Democracy's Thin Roots in China

Is China ready for democracy?

If past is prologue, perhaps not. For 2,000 years, the imperial rulers recruited bureaucrats through a Confucian exam system that tested not only knowledge of state creeds, but also absolute allegiance to the emperor. Members of this "scholar gentry" who differed with the throne were subject to castration, beheading, or state-ordered suicide.

Modern leaders in other Asian countries that were influenced by China's ancient ways have argued that developing nations need authoritarian rule with handpicked bureaucrats. Social harmony through state control is more important than individual rights of Western-style democracy, they argue. Their ideas are countered by Taiwan and South Korea, which have moved toward democracy in the past decade.

"There is a genuine respect in parts of Asia for rule by an educated elite," says Daniel Bell, a philosophy professor at Hong Kong University.

Although China's Confucian legacy has survived the Communist revolution, it has not necessarily translated into wide public support for the party, says Mr. Bell. "In Tiananmen Square in 1989, students from elite universities identified themselves as the conscience of the nation and attracted followers," he says.

"To strike a middle ground between Western democracy and Asian authoritarianism, China could create a 'house of scholars' recruited through exams as part of a bicameral legislature," he adds.

Such a structure "might be more attractive to the party than a freely elected chamber of parliament," Bell says, "and it would give more legitimacy to the leadership."

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK