Will China ever be ready for democracy?

This week’s column comes from one of Kaiser’s recent answers originally posted to Quora on November 2, 2017.

Would China be politically unstable if there were more than one government party?

First, read this from last week, where I explain why the Chinese aren’t exactly clamoring to overthrow their one-party government:

Why do Chinese people like their government?

If you’re asking about right now, then yes — it would certainly be politically unstable for China to have more than one party. There’s no question that at present there aren’t institutions in place that could handle multiparty elections, no guides for how the state would actually operate. And there’s no semblance of a pluralistic political culture.

But I believe that if you think it’s somehow impossible for China or for Chinese people to ever reach a point where multiparty democracy was possible, you’re guilty of a contemptible and inexcusably condescending essentialism. Alas, there’s really no easy glide path to it from here. As Hu Shi once said, the only way to have democracy is to have democracy, and no “period of tutelage” as Sun Yat-sen envisioned is going to bring it about, especially not when the party in power is so dead-set against it.

If political pluralism is something that we honestly desire for China, the best case scenario is one in which some individual (or group of individuals) who nurtures democratic values comes to power at a time when enough people in the Party elite can be persuaded — perhaps looking around and seeing deep-seated discontent within the intelligentsia, the urban middle class, and business elites — that having multiparty elections would be eventually desirable and that the best thing to do is get there peacefully through deliberate creation and empowerment of institutions of constraint, like an independent judiciary, intraparty popular elections, separation of powers, and eventually legal if toothless opposition parties that take part in elections.

Also see:

Kuora: China’s eventual transition into democracy

Kuora is a weekly column. Image: Castaneda Luis, AGF UIG.