Democracy Is a Good Thing

Democracy Is a Good Thing: Essays on Politics, Society, and Culture in Contemporary China

Foreword by John L. Thornton
Introduction by Cheng Li
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 219
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    Democracy Is a Good Thing
    Book Description:

    "Democracy is a good thing. This is true not only for individuals or certain officials but also for the entire nation and for all the people of China."-Yu Keping

    So begins "Democracy Is a Good Thing," an essay of great influence that has commanded attention and provoked discussion throughout the world. It is the touchstone of this important volume of the same name. As one of China's foremost political thinkers and a leading proponent of democratizing the People's Republic, Yu Keping is a major figure not only in his native land, but also in the international community. This book brings together much of his most important work and makes it readily accessible to readers in the West for the first time.

    "Democracy Is a Good Thing" created a stir internationally. Perhaps more important, however, is the heated debate it spurred within China on the desirability of democratic reform. That important essay appears here, along with several of Yu Keping's other influential works on politics, culture, and civil society. His topics include China's economic modernization, its institutional environment, and the cultural changes that have accompanied the nation's reforms.

    Democracy Is a Good Thingpulls back the curtain to reveal ongoing discourse in Chinese political and intellectual circles, discussions that will go a long way toward determining the future of the world's most populous nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0167-5
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword (pp. vii-xii)
    John L. Thornton

    This volume and the Brookings series it launches share an origin, an explanation of which may help readers place in context the essays that follow. Five and a half years ago, I began teaching a seminar on leadership at Tsinghua University in Beijing and spending a good part of the year in China. It was a choice that would change and deepen my view of the country in many ways. I thought I knew something about China during the years I spent in finance, when I traveled there frequently to work with its government and business leaders. What impressed me...

  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Yu Keping
  5. Introduction Making Democracy Safe for China (pp. xvii-xxxii)

    American discourse about China,” observed Richard Madsen, a distinguished sinologist in the United States, “has long been as much about ourselves as about China.”¹ Far too often we American analysts evaluate China according to our own preconceived notion of what the country is like rather than paying much attention to the Chinese mentality and reality. Throughout history, American views, values, and interests have shaped our assessments of and debates on China’s political trajectory, especially the possibility and desirability of democracy in the world’s most populous country. Optimists often envision the promotion of democratic principles in China as the best way...

  6. PART I Political Development in Reform-Era China
    • CHAPTER ONE Democracy Is a Good Thing (pp. 3-5)

      Democracy is a good thing. This is true not only for individuals or certain officials but also for the entire nation and for all the people of China.¹ Simply put, for those officials who care more about their own interests than about the national interest, democracy is not a good thing; in fact, it is a troublesome thing, even a bad thing. Under conditions of democratic rule, officials must be elected by the citizens, gaining the endorsement and support of the majority of the people. Officials’ powers can be curtailed by the citizens; officials cannot simply do whatever they want....

    • CHAPTER TWO The Study of Political Science and Public Administration in China: An Overview (pp. 6-26)

      A famous saying by Mao Zedong states: “Politics is the commander, the soul, and the lifeline of economic work.”¹ Intimately familiar with the traditions of Chinese culture and history, Mao shaped the political and economic life of post-1949 China in accordance with his own understanding of politics. Under Mao’s leadership, China placed special stress on the role and influence that production played in determining political and economic life and emphasized the importance of historical development in determining social relations. No matter how people judge the political practices of Mao Zedong, they must remember one thing: compared with Western countries, politics...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Seventeenth Party Congress and the Agenda for China’s Political Reforms (pp. 27-34)

      There is widely believed to be a mutually reinforcing relationship between economic progress and political development.¹ With the construction and development of a socialist market economy, China has been actively, if also cautiously, pushing forward political reforms—and has made great advances. Political reforms are a matter ofmust,notshould.This is evident from President Hu Jintao’s report to the Seventeenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2007, in which the president said: “As an important part of the overall reform, political reform must be constantly deepened along with economic and social development to adapt to...

  7. PART II Social Transformation and Civil Society
    • CHAPTER FOUR China’s Civil Society: Conceptual Definitions, Types, and Background (pp. 37-51)

      Although civil society was very lively in China in the early twentieth century, the Chinese government and academic communities view its reemergence during the reform era as essentially a new phenomenon.¹ China’s civil society is still in a formative, immature stage, and as a result its basic characteristics and functions have not yet become clear. Meanwhile, there are numerous ambiguities in the understanding of China’s civil society, manifested most dramatically in the lack of consensus about how a number of key categories and concepts are to be interpreted. Disagreements are natural, but if key concepts are too ambiguous, deep discussion...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Characteristics of Chinese Civil Society: Administrative Regulations and Institutional Environment (pp. 52-74)

      China’s emerging civil society has several distinctive characteristics.¹ These are particularly evident in administrative regulations and the institutional environment, both of which have significantly shaped the formation and growth of Chinese civil society organizations (CSOs) in the reform era. To a great extent, administrative regulations and the institutional environment are closely intertwined. Administrative regulations concerning civil society organizations reflect the essence of the institutional environment in which these organizations operate. With its own distinct features, which largely reflect historical, cultural, and political factors, the institutional environment regulates and constrains the growth of China’s civil society.

      Five main elements constitute the...

    • CHAPTER SIX Civil Society Organizations: Challenges and Responses (pp. 75-90)

      Despite the multitude of differing views on China’s civil society, there is at least a consensus in the country that Chinese civil society is rapidly growing along with the development of the market economy and political development.¹ It has been widely noted that civil society organizations (CSOs) are playing an important role in the political, economic, and social life of the country. However, China’s civil society must solve many problems and overcome a lot of difficulties, the most pressing of which arise from its institutional environment.

      This assessment has been verified by several public opinion surveys. The Peking University Social...

  8. PART III Culture, Modernity, and Sustainability
    • CHAPTER SEVEN Culture and Modernity in the Chinese Intellectual Discourse: A Historical Perspective (pp. 93-112)

      Debates over the nature and direction of modernity have accompanied the process of economic modernization in China ever since the late nineteenth century. Major periods within this overall time frame have included the reform movement at the end of the Qing dynasty, the May Fourth movement that began in 1919, the Kuomintang modernization efforts of the 1930s, and the socialist transformation during its various incarnations after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949.¹ Throughout these modernization drives, a fundamental issue of concern to most Chinese observers and participants has been the fate of Chinese culture. Different...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Transformation of Chinese Culture since the Launching of Reform: A Historical Perspective (pp. 113-133)

      Globalization, characterized by intensified economic relations across the globe, is a worldwide trend of historical significance.¹ Although the primary manifestation of globalization is economic integration, economic globalization also exerts deep influence on the totality of human social life, including its political and cultural spheres. Economic globalization not only has greatly changed production, consumption, and commercial exchange patterns; it has also altered modes of thinking and behavior. Above all, it has had a major impact on national cultures.

      The influence of globalization on Chinese culture first became apparent following the New Culture movement of the early twentieth century. Since the 1980s...

    • CHAPTER NINE China’s Economic Modernization and Sustainability (pp. 134-139)

      China has fundamentally reformed its traditional socialist planned economy since the end of the 1980s.¹ The idea of a market economy with Chinese characteristics (also known as the socialist market economy) replaced the previous planned economy model, with multiple forms of ownership replacing the public-only model of property ownership. The state-owned enterprises lost their monopoly positions in the national economy while private and foreign-owned enterprises grew rapidly. As a result of these changes, China’s economy has grown so rapidly that some have called it a miracle.

      The average annual growth rate of China’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 1978 to...

    • CHAPTER TEN Harmony between Man and Nature: China’s Environmental Practices and Challenges (pp. 140-146)

      Since Deng Xiaoping initiated the policy of economic reform in 1978, China has achieved meteoric economic growth.¹ The living standards of both urban and rural households have continually improved, and today China as a whole has almost reached a level of moderate prosperity.² Despite these economic advances, however, an astonishing number of people are not satisfied with the status quo even though they find themselves economically much better off than they once were. One of the main reasons for this surprising phenomenon is the very high price China has paid for its rapid economic growth, especially in the areas of...

  9. PART IV Globalization and Governance
    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Preserving China’s Autonomy in the Era of Globalization (pp. 149-156)

      China represents a fascinating story about globalization and globalization studies, both in theory and in practice.¹ In the early half of the 1990s, the word “globalization” itself was so politically sensitive that Chinese scholars avoided mentioning it in articles and books. Today, by contrast, the notion of globalization has become so fashionable that almost everyone uses it, whether he or she accepts or rejects it. On a practical level, globalization was long regarded as synonymous with capitalist development, a fact that explains the previous ideological sensitivities it carried.² More recently, however, both inside the country and out, China has come...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Federalism in Modern China: Concepts and Experiments (pp. 157-167)

      For over four thousand years, from the Xia dynasty in 2205 BC to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911, China practiced a form of despotism in which all power was concentrated in the hands of the emperor.¹ The emperor appointed and removed not only the major officials of the central government but also all the leading officials above the level of the county government. The absolutist nature of this form of despotism was described vividly by the traditional saying “there are no other people on Earth than the subjects of the emperor, and there are no other lands...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN A Harmonious World and Global Governance: A Chinese Perspective (pp. 168-180)

      China’s foreign policy and global strategy have recently experienced some notable changes, one of which is the rise of the concept of a “harmonious world.”¹ Officially put forward by President Hu Jintao, the idea of a harmonious world reflects China’s basic judgment and value orientation toward the current international situation, as well as toward the common fate and ideal objectives of global humanity. As the latest development in China’s foreign strategy, it is also the reflection of domestic political developments. This chapter first elaborates the concept of a harmonious world, then focuses on China’s new global strategy based on that...

  10. Notes (pp. 181-198)
  11. Further Reading: The Writings of Yu Keping (pp. 199-206)
  12. Index (pp. 207-220)
  13. Back Matter (pp. 221-222)


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