Democracy in China: Tocquevillian Reflections

Mar 24, 2016 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Chong Ming (Research Professor, East China Normal University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/discussant: Cheryl Welch (Senior Lecturer, Government Department, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

One of the strangest recent phenomena in China is that a thinker as liberal as Tocqueville has become well-known due to the recommendation of the second most powerful leader of China’s authoritarian regime. No matter how one interprets this phenomenon, Tocqueville’s theoretical and historical reflections on democracy and revolution provide a framework to understand how democratic China has been and might be. The democratization of Chinese society as reflected in the diffusion of equality as a value and ongoing individualization is facilitating both the centralization and empowerment of the state. The limited and dysfunctional grassroots democracy, the weakness of the nascent civil society and the rise of illiberal political Confucianism present serious obstacles to political democratization in China. However, with the probable failure of statism,  political democracy would be an alternative. The fragile but increasing demand for freedom in civil society might contribute to the advancement of a long, unsteady and difficult democratization in China.