Democracy Is A Good Thing

The following essay was excerpted from the foreword to the book of the same name and published in Beijing Daily News on October 23, 2006.  The essay has since then been discussed widely inside and outside of China.  The essay is featured on the front page of this week's Asia Weekly (Yazhou Zhoukan) with a photo of the author.  The author Yu Keping is the deputy director of the Central Translation Bureau and is a member of the think-tank for the Hu-Wen administration.

(ChineseNewsNet民主是个好东西 Democracy Is A Good Thing.  By Yu Keping (俞可平).

[in translation]

Democracy is a good thing, and this is not just for specific persons or certain officials; this is for the entire nation and its broad masses of people.  Simply put, for those officials who care more about their own interests, democracy is not only not a good thing; in fact, it is a troublesome thing, even a bad thing.  Just think, under conditions of democratic rule, officials must be elected by the citizens and they must gain the endorsement and support of the majority of the people; their powers will be curtailed by the citizens, they cannot do whatever they want, they have to sit down across the people and negotiate.  Just these two points alone already make many people dislike it.  Therefore, democratic politics will not operate on its own; it requires the people themselves and the government officials who represent the interests of the people to promote and implement.

Democracy is a good thing, but that does not mean that everything about democracy is good.  Democracy is definitely not 100% perfect; it has many internal inadequacies.  Democracy can make the citizens go into the streets, hold assemblies and then cause political instability; democracy can make certain very simple matters become complicated and frivolous under undemocratic conditions, thereby increasing the political and administrative costs; democracy often involves repeated negotiations and discussions, causing certain decisions that should have been made in a time manner become suspended without resolution, thereby decreasing administrative efficiency; democracy often affords opportunities for certain sweet-talking political fraudsters to mislead the people, and so on.  But among all the political systems that have been invented and implemented, democracy is the one with the least number of flaws.  That is to say, relatively speaking, democracy is the best political system for humankind.

Democracy is a good thing, but that does not mean that democracy can do everything and solve every problem.  Democracy is a political system that guarantees that sovereignty belonged to the people, but it is only one of many systems that people have; it mainly regulates the political lives of people and it cannot replace the other systems and it cannot regulate everything in people's lives.  Democracy has its internal limitations, it is not a cure-all miracle medicine and it cannot solve all of humankind's problems.  But democracy guarantees basic human rights, it offers equal opportunity to people and it is a basic human value.  Democracy is not only a means to solve people's livelihood issues, but it is a goal of human development; it is not only a tool to achieve other goals, but it is in accord with human nature.  Even if there is the best food and housing available, the human character is incomplete without democratic rights.

Democracy is a good thing, but that does not mean that democracy does not come with a painful price.  Democracy can destroy the legal system, cause the social and political order to go out of control occasionally and even prevent economic development during certain periods; democracy can also disrupt international peace and cause political divisions within the nation; the democratic process can also propel certain dictators onto the political stage.  All of these have already occurred in actual human life, and they will likely continue to recur.  Therefore, the price of democracy is sometimes high to the point of unacceptability.  But at the root, this is not the fault of democracy; it is the fault of the politicians and statesmen.  Certain politicians do not understand the objective rules of democratic government, they ignore the social and historical conditions, they go beyond the stage of historical development and promote democracy in an impractical manner, and therefore they end up with the opposite consequences.  Certain politicians treat democracy as their tool for seizing power, they use the name of "democracy" to clamor for popularity and mislead the people.  With them, democracy is the name and dictatorship is the truth; democracy is the fašade and power is the substance.

Democracy is a good thing, but that is not to say that democracy comes unconditionally.  Implementing democracy requires the corresponding economic, cultural and political conditions; to promote democracy unconditionally will bring disastrous consequences to the nation and its people.  Political democracy is the wave of history; it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy.  But the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional.  An ideal democratic system must not only be related to the economic state and level of development of society, the regional politics and international environment, it must also be intimately related to the national tradition of political culture, the quality of the politicians and the people, and the daily customs of the people.  It requires the wisdom of the politicians and the people to determine how to pay the minimum political and social price in order the attain the maximum democratic effects.  In that sense, democratic politics is a political art.  To promote democratic politics, it is necessary to have an elaborate system design and excellent political techniques.

Democracy is a good thing, but that does not mean that democracy can force the people to do things.  The most concrete meaning of democracy is that it is government by the people who get to make choices.  Even though democracy is a good thing, no person or political organization has the right to regard themselves as the embodiment of democracy itself and therefore force the people to do this but not that in the name of democracy.  Democracy requires enlightenment, it requires the rule of law, it requires authority and it also requires violence to maintain the normal social order.  The basic approach to developing democracy is not a forceful imposition by the government but the people should give consent.  Since democracy is rule by the people, it should respect the people's own choice.  In terms of national politics, if the government employs forceful means to make the people accept a system that they did not choose, then this is national autocracy and this is national tyranny; when one country uses mostly violent methods to force the people in other countries to accept their so-called democratic system, then this is international autocracy and this is international tyranny.  National tyranny and international tyranny are both contrary to the nature of democracy.

We are presently building a modernized strong socialist nation with unique Chinese characteristics.  For us, democracy is all the more so a good thing, and it is all the more so essential.  The classical authors of Marxism said: "There is no socialism without democracy."  Recently, Chairman Hu Jintao pointed out further: "There is no modernization without democracy."  Of course, we are building a socialist democracy with unique Chinese characteristics.  On one hand, we want to absorb all the excellent results from the political culture of all mankind, including all the excellent results of democratic politics; but on the other hand, we will not import an overseas political model.  Our construction of political democracy must be closely integrated with the history, culture, tradition and existing social conditions in our nation.  Only in this way can the people of China truly enjoy the sweet fruits of political democracy.