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Chinese Democracy
     

Chinese Democracy

by Andrew J. Nathan
 

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What do the Chinese mean by the word “democracy”? When they say that their political system is “democratic,” does this mean that they share our ideas about liberty, civil rights, and self government? With the recent improvement in relations between China and the West, such questions are no longer merely academic. They are basic to an

Overview

What do the Chinese mean by the word “democracy”? When they say that their political system is “democratic,” does this mean that they share our ideas about liberty, civil rights, and self government? With the recent improvement in relations between China and the West, such questions are no longer merely academic. They are basic to an understanding of the Chinese people and their state, both now and in the future.

In Chinese Democracy, Andrew J. Nathan tackles these in issues in depth, drawing upon much fresh and unfamiliar material. He begins with a vivid history of the short-lived democracy movement of 1978-81, where groups of young people in a number of Chinese cities started issuing outspoken publications and putting up posters detailing their complaints and opinions. Apparently condoned at first by the post-Mao regime, the movement flourished; then it was crushed, its leaders tried and jailed. With quotes from many of the participants and their works, Nathan constructs—for the first time—a poignant picture of the burst of liberal activity, at the same time showing how distinctly Chinese it was and how the roots of its failure lay as much in history as in current political necessity.

To demonstrate this, Nathan investigates the nature of the democratic tradition in China, tracing it back to the close of the imperial era at the end of the nineteenth century and the works of Liang Qichao, the country’s most brilliant journalist and most influential modern political thinker. We see how Liang deeply influenced Mao Zedong, and how conflicts between party dictatorship and popular participation, between bureaucratic authority and individual rights, between Mao’s harsh version of democracy and Deng Xiaoping’s more liberal one, remain to this day unresolved and potentially dangerous. For example, as Nathan shows, there was apparently a serious move toward liberalization projected on the highest government levels in the years after Mao’s death, yet the move failed. In a tour de force of scholarship, Nathan shows through an extended study of the many Chinese constitutions put force since the 1911 Revolution that individual rights have always been forced to give away to the needs and ambitions of the state. Democracy in China has traditionally been admired mainly for what it can help accomplish, not for any human rights it may embody.

Finally, making use of scores of interviews with émigrés from the mainland, the author analyzes the extraordinary role played by the press in forming public attitudes in China, and then goes on to show what happened in 1980 when the authorities for the first time conducted direct elections to the county-level people’s congresses. It was a splendid shambles. Much of this story has never been told before.

Chinese Democracy
is a highly original and convincing book on a subject of immediate concern, a rich combination of reportage and research by one of our best-informed China specialists. No one can read it without gaining an entirely new perspective on the nature of democracy as the Chinese practice it—and, incidentally, as we practice it too.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Nathan provides a sober judgment on the redirection of Chinese politics since Mao Zedong's death in 1976. He concludes that ``there is little prospect the party will adopt . . . either of the two conditions the radical Chinese democrats identified as essential for authentic democracy: free elections and an independent press.'' Concepts such as democracy are notoriously difficult to interpret in a cross-cultural context, but Nathan's command of Chinese intellectual history serves him well. He argues that Chinese intellectuals and politicians have seen democracy as a means to focus a natural harmony between the state and the individual. Thus, they have never felt it necessary for democracy to provide protections for the individual against the state's power. Drawing on this insight, he explores the problems of the individual and the state, the role of the press, and the place of elections in China today. An engrossing book with broad appeal. Highly recommended. David D. Buck, History Dept., Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307828125
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/28/2012
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
313
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author


Andrew J. Nathan is a professor of political science at Columbia University. He specializes in Chinese politics, foreign policy, human rights and political culture.

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