Could China become a democracy?

“China is bound to go through political transformation, toward democracy, political freedom, rule of law and constitutionalism. This is the inevitable trend of modern human political civilisation. China will enter this stage sooner or later.

Because the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has been in power since 1949, they have made many mistakes and even crimes. Between 1959 to 1961, nearly 40 million people starved to death. The anti-rightist movement of 1957 and the Cultural Revolution hurt almost all Chinese elites and intellectuals. Also the Tiananmen protests in 1989 when the CCP used its army to shoot the people. No matter what, this is unacceptable to Chinese people. It is the People’s Liberation Army, right? It is the people’s country.

Yet we see corruption within the party and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In the future when China transitions to a democracy, all of these will be seen as the major mistakes or the sin of the CCP.”

This is a quote from a remarkable interview with Cai Xia, who was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday. Previously she was professor at China’s elite Central Party School, and in fact the interview with the “Guardian” was recorded in June. Only now that she has been expelled has Cai Xia agreed to publication of the interview.

Twenty years ago, after my first of four visit to China, I wrote an account of the trip which concluded:

“The 19th century was essentially the century of Britain; the 20th century was unquestionably the century of the United States; the 21st century might become the century of China. It depends on many factors. 

It depends on the quality of the political leadership and, in the short term, Jiang Zemin is due to be succeeded by the younger Hu Jintao. It depends on the extent to which the economic changes are followed by political changes, including the development of a civil society with a free media, pressure groups, independent trade unions, and ultimately political parties. It depends on how capably and rapidly the economy moves from the bricks and mortar of the industrial society to the clicks and bricks of the information society. It depends on how China uses its growing industrial and military strength at home, specifically in relation to Tibet and Taiwan, and in the global marketplace.”

At that time, I thought that, over time, economic liberalisation would lead to political liberalisation, but the Chinese political system remains deeply centralised and authoritarian and the current President Xi Jinping has abolished term limits while being repressive at home and aggressive abroad. Now someone has spoken out.


  • Ting

    Hi Roger, I am in China right now, and I can tell you that Prof Cai and her view don’t necessarily represent the people here. I have encountered many ordinary Chinese who would trade off democracy and settle /enforce whatever they are ordered to do. Many are ‘programmed’ to accept that is the unique Chinese way of governance and sadly this pandemic has convinced them better in nanny state than western democracy. Twenty years ago the then young generation might be more pro to western freedom but after years of patriotic education in schools the current generation of young people are different categories. My view is that it would be deeper and long term division between the Chinese and the West.

  • Roger Darlington

    I fear that you are right, Ting, although there are cadres in the CCP who want to see a more cooperative relationship with the West.


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