两会常常被自诩为民主世界的西方人看作做戏。每到那个时候，总会有西方记者跑来挑刺。记得两年前，一位BBC记者向人大代表提问朝鲜问题遭拒，为此批判中国采访不自由。中国CCTV的新锐主持人刘欣（就是和fox翠西连线辩论的那位）公开反驳BBC记者为自己加戏，让这位BBC记者在推特上生气地大叫：where are you！那是令人怀念的好日子，不是吗？西方记者们精力充沛，吹毛求疵，陶醉于只有西方有民主而中国人只是在演戏的优越感中，却不知道天启骑士会突然降临裁判。
A lot of beautiful things perished this spring due to COVID-19, many lives too. All granddramas such as the European Cup and the Tokyo Olympic Games were put off. So will the drama of "democracy" be staged as scheduled？Well，in China, they also postponed the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) -- known as the “two sessions” -- to late May.
However, the CPPCC has long been criticized as putting on a show or playing to the gallery by people in the self-proclaimed democratic world.Every year at that time, I and other journalists from the West would rush ourselves into the meeting hall and try the utmost to find anything interesting. Two years ago, a BBC reporter was turned down while asking a question concerning North Korea to an NPC deputy, hence the reporter slammed China for not being free in news reporting. Liu Xin, the pioneering anchor of China’s CCTV (yes, the one who debated with Trish Regan, former host of Fox Business) publicly refuted the BBC reporter as “trying a trick and making himself the subject of the story.” This made the BBC reporter yell angrily on Twitter: where are you!What a good day it was when western journalists were so energetic and critical! You could revel in the superiority that only the West had democracy and blame the Chinese for play acting, not knowing that the Knights of the Apocalypse would all of a sudden fall upon us.
According to Noam Chomsky, the epidemic makes it very difficult for the West to return to the past, and so does our declining democracy. Not only was this left-wing scholar opining on the epidemic, we also heard voices from Francis Fukuyama,indicating that the state’s capacity and people’s trust in government are more important than the type of the regime. Nathan Gardels, editor-in-chief of the WorldPost, quoted Chinese scholar Zhang Weiwei as saying:“In terms of competence and performance legitimacy, there is no necessary correlation with democracy” and “the main divide in the future may well not be over democracy and autocracy, but between good governance and bad governance.” Graham Allison, author of “Destined For War,” temporarily put aside the Thucydides trap and called on the United States to “face ugly facts about our own failures” and learn from China. The “prophets” of the United States do not seem to have lost their sense of reality like their reality-TV president, while European thinkers, such as Giorgio Agamben, are still talking about the harm that epidemic control brings to freedom and democracy. It’s nice for Judith Butler to put aside her insistence during the 2015 Paris attacks that counter-terrorism should not harm freedom, and instead considered whether vaccines could be fairly distributed in the capitalist world. Perhaps French philosopher Alain Badiou has been the calmest. He claimed that the epidemic has only once again exposed the political and economic contradictions in the globe, it is not worth making a fuss about, and it won’t bring any hope of innovation.
Maybe yes, it is not worth making a fuss about, and it won’t bring any hope of innovation.. In the recent month, the voices of western scholars have been less, perhaps because the weapons of criticism can not replace criticism of weapons, and the western world generally has no choice but to enter into what Boris called the state of national immunity. But really no hope at all?I mean, after all China has endured all criticism and abuse, basically contained the outbreak, won the trust of the people, and the country is now resuming production and will hold the twosessions soon. The hospitable Chinese hope that Western journalists can be present normally，stay young and stay critical.This time will journalists have enough time to cast doubts onchinese democracy？So, why don’t have a little patience and try to learn something from it? The Black Death that happened 700 years ago destroyed the old order in Europe, but it also unexpectedly promoted the revival of humanism in Italy. We all know Boccaccio's “Decameron”-- in the countryhome of their host, several narrators who fled the plague-ridden city of Florence pass the time by telling devianttales to each other which seriously impacted the spiritual world of the church. What about now? Amid the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, how about me telling you something about China’s democracy? Well, what I want to point out is that one of the important decisionsmade in China’s last Congress of the Communist Party was to “vigorously develop the socialist democracy.”
I took the pains to carefully read the full text of “The Decision of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee.”I would say that it is a little boring and not the kind of text you would enjoy reading. But I have to tell you that Article 3 of the decision is “Upholding and improving the system of institutions through which the people run the country and developing socialist democracy.”Noticing that Article 1 of the decision is “The great significance and overall requirements of upholding and improving the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and advancing the modernization of China’s system and capacity for governance,” it is kind of a general remark. So, we can say that the importance of Article 3 comes only after Article 2, which is “Upholding and improving the system of institutions for Party leadership and improving the Party’s capacity to practice scientific, democratic and law-based governance.”
Without deeper thinking, Some Western friendswould normally saythat this further proves the Chinese democracy is subservient to the CPC and cannot be recognized as a true democracy. But don’t forget about charismatic authority, the kind that was highly spoken of by European thinker Max Weber. Such types of politicians are rarely seen in the West today, and what we see during the epidemic is more Hollywood politicians., But Weber. didn'tsee a political party may also be charismatic. In the early days of the outbreak in China, one of the most widely praised sentences among the Chinese people was,“Don't be afraid, as doctors and CPC members, we will go up first.”It touched and encouraged many people. As a matter of fact, CPC members have indeed rushed to the frontlines of the fight against the epidemic and hundreds of them give up lives heroically. What could better exemplify the close relationship between a political party and the people than this sentence? Is this conceivablein individualistic Europe?
After World War II, the core of Europe’s political system is to prevent charismatic authority from turning into dictatorship. How do they avoid this problem in China? In the aforementioned decision by the CPC, the word “democracy” appears 29 times, “leadership” 50 times, and “rule of law” 40 times. Meanwhile,“freedom” only shows up six times, and mainly in the chapter discussing economic issues. Compared with the core socialist values written in 24 Chinese characters, knowing the statistical numbers is easier and better for us to grasp the political preferences of the Chinese leadership. The restraint of “rule of law” is more important than “democracy,” but democracy is indispensable, and China’s authoritative “leadership” needs to be based on democracy and the rule of law. The CPCrefers to this as “from the masses, to the masses.”
The decision once again emphasized that “sovereignty lies with the people” and that the country is based on the alliance of workers and farmers. We all know that Western politicians tend to criticize China as a communist country, while Western scholars believethat China actually practices state capitalism, the worst form of capitalism.In this way, scholars try to persuade themself that there is nothing worth learning from China even though the country is far more efficient than Western countries. But does China actually practice state capitalism? Is the Chinese government a government packed with bigwigs? We have long known that none of China’s top leaders --i.e. members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo -- were born rich, and none of them were even descendants of the old members of the Standing Committee. Now, let’s take a look at the NPC deputies, I mean, who are they?
Of all the 2,987 deputies to the 12th National People’s Congress (2013-2018),workers and farmers from the front line accounted for 13.42% of the total, professional and technical personnel accounted for 20.42%, and cadres from the CPC and the government accounted for 34.88%. In addition, representatives of the People’s Liberation Army (including officers and soldiers) accounted for 9.3%, representatives of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan accounted for 2.1%,and representatives of other democratic parties, non-party personages, along with religious, literary, and artistic groups accounted for 20.22%. Women accounted for 23.4% of the total, while ethnic minority representatives accounted for 13.69%.
Among the 2,980 deputies to the 13th National People’s Congress (2019-2024), workers and farmers from the front line accounted for 15.70% of the total, professional and technical personnel accounted for 20.57%, and cadres from the CPC and the government accounted for 33.93%. Women accounted for 24.9%, while ethnic minority representatives accounted for 13.69%.
This is really some different from the classical Marxist theory The number of intellectuals and members of other political parties even exceed that of workers and farmers. However, intellectuals are also seen as socialist workers in China. Some Chinese scholars hold the view that the CPC is a national party that inherits the Confucian traditions, and does not only represent a particular class or stratum. Other scholars emphasize the neutrality of the Chinese government -- being neutral among all classes, which is also reflected in the proportion of representatives. The CPC calls this“the three represents” (which means the CPC should always represent the requirements for developing China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of China’s advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people). And for President Xi Jinping, he puts a strong focus on cultivating and maintaining the advanced nature of the CPC itself. No matter which class you come from, once you become a party member, you must restrain yourself with the party’s ideology and discipline.
It is also mentioned in the decision that “the number of grassroots NPC deputies should be increased.”If we compare the composition of the deputies to the 12th and 13th National People’s Congress, we can see that cadres and government officials together accounted for less than 40%and have decreased a little bit. Meanwhile, workers from all over the country in different professions and with diverse backgroundsmake up the majority and their proportion has increased, not to mention that all 55 ethnic minorities have their own representatives. This makes it possible for representatives from all walks of life to be present when the deputies work together on any bill related to national welfare and the people’s livelihood.
Now if we look back atWestern representative democracy, I need not to point out how many of big brothers come from the top of the pyramid, and how many political leaders come from wealthy families. Plus, in the West we have the remarkable revolving door,which enables the unimpeded flow between the supreme legislature and the elite power club.
Comparison of the deputies to the 12th and 13th National People’s Congress
Of course we know, we understand, Western friends will say the whole thing is for good appearances only as they suspect the number of new coronavirus infections announced in China is also false. Don't worry, even within China there are many critics on social media, mainly pro-Western intellectuals, who tease the deputies as dumb hand-raising machines. But do we really know about the deputies? One reminder is that being an NPC deputy is not a profession, and unlike our senators, the NPC deputies are lack of skill in arguing or speaking, even the very few who are good at show with social media are usually unpopular there. They come to the meeting with their own proposals, which are evaluated and screened out through panel discussions. If a proposal is not good enough, it probably will be laughed at by the media and the public. I remember once a deputy put forward a proposal saying that rural students do not need to go to college, which was widely lambasted. It’s for sure that some deputies just make up the numbers, but it’s also obvious that sometimes our attitude towards the NPC deputies shows prejudice and stereotyping.
One typical example is Shen Jilan. She is the Deputy Secretary of the general Party branch of a county in the relatively backward inland Shanxi Province, and the only deputy to the National People's Congress in China who has been reelected from the first term to the 13th term.She was criticized by some Chinese because she has never cast an opposing vote. But if you take a closer look at this person, you will find that her proposals are enough to make many professional politicians blush, the fact is, early in 1954, she proposed the addition of an equal pay for equal work clause in the first constitution of China, and her proposal was adopted. She helped to reduce the gender pay gap and won the right for women. Ironically in 2018, former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie resigned over equal pay after discovering she was paid 50% less than her male counterparts. For Shen, she has been like a family patriarch, sitting on the representative table by virtue of her historical prestige. According to reports by Chinese media, Shen has made many other proposals, most of which were for the welfare of Shanxi province, her hometown, including diverting water from the Yellow River into the province, renovating its old industrial base, extending railways, building highways, airports, power stations, centralized heating projects, etc. Her proposals were mostly related to infrastructure, which not only benefitted the local people but also helped to vitalize regional economies. As a woman from rural areas, she is representing the will of people in Shanxi. I’m thinking that maybe her critics have fallen into a trap of Western-style democracy, arguing that casting a vote itself is the most important thing in politics.
Westerners have a deep understanding of the rules of parliamentary games, but don't understand the political operation of Chinese. The Chinese way of democracy is not putting everything on the table and everyone fighting for a piece of the cake for himself. Instead, the Chinese prefer harmony to quarrels, and would rather solve conflicts in ways that are more face-saving and humanistic. Of course, this would also draw criticism. However, if we insist on talking about the distinction between the rule of man and the rule of law as well as the opposition between government and society, isn’t that a long-standing problem of Western dualistic thinking?
China’s two sessions have been postponed due to the outbreak, but the country’s democracy will not stop functioning, because it is always there, lying in the lives of ordinary people, operating in an effective way. During the new crown epidemic, nearly 700 officials were held accountable according to discipline in Wuhan alone, at least 10 of them were involved at the bureau level, and the governor and Secretary of the provincial Party committee were also dismissed. At the same time, dozens of excellent cadres were promoted and more than 10 party members were promoted. In western countries, as the epidemic prevention and control is so disappointing, few officials are held accountable by "democracy". The only "democracy" performance seems to be noisy and accountability to China.
In a large-scale country with a large population, the Communist Party of China always puts forward the most clear and concise goal. For example, the decision emphasizes "to maintain the flesh and blood relationship between the party and the people, and to integrate the people's wisdom, the people's strength and the improvement of the people's livelihood into the whole work of the party's governance and administration.". During the new crown epidemic, Xi Jinping stressed that "always putting the safety and health of the people in the first place". The interests of the people are paramount. This is the expression of the basic program of China's democracy. In the west, tens of thousands of people died during the epidemic, the president of the United States said "no ventilator, but this is life", and some elderly people in nursing homes in Britain were asked to sign agreements to voluntarily give up rescue services, which are distressing for supporters of "universal value" all over the world. I believe many Europeanfriends willreflect :What is the significance of such democracy?
The state of epidemic prevention is similar to the state of war, while in the daily state,the Chinese government is also trying to make democracy visible and normative, and promote ademocratic and political consultation system that traverses the whole procedure. For the Chinese people, the two sessions are more like the ultimate form of democracy instead of political posturing. The difference is, while democracy is on the sacred altar in the West, it is but one part of the overall governance system in China. And next, I want to talk more about the Chinese type of democracy like the stream never stops flowing.