The “Chinese Dream” and the Choice of the Path of Democratic Politics

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Red Flag Manuscript

The Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation is a major strategic thought collectively put forward by the central leaders, and is a political declaration for the future development of the Party and the country. Realizing the “Chinese Dream” requires a choice for the correct democratic political path. Recently, in the discussion concerning the “Chinese Dream”, constitutional governance has become a focus point again. In the view of some, the “Chinese Dream” is the “dream of constitutional governance”: constitutional governance represents the future of China, the orientation of constitutional governance is the path for political structural reform in China, constitutional governance and democracy are the highest interests of the country. In the present public opinion discourse, the “dream of constitutional governance” may express the longing of a few wordsmiths for a beautiful life. But, longing is one thing, the process of realization is a different matter. The ““Chinese Dream”” clearly is not something that can be described with the single term “constitutional governance”, and it cannot be substituted with “dream of constitutional governance”. 

I, What is inside the “dream of constitutional governance”?

What is constitutional governance? What is inside the “dream of constitutional governance”? There is a sort of representative answer that is: the core content of constitutional governance is liberty, democracy and human rights. From their normal meaning and abstractly speaking, democracy is a good thing, human rights are good thing, and how could it be that liberty is not a good thing! If we understand constitutional governance as the collection of liberty, democracy and human rights, then constitutional governance naturally would also be a good thing. But, when looking at the practical level, and from acts, processes and history, liberty, democracy as well as human rights, and especially constitutional governance, have been dynamic processes, and there are no fixed models for them.

For example, in 1899, Liang Qichao believed in his essay “On the Similarities and Differences of Constitutions in Various Countries” that constitutional governance is an abbreviation for a constitutional monarchical system. UK-style politics with a monarchy, a Constitution and a Parliament, was the most ideal form of constitutional governance in the eyes of Liang Qichao, and was even the only form of constitutional governance. Liang Qichao’s “dream of constitutional governance” was in fact an “English Dream”. As another example, learning from the success of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Sun Yat-sen put forward the slogan “Taking Russia ad a Master”. In Sun Yat-sen’s view, Russian party politics where a step ahead from English, French and US party politics, therefore, Russian-style party politics became the politics that Sun Yat-sen aimed for. According to the roadmap of going from “military governance” to “political tutelage” and to “constitutional governance” Sun Yat-sen put forward, his “dream of constitutional governance” may not have been equal to a “Russian Dream”, but in his theory and logic, the “Russian Dream” was the prelude to the “dream of constitutional governance”, and the “dream of constitutional governance” could only be realized with the assistance of the “Russian Dream”.

China’s history of more than half a century indicates that the “dream of constitutional governance” sometimes has been the “English dream”, and sometimes has been the “Russian Dream”, etc. This shows that the form of constitutional governance and the practical process of constitutional governance are plural and varied. At different times and under different circumstances, different people cherished completely different “dreams of constitutional governance”: although they all talk about  “constitutional governance”, your constitutional governance of this very moment may be completely different from the constitutional governance dreamt of at other times. It can be seen that the “dream of constitutional governance” is not a single, clear and concrete dream.

Looking from the global level, democratic political practice cannot be unitary. Any country’s democratic political practice, including constitutional design, parliamentary structuring, the judicial framework, and especially the protection of democracy, free expression, the protection of human rights, etc., must start from the real situation of that country, and corresponding institutional arrangements must be based on concrete situations in a specific context. Any country’s democratic political practice cannot be as simple as drawing a picture on a white piece of paper, cannot be done as one pleases, cannot be powerful and unconstrained, and cannot be unrestrained or unimpeded.

This very plain matter reminds us that a country’s democratic political situation in fact is the outcome of the mutual interaction, mutual function and even mutual games of all sorts of subjects, it is shaped by a country’s historical tradition, territorial size, population size, economic situation, belief patterns and many other factors. Because of this, strictly speaking, the concrete form of a country’s democratic politics can be expressed only by proceeding step by step through the process of mutual interaction of subjects. In the construction of democratic politics, attempts to ludicrously imitate some country rarely are successful; this is especially the case for the huge country that China is.

In the pens of some wordsmiths, as long as a US-style judicial review system or investigation system for constitutional violations is established, an ideal balance of powers may be realized, power corruption may be eliminated, and clean politics established; as long as direct election of county heads, provincial heads and heads of state are established, ideal democratic policies may be realized, etc., This sort of “as long as we do this, we ill be able to do that” thinking, looks logically to be very strong, and causal relationships are very clear, but in fact, it deals with a very complex question by oversimplifying it. Any reform of the political system is systemic engineering where one slight move might affect the whole situation, and requires consideration of factors on all sides,  that sort of thinking model where success comes at the first try, or that sort of thinking model where longing substitutes for action, although they are straightforward and forthright, may very well miss the main point.

II, The “Chinese Dream” is higher than the “dream of constitutional governance”

In a pluralist time, the different contexts and different meanings of democracy and freedom should be noticed. Under the banner of democracy, there is representative democracy, there is also consultative democracy, there is direct democracy, there is also indirect democracy, there are other kinds of democracies as well; under the banner of liberty, there is positive liberty, and there is also negative liberty, as well as other kinds of liberty. These different democracies and liberties remind us that we must treat our democratic political structuring, as well as our political structural reform, with different but coexisting ways of thinking. On this issue, it is still Mr Fei Xiaotong who put it best: “If people appreciate their own beauty as well as the beauty of others, and work together to create beauty in the world, all under Heaven will be in harmony.”

Different countries have different dreams, different countries’ dreams should be “working together to create beauty in the world”. Under the present context, to speak more concretely and purposefully, the “American Dream” should be “people appreciate their own beauty”. The sort of thinking model that lets the “American Dream” represent the “dream of constitutional governance”, or lets the “dream of constitutional governance” replace the “Chinese Dream”, is both a sort of cultural lack of self-confidence, and a sort of “lazy thinking”. Look at the logic behind this thinking model: because the United States have presidential and gubernatorial elections, we must also have such elections; because the “American Dream” represents the “dream of constitutional governance”, therefore, the “dream of constitutional governance” may replace the “Chinese Dream”… This sort of logic is, in fact, oversimplified.

Now, what is the “Chinese Dream” after all? The answer from the angle of civilizational development is: the “Chinese Dream” is the image and desire that the Chinese civilization holds on to in reality and will carry out in the future, that is to say, it is a description of the Chinese civilization’s future state. The content of the “Chinese Dream” is the orientation of the Chinese civilization. The reason that the “Chinese Dream” is a “dream”, lies in the fact that it has not been ultimately completed, has not been ultimately realized, and is still waits to be pursued by the Chinese nation. Such a “Chinese Dream” clearly is something that can be described by the single term “constitutional governance”, and cannot be replaced by “dream of constitutional governance”.

On this issue, Fukuyama’s “The End of History” provides a different explanation, that at the same time is also very attractive: the state of US-style civilization has been manifested to be the final state of the future of other civilizations, the future of China’s civilization is naturally no exception. This conclusion of Fukuyama’s is, in fact, the basis for some Chinese wordsmiths to say that the “dream of constitutional governance” is the “Chinese Dream”. Even so, as stated earlier, politics are pluralist, civilizations are pluralist, the coexistence of, competition and even conflict between plural civilizations will exist for a long time.

Against such a background, the “Chinese Dream” and the future prospects of China’s civilization can absolutely not be interpreted on the basis of Fukuyama’s “End of History”. This is an issue with the “Chinese Dream”, and at the same time is an issue for the cultural self-confidence of a country and a nation.

III, Where does the confidence in the “Chinese Dream” come from?

One necessary precondition to understand the “Chinese Dream”, is that we must form cultural self-confidence. Without cultural self-confidence, there is no way to start talking about the “Chinese Dream”. What is called cultural self-confidence, means to establish confidence about China’s culture and its future. Where does the basis for cultural self-confidence lie? Where does confidence in the “Chinese Dream” come from? This text believes that the “great history” of Chinese culture can provide a basis for confidence in the “Chinese Dream”.

The evolutionary process of Chinese culture, underwent two successive attacks from “Western culture”. The first was Indian Buddhist culture. Buddhism came to China approximately during the 2nd Century AD. From both Han Dynasties to the Wei, Jin and later to the Sui and Tang, in four to five hundred years time, Buddhist culture completely influenced the spiritual life and belief world of the Chinese people. Both in the ruling circles as in popular society, Buddhist culture had broad and sincere followers: there were temples in every place, Buddhist masters were greatly revered. But, even though matters were so, has Buddhism really fundamentally conquered China? The answer clearly is negative. Although Buddhist culture has extremely greatly influenced China’s indigenous culture, but Chinese culture has not changed into Buddhist culture because of this. On the contrary, Buddhist culture has merged into Chinese culture, further enriching the content of Chinese culture. Because of this, the correct way of putting it is: it wasn’t so that Buddhist culture conquered and superseded Chinese culture, but it was Chinese culture that transformed and absorbed Buddhist culture.

After the 19th Century, Chinese culture ran into foreign culture a second time, which was Euro-American Christian culture.  Around the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, the attack of this foreign culture brought a shock “reversing heaven and earth” to the Chinese people, and the Chinese people’s confidence in China’s indigenous culture began to waver. From then onwards, the lack of cultural self-confidence became a shadow that was hard for China to cast off. But, Euro-American Christian culture has equally not been able to conquer Chinese culture, but has equally been transformed and absorbed by Chinese culture, and has become an additive or nutriment for the self-renewal and self-growth of Chinese culture in the present and the future.

In the recent past, Euro-American culture seemingly was very charming, it seemed as if it represented the “endpoint” or “final state” of human civilization. But, things are always developing and changing. Basically, although Chinese culture may absorb Euro-American culture, Chinese culture will not evolve into a reproduction of Euro-American culture. Chinese culture, after absorbing Euro-American culture, can only become richer, more tolerant, and at the same time fuller of vitality. This is the basis for self-confidence in Chinese culture, and is a precondition for us to realize the “Chinese Dream”.

IV, How to understand the “Chinese Dream”?

If we let the “Chinese Dream” point towards the future of Chinese civilization, then, what are the prospects for this future? This article believes that understanding of the “Chinese Dream” may be developed in the following few aspects.

First and foremost, looking from the cultural origins of the “Chinese Dream”, the “Chinese Dream” facing the future is the outcome of many origins of different historical periods that flow together and merge. This looks like a large river, which can only become a large river if it flows together, accepting many tributaries. The “Chinese Dream” is like this. The earliest source of the “Chinese Dream” was written in a classic work such as the “Classic of Mountains and Seas”. The boastful father, the punishing Heaven, the mythical bird and the Nüwa goddess bore the wright of the earliest “Chinese Dream”. The Duke of Zhou, Confucius and Dong Zhongshu, who came later, expressed the “Chinese Dream” of different periods. After Buddhism was introduced to China, Huineng expressed the most profound part of the “Chinese Dream” of that time. Even later, Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming realized a re-expression of the “Chinese Dream” against the great background of absorbing Indian culture. After the Late Qing, following China’s stride into the “global” era, Euro-American culture completely poured into China. In this period, as an ideal prospect for China’s future, the “Chinese Dream” inevitably would bear the imprint of Euro-American culture. Despite this, the “Chinese Dream” is still the “Chinese Dream”.

Second, looking at the different levels of the “Chinese Dream”, the “Chinese Dream” is composed of a number of different layers. It resembles the legal system that we know well, which contains a Constitution at the higher level, and has a number of laws subordinate to the Constitution, under the law, there are administrative regulations, local regulations and local government rules, as well as other normative documents that are ranked the lowest. The “Chinese Dream” may also be understood from different levels: its highest level is spiritual culture, this is the most hidden core of the “Chinese Dream”. Next, there is the institutional culture of the “Chinese Dream”. For example, the “organic unification of the leadership of the Party, the people mastering their own affairs and governing the country according to the law” as included in the 8th Party Congress Report. Last, there is the technical level or technical culture in the “Chinese Dream”, for example, the consultative democracy as a practical method of democracy, mediation as a method to settle disputes, etc., all fall into this level.

Moreover, looking at the numerous areas that the “Chinese Dream” horizontally involves, the “Chinese Dream” may be understood and described from politics, economics, culture, society as well as theory, morality, law, religion and other different aspects. Generally speaking, in the areas of politics, theory, morality, culture, etc., the “Chinese Dream” may let China’s inherent factors continue more. In economic, scientific, technological and other such areas, the “Chinese Dream” may let even more foreign factors be absorbed. In the legal area, the situation is relatively complicated: laws in the areas of politics and households may continue China’s inherent factors more (including newly formed modern traditions); laws in the spheres of the economy, science and technology may absorb foreign factors more. Because of this, looking from all horizontally involved areas, the content of the “Chinese Dream” presents a more diversified picture.

Naturally, the “Chinese Dream”, as an exploration into China’s future, is an extremely important, big question, and it is absolutely not something that this shirt article can resolve. The above brief analysis is only a narrow view, I hope that it draws knowledgeable people to ponder this over more, more deeply and with more viewpoints.

(Yu Zhong, the author, is the Dean and Professor of the Capital University of Finance and Economics Law School)























当然,“中国梦”作为对中国未来的探索,是一个极其重要的大问题,绝不是这篇小文章能够解决的。以上简略的分析,只是一孔之见,希望引起有识之士更多、更深、更有见地的思索。(喻中 作者:首都经济贸易大学法学院院长、教授)


2 thoughts on “The “Chinese Dream” and the Choice of the Path of Democratic Politics

    […] The “Chinese Dream” and the Choice of the Path of Democratic Politics (Yu Zhong, Red Flag Manuscript, 9 June) […]

    […] the official point has been forcefully made in a number of theoretical and editorial articles in major Central journals and newspapers, the […]

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