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The Failure of China's "democratic" reforms

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posted on 15.01.2017, 23:42 authored by Yuan, Zaijun
In its propaganda, the Chinese Communist Party does not deny the value of “democracy”, but it insists that democracy in China can be only “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics”. The most essential nature of such “democracy” is that it is under the single-party system and it excludes multi-party politics and competitive elections. In recent years, “Chinese democracy” has won more support because of achievements the party has made in developing economy. This raises a question: does this “efficient” authoritarian political system in China, even if it is not democratic, deserve applause because it can facilitate economic development? The party also insists that it is “democratic”. But, is the party’s theory of “democracy” compatible with western democracy? Since 1998, the party has organised some political reforms, such as “direct elections” for township executives, “direct elections” for township party secretaries, township party congress reform and “deliberative democracy” experiments, while maintaining single-party politics. In the party’s propaganda, some of these reforms have become party achievements in improving “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics”. In addition to these four kinds of party-organised reforms, another “reform” originated from the grassroots, the participation of independent candidates in a few local people’s congress elections. This thesis examines these five local political reforms. It demonstrates that the four reforms instigated and organised by the party were tightly controlled and manipulated by the party. Although some reform measures may possibly liberalise parts of China’s political mechanism, it is highly unlikely that the four reforms will eventually lead to political democratisation in China. In the fifth “reform”, which was motivated from outside the bureaucratic system, the party took drastic measures to repress the political participation of grassroots power. As a result, nearly all independent candidates in the local people’s congress elections failed in their attempts to gain office. The prospects for this “reform” are also poor. This thesis argues that all five reforms have failed and that none will lead to China’s democratisation in the near future. The thesis concludes that the party’s authoritarian regime in China is by nature anti-democratic and that so called “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics” is not democratic.


Principal supervisor

J. Bruce Jacobs

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Languages, Cultures and Linguistics


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts