Culture is no excuse for China denying its people democracy

A little more than a week ago, in Davos, at the gathering of the world's great and the good, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, directed a polite, though pointed question to Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani strongman. How could we trust the Pakistani supreme court as the arbiter of fairness of future elections when Musharraf had removed all the judges who opposed his authoritarian rule? President Musharraf lost his cool. How could Roth (an American) presume to 'impose' his 'European values' on the Pakistanis! Pakistan, he said, had its own idea of democracy and human rights. Indeed, what Musharraf was offering was not some Western notion of freedom, but 'the essence of democracy'.

A day before this arresting exchange, the same Kenneth Roth had annoyed another official from a non-Western country, senior Chinese diplomat, Wu Jianmin. China, Roth pointed out, was not a democracy, so could not be expected to promote civil society around the world, but it could, surely, do more to stop mass atrocities in places such as Darfur. This launched Ambassador Wu into a passionate speech about 'Chinese democracy' and about the folly of Westerners trying to 'impose' their idea of democracy on others.

The same sentiment was voiced by a Chinese government spokeswoman, after Hu Jia, a prominent human rights activist was arrested in December for allegedly 'inciting subversion of state power'.

His crime was to chronicle human rights abuses on his website, something the government would like to nip in the bud before the Olympics. The foreign ministry spokeswoman said: 'Chinese people know best about China's human rights situation.'

Such arguments are not new and might, with frequent use, have started to wear thin. But they resonate in some circles, where colonial guilt still colours all perceptions of the developing world. More important, perhaps, they resonate among businessmen who feel the need for a moral justification for making money in non-democratic countries: 'They have their own way of doing things. It is their culture. Who are we to impose...?' And so on.

There are several things to be said about all this. First, the West has very rarely, if ever, 'imposed' democracy on anyone. Perhaps the world would be a better place if it had. On the contrary, during the Cold War, the main US policy was to support 'our bastards' whoever they were, as long as they were anti-communist. A certain amount of lip service, faute de mieux, was paid to democracy, after the invasion of Iraq, but few members of the Bush administration had a serious interest in imposing free institutions.

On Burma, Western governments can do little more than preach about democracy and human rights. In China, they have stopped doing even that. Business interests are simply too important. Without Chinese money, the US economy would be in even worse trouble than it is already. And China, for better or worse, is buying more and more interests in the West, as Friday's purchase of a 12 per cent stake in Rio Tinto showed.

Now it is true that countries have their own histories, peculiar circumstances and cultures and that too much preaching can smack of the old missionary zeal to assume that all the things we cherish at home should be universally adopted. But culture, in the sense of custom and tradition, is often nothing but an excuse for political arrangements. Democrats from countries such as China, Pakistan or Burma do not accuse the West of imposing its values. Only authoritarians do.

A few decades ago, it was fashionable, especially in Singapore and Malaysia, to talk about 'Asian values'. Obedience to authority, sacrificing self-interest to what governments defined as national interests, accepting curbs on free speech, all these things were claimed to be specifically Asian, part of ancient traditions, something all Asians had in their cultural DNA. In fact, it was a justification of authoritarian politics inherited by the likes of Prime Ministers Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew from the British empire.

Even as the Asian values were being touted, South Koreans, Taiwanese, Thais, Chinese and Filipinos were demonstrating in huge numbers against their authoritarian rulers. In South Korea, Taiwan and, more fitfully, Thailand and the Philippines, they succeeded. And what was it that the Burmese were risking their lives for recently, not to mention Kenyans, Zimbabweans, and many others, if not more of what Musharraf dismisses as European cultural impositions? What they want is not our culture, but the kind of freedoms that we take for granted.

One reason why Taiwan is such a tricky problem for the Chinese government is precisely its politics. If Chinese culture demands authoritarian politics, or what Ambassador Wu would call 'Chinese democracy', then what about Taiwan? Are the Taiwanese any less Chinese?

When it comes to human rights, and not just political rights (although the two are obviously linked), things can become more complicated. It is not always easy to define what should be regarded as a human right. Child labour, for example, can be a necessity in very poor countries. Trying to stop it, in the name of human rights, can make things worse for people instead of better. Nor is there a universal agreement on the precise age at which a person stops being a child.

But again, culture is often a poor excuse for inhumanity. Slavery, female circumcision or stoning of adulterous women are undoubtedly part of certain cultures, in that they are traditional practices. So is widow burning in India. This is not a good argument, however, for continuing such practices. To what extent the West can, or should, directly intervene, is a difficult question. Lord William Bentinck, who served as governor-general of India in the 1830s, banned widow burning and infanticide in the name of universal moral law. But he did so with the full support of Hindu reformers. And, after all, the British were more or less in charge, not a situation that is likely to repeat itself.

Local support is the crucial factor, when we talk about promoting reforms and cultural changes. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948 by China, Burma and the Soviet Union, among many other countries, would certainly be supported by most people in the world, wherever they are. It is hard to imagine Chinese, Pakistanis, North Koreans or Zimbabweans being in favour of torture, arbitrary arrest, slavery or lawlessness for cultural reasons.

All human beings would like to be free to express their thoughts and beliefs, without danger of being arrested or worse. Who would not like 'the right to life, liberty and security of person'?

The problem is that these rights can only be guaranteed under certain political conditions. No party, or ruler, should be above the law. People should not be arrested for peacefully criticising their government.

There must be mechanisms to resolve peacefully political conflicts of interest and to change a government in power, if most people desire it. Institutions that can accomplish these aims may take different forms, according to local cultures and conditions. But they can all be adequately described by one word, which has been much abused of late, but still has enough power left to inspire, in Beijing and Rangoon no less than in Barcelona or Washington DC: democracy.





China's Perspective and Practice of Democracy


History of Democracy

Democracy is one of the common achievements and values of human civilization realized in the long course of human history and pursued by entire mankind. There are over 2,000 ethnic groups in more than 200 countries and regions in the world. As they differ in social conditions, history, culture and levels of development, they achieve democracy in different ways and forms. Democracy has brought lots of benefits to China and will definitely continue to do so in the future.

At present, China is in her primary stage of Socialism. The essence of her socialist system is to strive for political, economic, social and cultural rights and interests of all her citizens, to realize highly economic and social development, high-level democracy and welfare for them.

China is a country with over 5000 years of history, profound and abundant national cultural heritage and 2000 years of feudal autocratic history. And ever since the Opium War in 1840, China had been reduced to a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country and had suffered from aggression, occupation, enslavement and plunder from the major imperial powers. In a word, China had lacked democratic tradition and practice in the past.

The Revolution of 1911 ended the feudal monarchy in China, opened a window for this ancient nation to smell some tinge of democracy. Although it didn't bring democracy, freedom, prosperity and development to the Chinese people, it did enlighten the elites of the Chinese nation to carry forward the cause of democracy and forge ahead into the future, making arduous efforts and exploring political system, mode of development and modernization path suitable for China's actual situations under the banners of democracy and science. After struggle for dozens of years between democracy and autocracy, science and ignorance, especially after fighting for national emancipation and resisting foreign aggression and occupation for eight consecutive years, the Chinese people achieved success in their New Democratic Revolution and established the People's Republic of China in 1949, which ushered in real sense the democratic political pursuit and development course in China. From then on, China has not only made great progress and achievements, but also made mistakes and drew lessons in her pursuit of democracy. From late 1970s, China has carried out the Reform and Opening up policy, initiated the grandest political, economic and social transformation in the Chinese history and walked on the path of national modernization suitable for this populous country with long history and rich culture, namely the Socialism with the Chinese characteristics.

Socialism with the Chinese characteristics

The Socialism with the Chinese characteristics is set up on the basis of the concept of "People-oriented" as embodied in the Chinese traditional culture. Taking people as the ultimate goal of development, we have made remarkable achievements in adopting mode of development, social system and democracy suitable for China's actual conditions, improving the living standard of the common people sustainably and step by step, perfecting the democratic system, enforcing the rule of law, realizing social justice and safeguarding people's rights and welfare.

In the political construction, China has established direct election system for Rural Autonomous Village Committee and Urban Resident Committee. The citizens are able to decide, manage and supervise their own affairs in a democratic manner. People's congresses have been established at national, provincial, municipal, county and township levels respectively. According to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, people's congresses at all levels exercise legislative power, supervise the enforcement of the Constitution and other laws, appoint or remove personnel and make decision on important issues. Local people's congresses at county and township levels are elected directly by their constituencies. People's congresses at national, provincial and municipal levels are elected by the people's congresses at the next lower level. The National People's Congress exercises powers to elect the President and the Vice-President of the People's Republic of China and decide the Premier of the State Council upon nomination by the President.

The political party system that China adopts is the Multi-party Cooperation and Political Consultation System under the leadership of the Communist Party of China(CPC), which is fundamentally different from both the western two-party or multi-party competition system and the one-party system practiced in some other countries. There are nine political parties in China at present, with the CPC as the ruling party and other eight parties participating fully in the exercise of state power and administration of state affairs. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Committees, which have been established at national, provincial, municipal, county levels, are composed of members of all parties, personages without party affiliation, representatives from non-governmental organizations, ethnic minorities and all walks of life. They exercise the functions of political consultation, democratic supervision and participate in the administration and discussion of state affairs.

China is, like Kenya, a unified multi-ethnic country with 56 ethnic groups. In order to enable all ethnic groups, minority groups in particular, to enjoy equal political, economic, social and cultural rights, China practices the system of ethnic regional autonomy according to the Constitution. Under the central leadership of the state, organs of self-governance are established for the exercise of autonomy and regional autonomy in areas where people of minority groups reside in compact communities. The organs manage independently the internal affairs of their ethnic groups in their autonomous regions in accordance with the laws.

Human Rights and Religions

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates "The state respects and safeguard human rights " and her citizen's basic rights and freedom. After enormous efforts in the past dozens of years under the socialist system, the Chinese people have greatly improved and safeguarded their Survival and Development Rights. China has successfully solved the problems of feeding 22% of the world population with less than 10% of the world arable land. Within less than 30 years, the number of people living under the poverty line has been reduced by 228 million to 21 million. The per capita GDP has been increased from less than 200 USD to 2003 USD in 2006. The average life expectancy has jump to 72 year from 35 years in 1949. Nine-Year Compulsory Education has been popularized and the social security system has been established and perfected unceasingly.

China's Constitution and laws protect citizen's rights to freedom of religion, speech and press, and of association. There are now in China five major religions, namely Buddhism, Taoism, Christianism, Catholicism and Islamism, and over 100 million religious believers, 300,000 members of the clergy and more than 100,000 venues for religious activities in China. By the end of 2004, there were 290,000 NGOs of various types. In 2004 alone, 26 billion copies of newspapers, 2.7 billion copies of periodicals of various kinds and 6.5 billion copies of books were published. At present, the amount of Internet users has reached 150 million.

Unique Mode of Democracy

We can say, the livelihood, democracy and civil rights people enjoy in China at present have been unprecedented in the Chinese history. It is unfair and dishonest to disregard the great achievements China has made in the economic, political and social fields in the past dozens of years. The history and reality of human political civilization have proved that there is no single and absolute democratic mode in the world that is universally applicable. The democratic mode of China is different from that of the United States and Europe, because our history, economy, culture, tradition, society and national conditions differ. China cannot just copy their democratic modes. Therefore, it's also unreasonable to accuse China of lacking "democratic environment" simply because China's democratic practices differ from that of the USA, Europe or other countries.

Of course, the democratic mode and practice in China isn't perfect, especially when it sprouted and developed in a country with 2000 years of feudal tradition and 1.3 billion people. It will be a long and zigzag way for China to realize its modernization. With its economy, society and culture keeping on changing, China will definitely continue to advance, mature and perfect its democratic mode and practice gradually and steadily. More than two thousand years ago, one of the students of Confucius, the great ancient Chinese philosopher and educationalist, asked him how to rule a country. Confucius replied that "Do not do things in haste and do not seek petty gains. More haste, less speed, and you can not accomplish great cause if you only see small gains." China pursues steady and sustainable development. If we look at China as a cart on its way for modernization, political reform and economic reform are her two indispensable wheels. In order to move the cart smoothly and unceasingly, China should try its best to balance two wheels prudently to avoid overturning or "Shock Therapy". The Chinese democratic system aims at the long-term welfare of the Chinese people. China will spare no efforts to do appropriate things at appreciate time to maximize and sustain the interest and welfare of all her people, and ensure that democracy will bring more benefits to the country.








Democrazia e istruzione

Giovanni De Sio Cesa 

(http://www.giovannidesio.it )


Molti ritengono che lo sviluppo cinese porterà, sia pure in un  tempo non definito e definibile a una  evoluzione del regime cinese verso la democrazia: lo sviluppo economico porta pure a uno sviluppo culturale che necessariamente porterà pure alle democrazia perche un popolo di buon livello culturale non potra sopportare di  accettare il dominio di una ristretta gerarchia come quella che governa la Cina

La idea che la istruzione porti, necessariamente o almeno tendenzialmente, alla  democrazia  nasce dalla premessa implicita ( metadiscorso) che la democrazia è cosa razionale, giusta  (cosi  come lo sono la tolleranza religiosa, la pace e il matrimonio omosex): ma, in realtà, a noi appaiono  tali perchè fin dai primi anni,  soprattutto a scuola, ci hanno  instillato questi principi

Forse sarebbe utile innanzi tutto che noi precisiamo che cosa vogliamo intendere per democrazia perche il termine viene usato  per indicare tutto e il contrario di tutto (democrazia cristiana, democrazia proletaria,  democrazie popolari ) e cosa intendiamo per istruzione

 Qui per democrazia intendiamo quel tipo di governo, storicamente costituito, diffuso attualmente  nei nostri paesi occidentali e da li diffusi anche in buona parte del mondo. E caratterizzata dal fatto che  i governi (anche quelli locali) vengono scelti secondo elezioni  pluralistiche e libere. Il punto centrale è che questo presuppone una ampia, ma sempre limitata, liberta di pensiero e di organizzazione politica

La democrazia non è il benessere, la giustizia, il bene ma i suoi sostenitori ritengono, a torto o a ragione, che essa sia il mezzo migliore per raggiungerli : in genere, però, solo in  determinati contesti storici

 Nemmeno significa che non ci sia gerarchia nella società : i dirigenti restano dirigenti  anche se sono scelti per elezioni. ma gli eletti sono solo  i pochissimi  posti al vertici mentre tutti  gli altri dirigenti non sono  elettivi (milioni e milioni : dai presidi agli ufficiali, ai capiufficio, ai giudici  )

La democrazia non significa nemmeno che le decisioni politiche sono prese da tutti i cittadini: essi delegano  invece pochissime persone ( a volte uno solo)  a prendere le decisioni a nome di tutti

Aggiungiamo  anche un fatto fondamentale : da circa 200 anni l’idea che il potere derivi da Dio è tramontato definitivamente ( resiste solo nel remoto Tibet) : tutti pensano che derivi dal popolo. Quello che muta è pero come il popolo esprima la sua volontà:  nella  democrazia  occidentale attraverso votazioni  pluralistiche, nei regimi comunisti attraverso  partiti che incarnano la autocoscienza del proletariato, nei regimi fascisti in  partiti che incarnano lo spirito nazionale , in Iran da una autorità religiosa che rappresenti la vera fede del popolo. Non è affatto vero che gli uomini si sentono liberi se i capi sono eletti con votazione pluralistiche e servi o oppressi negli altri casi

 Infatti guardiamo i fatti : non si sentirono oppressi quei tanti iraniani che marciarono impavidi sui campi minati in Iraq, quei russi che combatterono allo stremo per difendere Stalingrado, quei tedeschi che fino all’ultimo difesero le macerie di Berlino,  quei kamikaze che andarono a schiantarsi sulle navi americane Tutti erano convinti di lottare per il loro  popolo e/o per la umanita intera e/o la  giustizia  

Tutti gli uomini aspirano per natura al benessere, alla  giustizia qualsiasi cosa questo in concreto significhi: ma non esiste l’aspirazione universale alla democrazia  : è solo una convinzione affermatasi recentemente in una parte  della umanità  

Se poi consideriamo la istruzione non dobbiamo pensare che esiste una  sola istruzione valida dappertutto e per questo essa porterebbe alla democrazia

 In realta esiste una istruzione di carattere scientifica valida dappertutto: il principio di Archimede  è valida sia a Pechino che a Berlino. Ma la scuola è anche educazione  cioe presenta una serie di principi e una  immagine  del mondo che varia indefinitamente nel tempo e nello spazio

Io guarda con orrore alla guerra perchè a scuola mi hanno detto che è cosa orrenda , mi hanno proposto il Mahatma Gandhi  e Luther King. Solo qualche generazione precedente  davano ai bambini un moschetto,  gli dicevano che  era un balilla   e gli proponevano come esempi Muzio Scevola e Scipione l ‘africano

Alle  ragazze un tempo si diceva che mantenere la loro verginità era cosa gradita a Dio e alla società, che permetteva loro di avere il vero amore e una famiglia mentre ora le dicono che non fare sesso al più presto significa che è immatura, che ha qualcosa che non va,

Lo sviluppo economico e culturale dei tempi antichi portava all’assolutismo monarchico  superando gli ordinamenti egualitari  barbarici   In Cina da sempre (e in particolare dai tempi dei Tang)  si sono tenuti esami di stato aperti a tutti,  cosa che ancora noi stentiamo a fare oggi :  eppure nessuno di quei studiosi ha mai messo  in dubbio  l’autorità dell’ imperatore

Altre scuole, hanno insegnato che bisogna lottare  per la  patria, per il comunismo, per il re, per la chiesa e quanto altro

Il nazismo si è affermato in Germania,   uno dei paesi piu colti del mondo, i regimi comunisti hanno molto  sviluppato la istruzione popolare Le persecuzioni religiose erano portate avanti dalle persone più colte di quei tempi E gli esempi potrebbero continuare all’ infinito

Si potrebbe  pensare che la cultura elevata, gli intellettuali nella versione gramsciana (non la scuola di massa)   sia in grado di comprendere meglio la realtà. Ma anche di questo io dubito fortemente quando vedo come tutta la intellighentia nostrana non vide i disastri  del comunismo, inneggio a Stalin a Mao, non volle vederne i disastri e gli orrendi crimini

 Penso alla folla  di studenti del 68, una intera classe di giovani   che studiava e che idolatrava il Mao del Grande balzo in avanti e della Rivoluzione culturale. Fra essi si distinguevano gli studenti di sociologia di Trento: avrebbero essere quelli che capivano meglio  la società

La contestazione  ebbe come carattere principale il rifiuto della  democrazia  considerata un fatto  borghese, un imbroglio  ai danni del proletariato Non a caso prese a modello proprio Mao e altri regimi comunisti affini Benchè l’attuale regime cinese sia autoritario e anti democratico è ben lontano dalle  esagerazioni autoritarie , dal fanatismo del maoismo    Si trattava  di un movimento costituito esclusivamente  di  studenti  che si batteva fanaticamente contro la democrazia Se guardiamo  agli  intellettuali  di un po di tempo prima  si vede la egemonia culturale comunista  ( perseguita abilmente da Togliatti ) tutta orientata a sostenere i regimi anti democratici del socialismo reale Non vedo come si  possa pensare che la cultura porta di per se alla democrazia: la esperienza dei   fatti antichi e moderni mostra che non è vero  Accanto a una  cultura democratica esiste anche una  cultura   anti democratica

Se passiamo poi alla Cina non c’è in nessun rimando sine die della  democrazia . non c’è nessun rimando a quando i tempi siano  maturi, a quando la gente sia piu istruita o cose del genere.  Non si contempla nemmeno lontanamente  una democrazia di tipo occidentale. Il fondatore della Cina moderna e del suo miracolo economico, Deng Xiaoping, è quello che volle la repressione di piazza Tien an men. Semplicemente  i cinesi, a parte pochissimi dissidenti,  non vogliono  la  democrazia come non ci hanno mai  pensato nella loro millenaria storia. Hanno sempre creduto che solo un potere forte potesse mantenere la pace  e la prosperità  Sul Remnin Ribao  (quotidiano  del popolo)   si ripete  continuamente che la democrazia è una bizzarria, una follia dell’Occidente  e paragonano l’efficienza del loro sistema a quello dell Occidente :  i sogni sinesi contrapposti all’american dream, la  héxié shèhuì  (societa armoniosa) alla disordinata e  inefficiente democrazia

Anche le comunità cinesi all’estero  non pensano per niente a introdurre la democrazia in patria anzi in genere non partecipano nemmeno alla democrazie dei paesi in cui vivono  L’unico lembo di  Cina democratico è Hong Kong  perche per 100 anni hanno assorbito questa idea dagli inglesi

 Ora la nostra  scuola ci porta alla democrazia ma quella cinese, attuale come quella  fascista , nazista e comunista portavano a una societa héxié shèhuì  (societa armoniosa),  fascista nazista o comunista. Anzi minore è la liberta democratica piu efficace è la scuola I cinesi di oggi ignorano il  loro passato recente ; la scuola lo ha rimosso dalle loro coscienze  La scuola è più potente degli eserciti:  chi controlla la scuola, controlla la societa

Noi non ce ne rendiamo conto e pensiamo che il nostro pensiero sia una nostra propria produzione e soprattutto che i nostri valori, la nostra  immagine  del mondo  sia quella giusta vera e razionale:  la illusione etnocentrica è inevitabile   

Si dice che con il latte materno noi  succhiamo la mentalità del nostro ambiente: la scuola poi formalizza e  sistematizza una certa visione della vita e della realtà Anche quando i cinesi morivano di fame (letteralmente)   continuavano a credere in Mao perche questo insegnava la loro scuola : le Guardie Rosse erano studenti  come i nostri contestatori del 68.  

L’idea che lo sviluppo culturale  comporti la democrazia è una pregiudizio senza alcun fondamento : non è vero, lo definirei  un pregiudizio euro centrico