"I want to wish you and your brave compatriots good luck after the handover!"
I shake hands with a pro-democracy activist in Tsimshatsui a few days
before the handover of Hong Kong by Great Britain to the mainland Chinese.
Mutual respect, open dialogue, compromise and consensus - this is not the stuff of heroic martyrdom, mythic grandeur or national legend, but it is perhaps the only "option" (as you put it) China has in achieving long-term true national political stability and avoiding further bloodshed and ruin. This in not only a Chinese predicament, but a dilemma which faces all peoples around the world.
comments="In real life, it is always an ideal to be worked towards."
This is idealism, not reality. In real life, you are given a preset condition and a number of limited options, and you have to choose the least damaging choice to advance your interest.
"Political instability, upheaval, and eventual revolution will be the legacy of all this."
Political upheaval is frankly the worst option for China and the people understand this.
"Let me say it again: authoritarian regimes which are not answerable to the people will in the long-run degenerate to an ignominious tyranny of corruption, nepotism, and oppression. History is replete with "enlightened despots" who were more despotic than enlightened."
Let me say that the democratic US will degenerate into a backward disintegrated nation if it does not revert back to its original Republic system and put a limit to the so call individual freedom that has turn this nation ever closer to anarchy.
"Perhaps it were the soldiers, tanks, and assault rifles of Chinese soldiers which won the day at Tienanmen Square in 1989,"
Wrong, the people are the winner of the June4 incident. Chinese are tired of instabilities, they are tired of movements, they are tired of political upheaval, and they are tired of revolutions. They demand the improvement of their lives, and that is what they got. Let me remind you that the majority of Chinese are not even remotely involved in the demonstration because they know what they wanted, and the student movement is not one of them. What the people want, they will have it, no matter how powerful the government is, they can not put down the masses. And the people today want to see an improvement of their life, not the Promised Land of civil war and starvation, and you have no right to make moral judgments for the Chinese people. What determine the future will be the Chinese people only, not the will of the US, nor the morality of the West.
"A powerful and unified democratic China can live in peace with the United States just as Japan has done since 1945."
A democratic China will not be power, at least not from where is started, and a democratic China will not be peaceful. Peace and democracy have not correlation between them what so ever. Was it the democratic Germany that brings about the rise of the Nazi? Was it the constitutional monarchy of England that aggressively expanded through out the world to bring war and starvation to the natives wherever it reaches? Was it the democratic US that promotes the so call "manifested destiny" which violently annex neighbor's territory? The masses are easily manipulated and mostly irrational, and populous democracy what I call mob rule will only leads to instability and war.
"Erin, believe it or not, people need ideals in which to believe."
Ideology is the source of all conflict and bloodshed. It does not provide a better solutions, only an irrationality.
"In a democratic China, there would be room for all political parties and ideological persuasions to participate openly in the political process according to the rules. Each political party could offer their plan for China and then let the people choose among them."
And in a democratic China, each party fights for their own interest without ever come to a decision; such is India, the largest democracy in the world.
"All China needs is the proper leaders and the will to build a better government."
Indeed, what China need is a leader that could steer China forward, not a popular elected actor that only knows inaction.
In conclusion, I have to say that everyone gives up some of their freedom and liberty in exchange for security and survival. That is the function of a government, in exchange for personal freedom from the individual, the government offers security and welfare to its citizens, or else anarchy will be the preferred choice. Indeed, in a Confucius China, people sacrifices more of their freedom for the interest of the state, and that others have no right to make moral judgment upon for this is what the people have decided and that is what China should be.
The democratic system is not a perfect system of government, but I would argue that its advantages outweigh its disadvantages. Part of the genius and a source of ultimate strength of a functioning democracy is that it recognizes the perils (inevitability?) of governmental tyranny and puts in place mechanisms to check government and respect certain minimum rights which are guaranteed by law and make up the cornerstone of society. Part of the strength of democracy is that it understands that it is constantly threatened and in constant need of repair. For example, the main reason that the United States survived the Great Depression during the 1930's is because the government was able to reform itself and in the process head off a revolution. This reforming process took time and involved endless argument and contentious debate among Americans who opposed each other often bitterly, but the United States emerged from crisis and political and social upheaval stronger and with the same governmental system. Look at what democracy has to offer and please don't reject it without reflection.
One may fall while learning how to walk. Does that mean that we should never learn how to walk? Well ensconced into their democratic institutions, do you think the West will ever fall back into the dark periods of their history? You mention Weimar Germany as an example of the "failure" of democracy as a form of government, saying that it resulted in Nazism. You do not mention the much longer period of post-WW II German democracy which has now engulfed the eastern section of that country which used to be communist. Can you claim that Germany democracy today teeters on the edge of collapse? Or is it closer to the truth that German democracy functions effectively in attempting to bring about a just society for the greater part of her citizens?
Why this knee-jerk reaction against democracy? Why should little hope for mankind? Why so little desire to be bold and make the possible a reality? Walking may cause falling, but it is infinitely preferable to crawling.
This rejection of elections and democracy by the Chinese Communist Party? Could it be that the Chinese people are not as enamored of their government as the Party would like the outside world to believe? If the Party is indeed so popular, why don't they prove it in an open election? Don't they trust the judgment of the people? Is the Party so much smarter than the people? It all comes down to this: a small group of elites in China thinks it knows better than the rest of the population and therefore it will not allow the people to make "mistakes." I can hear the Chinese autocrat telling me: "Right! What do I need to fear? We have plenty of prison cells left! All the good people in China love us, and the rest of them... well, we can handle them!"
I do not seek to make a judgement on China - or least of all on the Chinese people! - but I disagree when you say that the current government in China is "what the people have decided and that is what China should be." Under the current Chinese system, it is the Beijing government that decides for the people and the people have no choice but to accept it or go to jail. Since the Party sees itself as ultimately knows what is best, no amount of force or terror should be held back in bringing the Chinese people to a better future. What choice does the Party have if hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands perish if we can make life better for millions. Indeed, such is our duty! For us, the enlightened few of the Party leadership, everything is permitted since we are armed with this secret knowledge! Such is the history of this our bloody century of gulags, warfare and revolutions, genocide of the totalitarian dictatorships of the left and right of Hitler, Lenin, Trostky, Mussolini, and Pol Pot. Disgrace will be their legacy. "...But the changing of man himself has not yet been completed. Men have to be changed," claimed Mao. We can only hope that mankind the sickly patient will survive the medicine of such "doctors" of humanity.
You say, "Ideology is the source of all conflict and bloodshed. It does not provide a better solutions, only an irrationality." Perhaps, but communism is also an ideology and one could argue the reason the Chinese people are so "tired" of politics is because Mao and others like him acting like armed prophets espousing a secular religion have wreaked so much havoc in the name of the people, even if not with their consent. The long Civil War, Campaign Against Counter-Revolutionaries (1955-56), the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward (1958), the Great Cultural Proletariat Revolution (1966-69) only to mention the more desperate periods of communist Chinese history when people were starving, eating other, enduring political persecution, and, most ominously, murdering each other.
To quote Mao: "All power comes from the barrel a gun." What kind of a legacy of peace and long-term stability does this provide? You are right when you say that the "Chinese are tired of instabilities, they are tired of movements, they are tired of political upheaval, and they are tired of revolutions." However, if the rule of law does not become firmly established then the unpredictable cycle of allowing the destiny of a whole nation to depend on one person, their charm, authority, and judgement will continue. This is extremely dangerous. Might the Chinese people have tired of numerous irrational movements organized by their irrational leaders for power struggles? Might they not be tired of political upheaval created by their un-democratic government and the continuous revolutions promoted by Chairman Mao? Millions and millions of Chinese have perished because there was no democratic mechanism to stop the madness. Might that be the reason the Chinese people are tired? All power comes from the barrel a gun? In some countries, power comes from the ballot box.
And now that Deng Xiaopeng is dead, who will full his shoes? In the "cult of personality" government, every time the leader dies their will be doubt and instability as a power vacuum opens with the battle for succession. This generally is not such a huge problem in countries ruled by law. For example, both Winston Churchill and George Bush were unceremoniously voted out of office after winning wars for their countries, and it all happened peacefully and with little fanfare - they respected the will of the people and retired from public life in honor. In my opinion (and not the judgement of history?), it is far better to base government on the LAW and thereby systematize succession and make high level policy-making democratic and open. Why not have elections and trust the people to make the right decision?
Elections? What does the government have to fear if the Chinese people love their government? If such be the case, the Party will assuredly emerge clearly victorious from any election! In truth, the Party fears what would happen in an open election. Yes, the more I think about it and hear from persons such as yourself, Zy@aol.com, the more I begin to appreciate how underneath the visible surface how important is the emotion of fear in Chinese political life. FEAR. Fear of renewed poverty. Fear of political violence and instability. Fear of change. Fear of democracy. The Party has fostered this fear among the people in order to justify its hold on power, yet fear will never prove inducive towards a mature political culture. This is not true political stability. Even the desire to "get rich" is not sufficient justification for a government. There need be more. No system of government is a guarantee for security and happiness, but why not take the positive step of trying democracy instead of resorting to oppression unthinkingly? Why reject democracy outright? Walking may cause falling. Unless you prefer crawling.
It all boils down to whether the Chinese government trusts its own people. In your own admission, they don't trust it very much: "The masses are easily manipulated and mostly irrational, and populous democracy what I call mob rule will only leads to instability and war." Implied is that the people cannot be trusted to choose their own path and make their own destinies. Implied in this cynical statement is the idea that the leaders are a priori better than the people. Any government which claims to know what is good for their people and knows how to get there - even if the people do not - denies their human essence, treats them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore degrades them. It is to make them effectively slaves. A society consisting of slaves and masters will not endure.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
I am no better than anyone else and I most humbly submit that neither are you. And this runs all the way up to those currently sitting in the highest positions of power in Beijing! We are ALL ignorant, just in different areas of experience and knowledge. I repeat: we are ALL ignorant. For example, I may be able to quote Shakespeare verbatim and have read many a book in my time, but I can hardly replace the oil or change the tire of my car. And even as I majored in political science at the university, I don't consider myself any better endowed to make an intelligent decision in voting than an auto mechanic. We both merely bring different talents to the table - neither being any better than the other. Some of the most average people I have ever met were in positions of high responsibility and some of the most intelligent were poorly educated. The "common people" of humble origin are perfectly capable of "seeing straight through a wall in time of need," as the English say. I with all due respect lay claim to being a proud member of the "easily manipulated mob," yet we will see how easily manipulated I am. In a democracy, all this is in my hands; I have the CHOICE. This is EVERYTHING.
You say that "in real life, you are given a preset condition and a number of limited options, and you have to choose the least damaging choice to advance your interest." I grant you this, but still there need be a choice in the options available. In saying that democracy is not even a choice, you have narrowed your horizons and possibilities. Why? I will say it one more time: One may fall while learning how to walk. Does that mean that we should never learn how to walk?
Even with the right to vote for a leader of their choosing, no citizen has absolute freedom - not in a democracy or any kind of government. One cannot break the rules or laws of their country and must abide by election results, even if they are not to one's liking. As you say, there always need be a careful balance between public order and individual freedom and such a tension is constantly re-examined and agonized over in the highest courts in the United States. Make no mistake that personal freedom and collective security are ancient antagonists - always have been, always will. The proper question a government and a people should ask itself is: "What should the proper balance be between the two?" You make it sounds as if the law meant nothing in a democracy which by nature means anarchy with wildmen running through the streets. In such a case, I would argue that you have been watching too much American television.
One cannot do anything they please in the United States and the law does have teeth. In fact, people who break the law and infringe upon the public peace do go to jail. Violent and armed criminals who confront the police are routinely shot and/or imprisoned just as in any country in the world. It is simply that there is not the need to swing so far in favor of public order and against personal liberty because through democracy there is a relative political stability. The United States has over 200 years without a change in government and Great Britain has much longer than that. There have been many problems in the American "experiment," and even bloodshed - a terrible civil war - but the country has worked it out together and reformed itself unceasingly. And the United States is still going strong, don't you worry. What if as a democracy America in the future were to founder and fail? Then it will be the fault of the American people and no one else.
You extensively cite instances of crimes real and imagined committed by democracies over the last two centuries and there is truth in this. A democracy is not immune to behaving poorly as a government, it is only less prone to do so. A majority of the people collectively can act as tyrannically as any despot can singly. I make no bones about criticizing my country - even bitterly - when it does something to which I am opposed. I would argue only that tyranny happens less often in democracies than in autocracies because of the lack of centralized power. A democracy moves to make war slowly and with deliberation while dictatorships move quickly, rashly, and often.
"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women, and when it dies, no constitution can save it."
jurist Learned Hand
Not all authoritarian regimes are outwards aggressive. For example, Spain under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco was content to live in peace with his neighbors secure in his own hold on power. During the almost 50 years of his reign, Spain was a dour and spiritless affair. Dissent was squashed and society tightly controlled by the government and church. Little art or thought of any importance came forth from Spain under Franco, proving the truth of J.S. Mill's claim that "culture without freedom never made a large and liberal mind." When he finally died, Spain was a backward and isolated country relative to the rest of Europe. Like Cuba today, the domestic political scene in Spain depended on the dictator and therefore when events overtook that man change proved impossible and everybody simply had to wait for him to die for any improvement in life.
Chile under the many years of military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet can be similarly compared. The streets were clean, the trains and buses ran on time, business thrived up to a point, there was little crime (at least non-governmental crime), and those who loved freedom simply sat down to wait for the long curfew to end. On the other hand, there were plenty of people who simply "disappeared" never to be heard from again and no free elections, freedom of the press, political dissent, etc. On the international scene, Chile under military rule was slightly embarrassing, as if it smelled a little bad. "What? The head of your country is a soldier?" people would ask in a mostly democratic world. Such an arrangement can hardly be called the apex of culture or civilization.
Those many countries under non-representative rule (Imperial Japan, Soviet Russia, Nazi, Germany, fascist Italy and Argentina, etc.) which turned aggressively to foreign war and the tragedy of those wars themselves hardly need to be told again. We in the 20th century largely live in the shadow of their crimes and shame. They have proven a tragedy to mankind and we are only now hopefully beginning to shake off their legacy. I would argue mainland China is a stroke against this trend as it sticks with its commissar culture.
Take a look at some of the countries which until recently were single party non-democratic states and are now democratic and free: Spain, Italy, Taiwan, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, Argentina, Poland, South Korea, etc. Tell me if the international community and their own peoples are better off now than before. You might mention Russia as a blow against this trend, but I would argue that the jury is still out in what will happen to Russia and, at any rate, she could hardly be any worse for the world or her people than she was under Marxist-Leninism! It will indeed be a sad day for freedom loving peoples everywhere if Russia flounders amidst its new freedom while China thrives while oppressing its people.
One of the major reasons Russia has so much trouble now - if not the major reason - is the legacy of Soviet lethargy, corruption, and decay over decades. Just because Russia changes to a democracy does not mean that those problems are going to go away. It is not so simple - God that it were! It cannot be decreed by law - a society needs to make a democracy. But look at the major threats to world peace that have sooner or later been defeated by the democracies: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Spain, the Soviet Union and her allies. Would the world be better or worse off if communism and/or fascism had spread rather than contracted since the end of World War II?
As a fallible human being, I am just as prone as anyone else to making mistakes. It is, of course, possible in a democratic political system that I can make the wrong decision in voting. But at least then the mistake will have been my own and I assume full responsibility. I am no fool and my support for the government in power is not unconditional; I am able to still love my country even as I dislike or oppose a certain governmental policy. Consequently, in the next election I can change my vote and hopefully help rectify my error. I will read the newspapers, etc. and learn about the issues and candidates at hand, talk with my friends, family, and others in person and online, make my voice heard in my own small way by voting, and then live with the results of the election whether my side wins or loses. I am not stupid and any politician that talks to me as such not only loses my vote but gains an enemy who will politic against him in the struggle for the people's hearts and minds for the election. That is the democratic way.
But if I were to wake up one day in a country where I could not walk the land a free man, think whatever I wanted, and have any say at all in the election of my representatives, I would no longer support the government. I would fight such a government even as I loved my country - fight it because I loved my country! I believe it to be no different for many Chinese who love their country yet hate their government and languish in jail for it. I suspect the reason they would go to jail over an idea is because they love China so much and want to see positive change. It would be easier to lay back, shut one's mouth tightly, and stay out of trouble. But they understand that "peace at any price" can result in an existence worth nothing. We Americans and other citizens of the world can learn a lot about courage and conviction from Chinese dissidents today.
"...Dissent may not always be pleasant to listen to, and it is inevitable that it will sometimes be misguided. But it is everyone's sovereign right. Indeed when government is seen as defective or unreasonable, criticizing it is an unshirkable duty. Only through the people's criticism and supervision of the leadership can mistakes be minimized and government prevented from riding roughshod over the masses. Then, and only then, can everyone breathe freely."You imply constantly that persons such as Wei Jingsheng or those who died on June 4, 1989, and afterwards are a non-factor in Chinese political life and are hated or forgotten by the majority of the people. I am not so sure. We will both have to wait and see what happens in the future. You said, "What the people want, they will have it, no matter how powerful the government is." But so far tanks, armored personnel carriers, and AK-47 assault rifles have proved more powerful. Yet might your statement be a warning to the Chinese government? Reformation is infinitely preferable to revolution. But that goes against the political culture of the communist party in China; as Mao was quoted as saying to Edgar Snow, "We are always revolutionists and never reformers." Deng fought this trend with respect to economic relations. Who will change the political aspect of Chinese life?
Let's look at the "options" China has before her from the two polar extremes: A China which for her own "good" requires perpetual despotism and "iron-fisted" rule with leaders ready and capable to perform any fresh barbarity that might be necessary to preserve an enforced unity, or a self-government which recognizes the inevitable diversity of interests and ideas in any society and attempts to fashion laws and institutions to foster a degree of equilibrium and empathy between them. China's past (political instability, revolution, bloodshed, corruption) is instructive of the former, her possible future could be the latter. Mutual respect, open dialogue, compromise and consensus - this is not the stuff of heroic martyrdom, mythic grandeur or national legend, but it is perhaps the only "option" (as you put it) China has in achieving long-term true national political stability and avoiding further bloodshed and civil war. This in not only a Chinese predicament, but a dilemma which faces all peoples around the world.
Yet I can hear you saying "what nonsense" and telling me that unfettered force and tyranny on behalf of an absolute authority are the only things the "mostly irrational" people respect and which can effectively rule the "easily manipulated mob." As a proud member of the "irrational mob," I beg to differ. And I most humbly submit that no politician or government exists which is in a better position to make up MY mind FOR me. After all, it's my mind.
The hope in putting these "discussions" up on the World Wide Web was that other people could read them, think it over themselves, and make up their own minds. Of course, in your lowly opinion of the vast majority of the people most individuals who might stumble across these pages are incapable of making up their own minds. It is precisely because of this attitude codified into state policy that an open and frank forum such as this between you and I could not be tolerated in China today without the threat of jail or worse looming over our heads. Yet even as I vehemently disagree with what you say, I would defend to the bitter end your right to say it. Jail only makes more hatred - especially when one is in jail for nothing more than "incorrect thinking." Everyone should spend some time in jail so as to learn this. I worked briefly in a jail and the stink and hatred of the place made it one of the darkest experiences of my life. Men living like animals in cages!
A philosophy professor (Ding Zilin), an electrician (Wei Jingsheng), an astrophysicist (Fang Lizhi) - all currently jailed or in exile today in China not because they are wild-eyed bomb throwers but that they hold the "incorrect thought." One need not be a professional political scientist to perceive that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
Even as we don't see eye to eye on these issues Zy@aol.com, I wish you peace and happiness in the future.
Very Truly Yours,
P.S. If the Chinese authorities do not like free speech and public debate for their peoples, they had better find some way of destroying the Internet because it will bring on such a wave of conversation and information that the Party autocrats will not know what to do. The spread of information will only increase with time as networked computers stretch to the far corners of the earth. (re. TCP/IP spoken here)
FEAR OF DEMOCRACY?"It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word."
Walking may cause falling, but it is infinitely preferable to crawling.
FREE SPEECH!"The Bill of Rights is a born rebel. It reeks with sedition. In every clause it shakes its fist in the face of constituted authority... it is the one guarantee of human freedom to the American people.
Frank I. Cobb
Contribution, La Follette's Magazine
"...Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.""Without free speech no search for truth is possible... no discovery of truth is useful... Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race."
"The Framers [of the Constitution] knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black
Address, New York University School of Law, 1960
"But they [founders of the Constitution] knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope, and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones... Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty."
Louis D. Brandeis
U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Whitney v. California, 247 U.S. 357 (1927)
"The greater the importance to safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government."
Charles Evans Hughes
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice
DeJonge v. Oregon
U.S. 353, 265 (1937)
Will China become a nationalistic expansionist country in the future in the manner of Imperial Japan before and during the Second World War?Look at the following document from Imperial Japan during its period of military madness in the 1930s and compare it to the comments above:
"To the Japanese mind there has been no conception of the individual as opposed to the state... Underlying western types of ideas exists an individualistic view of life which regards individuals as absolute, independent entities... the standard of all values and themselves the highest of all values. [But] human beings, while having their independent existence and life, depend in a deeper sense on the whole and live in co-ordinated relationship with each other. They are born from the state, sustained by the state and brought up in the history and traditions of the state. Individuals can only exist as links in an infinite and vast chain of life called the state; they are links through whom the inheritance of ancestors in handed down to posterity... Individuals participate in the highest and greatest value when they serve the state as part of it."
Japanese Ministry of Justice
"The New Japan: Government and Politics"
Harold S. Quigley and John E. Turner