy all you like but it won’t serve its purpose until the electorate is sufficiently well-educated to take advantage of it, and even more important, to protect itself from possible abuse.

    I will be writing a series of articles on the subject of Chrter 08 in the coming weeks on You are all welcome to append your comments. The first one is here:

    [Reply to this comment]

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