井底之蛙

4/25/2006

Local democracy in China (Special finals week edition)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:31 am

On his recent trip to Washington Hu Jintao was asked about democracy in China. To the surprise of some observers he did not immediately grow horns and start eating babies on stage, but rather gave the standard rather vague position that “democracy” is hard to define, but that a culturally appropriate form of democracy is clearly in China’s future. This is not surprising to anyone who has been following China’s rhetoric on this, and while it is easy and appropriate to mock things like last Fall’s White Paper on democracy and China as attempts to obscure the government’s position and placate foreign critics, I think it is pretty clear the “democracy” does mean something to a lot of people in the Chinese government, and that they are in favor of it.

It is pretty common knowledge that China now has democratic elections at the village level, however problematic they sometimes are. From www.chinaelections.org I find this story about selection of officials for province-wide deputy slots in Jiangsu. It’s not democracy, although ”the nomination and voting process should be based on the principle of openness, equality, legality, and democratic centralism.” The government has vetted candidates for educational level and experience, then there is a debate section, where the candidates are whittled down to two, and then there is an election.

I find the debate section the most interesting, as

Each candidate had to make a 10-minute speech on the topic of “how to make policies and boost economic development along the Changjiang River“, which required using Jiangsu province as an example.

It looks as if these speeches were pretty important, as they seem to have been one of the things that went into the process of narrowing the number of candidates. When Sun Yat-sen planned his Five-Power Constitution he included an Examination Yuan (考試院) which had the duty of selecting people for government office. This was obviously influenced by the old examination system, and apparently that influence is still around today. Although from the Song on it was the written exam that mattered most there is also a long history of oral exams, and that question sound exactly like one of the policy questions on the exams. The Jiangsu thing does not seem to be a central initiative, so apparently someone in Jiangsu came up with this one. If you are in the mood to be hopeful about these things it looks like a balancing of ideas of democratic legitimacy and civil service professionalism.

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