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A response to Francis Fukuyama’s ‘reflections on Chinese governance’


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Governance in contemporary China presents external analysts with a number of challenges, the most significant of which is how to use general political science models to adequately conceptualize the Communist Party of China—a hybrid force that aims to cover all possible political territory in the People’s Republic and perform a function which is more extensive and yet more abstract than political parties in liberal democratic systems. Using the three areas of government modernization referred to by Francis Fukuyama—the state, rule of law and accountability—this essay looks at the ways in which the Communist Party has engaged in a progress of partial reform, tactically conceding space for other actors in some areas, while maintaining control of the core issue for control—political organization and the articulation of broad overarching goals for Chinese society, and how it has attempted to do something unique—create a modern, developed, market economy while still being governed by a Communist Party exercising a monopoly on power.
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Journal of Chinese Governance
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A response to Francis Fukuyama’s ‘reflections on
Chinese governance’
Kerry Brown
To cite this article: Kerry Brown (2016) A response to Francis Fukuyama’s ‘reflections
on Chinese governance’, Journal of Chinese Governance, 1:3, 392-404, DOI:
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A response to Francis Fukuyamasreflections on Chinese
Kerry Brown
Lau China Institute, King's College, London, UK
Governance in contemporary China presents external analysts
with a number of challenges, the most significant of which is how
to use general political science models to adequately conceptual-
ize the Communist Party of Chinaa hybrid force that aims to
cover all possible political territory in the Peoples Republic and
perform a function which is more extensive and yet more abstract
than political parties in liberal democratic systems. Using the three
areas of government modernization referred to by Francis
Fukuyamathe state, rule of law and accountabilitythis essay
looks at the ways in which the Communist Party has engaged in a
progress of partial reform, tactically conceding space for other
actors in some areas, while maintaining control of the core issue
for controlpolitical organization and the articulation of broad
overarching goals for Chinese society, and how it has attempted
to do something uniquecreate a modern, developed, market
economy while still being governed by a Communist Party exer-
cising a monopoly on power.
Received 30 May 2016
Accepted 5 July 2016
Chinese; government;
communist party; Xi
Jinping; reform
Pundits have had a poor record at forecasting the trajectory of the Peoples Republic
of China. Roger Irvine in a recent overview of various predictions made in the political
and economic realm about China since 1978 shows that the vast majority have been
wide of the mark. Oddly enough, those about Chinas economics, according to his
survey, have been the worst at foreseeing what would happen.
This should give
pause to anyone urging reforms and change on China because of some clear cut
notion of historical necessity and precedent. Recent experience has shown that if there
is one thing we have to exercise when talking about changes that might happen in
Chinas future, it is extreme caution!
This proclivity by outsiders to give wiseadvise to China on how, when, and why
it needs to reform is complicated even more by the fact that the current
CONTACT Kerry Brown King's College, London, UK
ß2016 Zhejiang University
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Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping occupy a position in which they have become
progressively more skeptical about the sort of models urged on them regarding the
best way to govern their state. In some ways, they clearly now subscribe to a form
of exceptionalism regarding the country they runthus the ubiquitous moniker,
with Chinese characteristicsafter almost every statement they make in the
ideological and political realm. Having seen the calamity visited on Russia after the
collapse of the Soviet Union (an event that Fukuyama himself famously celebrated at
the time as the end of history
), and then the various erosions of the western pos-
ition of superiority through the financial crisis of 2008, and the debacle of the Iraq
and Afghan wars, the end result is for the Chinese leadership to have issued sharp,
succinct lists of what they do not wanta list of things that looks remarkably like
the kind of legal, constitutional and political changes that a figure like Fukuyama in
his essay seems to urge on them.
Their position on this is not wholly new. From the late 2000s, apart from Wen
Jiabao, the Premier then, who did make some comments from 2009 modestly support-
ive of democratic reforms, the elite have set out their list of undesirables with a high
degree of consistencyno bicameral parliamentary systems, no federalism, no consti-
tutionalism, and, most potent of all, no multi party systems.
The bottom line is clear.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) does not and will not cede political space to any
opponents. It sees this as the path to perdition.
While we therefore know a lot about what it does not want, what the CPCs more
positive vision of Chinas political future is more difficult to say. Figures like political
scientist Daniel Bell in The China Model
and Yu Keping, have tried to outline a mer-
itocratic framework, where the Communist Part exists as some organic entity able to
absorb differences and debate within itself. In the Hu Jintao era there was copious talk
of intra-Party democracyas though the CPC were a multiple entity, and could be all
things to all people, happily and credibly governing itself. As Fukuyama rightly points
out, with nearly 90 million members, it looks more like a state within a state. Perhaps
it can achieve this internal democratic ordereven though, under Xi, there has been
less talk of this and more of the Party being at the vanguard of leadership, its moral
mandate restored after the Fat Years of breakneck growth when the CPC became con-
taminated by its more corporate, business looking features and neglected the work of
basic governance from 2001 onwards. This will be discussed in more detail a little later
in this essay.
The CPC leadership, for all their internal differences, is united by one thingthe
desire to stay in power. It is therefore odd that they do not see democratic revi-
sion of their system in view of its success and durability elsewhere, as a potential
route to making their own position sustainable. Surely there is an anomaly in hav-
ing a form of governance (a Marxist Leninist Party with a monopoly on political
power) which has never managed to succeed in staying in power anywhere in the
world for more than 74 years (the case of the USSR from 1917 to 1991) and bank-
ing on this delivering long term, sustainable power, when democratic systems have
lasted for up to two or three centuries. Why is the CPC so very committed to such
a high-risk strategy when, in most other areas, it is characterized by caution and
desire to minimize risk? This is an issue that at least needs some provisional
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The delicate issue of history: how Chinese history proves everything and
One area to start seeking answers to this paradox is within Chinese history. This after
all should contain the key to understanding what forces have shaped Chinas develop-
ment to the current day. Fukuyamas own partial answer to why China has the model
of governance it does now involves referring to a number of what he claims are long
standing features of the imperial states which preceded the PRC and which have sur-
vived into the twenty-first centuryhigh levels of centralization, and a dense, almost
autonomous bureaucracy are two, in particular, he dwells upon. He refers to the Qin
dynasty over two millennia ago as the birth of a quasi-modern state behavior, with
semi-legalistic and centralized structures which created a cohesive governance model
that saw the standardization of weights, currency, and transport. But as he recognizes
there was one vast fault with this early stateit was fundamentally unsustainable, last-
ing only two decades. Its impact was more symbolic than real, haunting the collective
imagination forever after with this brief vision of unity which was then dissipated in
successor states.
Even referring back to this early unified Qin state raises lots of questions. What, in
the end, is its link with the China today? The modern Chinese state has geographical
borders that were only really consolidated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
during the Manchu expansion in the Qing (16441911). The entity today we call China
is physically a relatively modern one. Making generalizations about its historic predeces-
sors, and whatever governance model they followed, is treacherous, largely
because the histories we need to look at are so complex and diverse. There is no easy
single line to follow. In the Tang (seventh to tenth centuries) and Ming (13671644), for
sure, there was relatively longstanding distinctive unitybut there were long periods in
the Song (tenth to thirteenth centuries) and in parts of the Yuan (thirteenth to four-
teenth centuries) when the centralized state barely functioned. How can one find an
overarching historic narrative that binds all this difference together coherently? This has
proved a field of fierce debate and contention. Assuming too much commonality over
what is claimed to be the Chinesepast has proved treacherous. A criticism therefore
to be made of Fukuyama is that his overview of history is way too neat and uniform.
Look, for instance, at one issue he concentrates on: the powers and functions of
bureaucracy in Chinese historic states. It is true that the power of the Chinese bureau-
cracy is an area of intense study from the Tang era down to today. Broadly, it is prob-
ably right as Fukuyama says that it operated as a kind of restraint on imperial power,
at least sometimes. But then that would not be so different to the ways in which, for
instance, in European history, kings, queens and emperors related differently, accord-
ing to their abilities and visions, to the courtiers and officials around them. This is not
distinctive to the Chinese system. There were powerful, forceful figures that molded
the bureaucratic system to their needsYongzheng typified this in the early fifteenth
century, with his brutal and terrifying purge and taming of the bureaucratic order. But
others, like the Wanli emperor from the sixteenth century, almost disengaged them-
selves from the governance system.
One could go on endlessly citing different exam-
ples. My point is a simple one. Trying to draw grand central messages in the way that
Fukuyama does from Chinese history is never easy. And while it is true that
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somewhere in this history there might be the explanation to why China today has the
system it does, it would take vast contextualization and deep knowledge to be able to
find it. No one yet has truly succeeded.
The CPC and hybridity
The most one can safely say is that while the CPC inserted itself on whatever state it
inherited from 1949, its most distinctive characteristic in the seven decades since then
has been its hybridity. Taking a supposedly Western ideology, that of Marxism, via the
Soviet Union, whose influence on it in the early decades was huge
, it still somehow
managed to create something differentnot an urban led revolution, but an agrarian
one under Mao, and not a straight forward internationalist movement, but in many
ways a nationalist one, where foreign ideas were used to support the construction
finally of a modern, strong, wealthy China. Hybridity continues to characterize the
Chinese system now. So when Fukuyama talks of the centralization of government
within China, he also has to recognize its real difference to that of the Soviet Union or
other models
. He has to grapple with the ways in which, as one can see in the work
for instance of political scientist Ben Hillman, the central state has been able to con-
struct a system where local government officials have wide freedoms.
This is the puz-
zle, and one that it has often proved hard to conceptualize: one has a central party
state entity that speaks, looks and acts with seeming uniformity and rigidity, and yet it
allows wide spaces for discretion, freedom and innovation. That, after all, was the fea-
ture which was most successful during the early Deng era when lower levels of admin-
istration were able to experiment with rural reform, entering into something akin to a
dynamic dialogue with the central leaders in which, to use the slogan eventually
devised at the time, the sole criterion of truth was success.
The Chinese state model
This organic nature of the Chinese party state is frustrating for theorists like Fukuyama.
It should fit into some kind of extant framework, they seem to imply. Allowing it privi-
leged space and a kind of uniqueness seems intellectually spurious. And yet, in many
ways the Chinese experiment, for all its similarities with other developmental and polit-
ical models, does need to be accorded at least some uniqueness. There is the matter
of its being only one of five remaining Communist Party systems for a startand by
way and afar the largest (the others are North Korea, Laos, Vietnam and Cuba). There
is also the extraordinary anomaly of how a socialist system is able to embrace the
most freewheeling elements of capitalism, something the USSR never countenanced.
Finally, there is this issue of how to define the entity that sits at the heart of all of
thisthe Communist Party itself.
Fukuyama talks of the CPC basing its recent legitimacy on performance. It is true
that elite leaders since 1978 have consistently stated that the legitimacy of the Party
state relies on improving peoples material wellbeing. Under Xi, that has not changed,
even though more raw political issues like the nature of the discipline and leadership
of the CPC have come to the fore. Even so, the Party has devised concepts like
spiritual civilization, referred increasingly to the relationship between its ambition to
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restore China to a central, strong stage in the world and traditional Chinese culture (a
culture it once had a confrontational, destructive attitude towardssee Mao in the
Cultural Revolution and the smashing of the Four Olds). From 1949 we have to grapple
with two very clear and distinct eras of Chinese CPC ruleone up to the death of
Mao in 1976 in which pure ideological commitments to class struggle and Utopian
social outcomes took precedence no matter what the economic costs, and one since
1978 where pragmatism became the order of the day. The CPC therefore within its
own brief history contains paradox and contradiction. The way in which Xi Jinping has
resolved this is by stating that the link between the two eras is the commitment to a
common goalachievement of the restoration of Chinas national greatnessand
their philosophical commonalitylearning through experimentation, and creating
something like an epistemic community.
In this framework, the Communist Party functions more like a cultural movement
rather than a purely political entity, something that differentiates it from organized
political parties in democracies. It has rituals, a language, a history, a kind of teleogy, a
cadre priesthood, and, in the end, an elite ideology with its practices that define it. It
is more like a kind of community within itself. The closest entity we can cite from
European or American contexts is perhaps the Catholic Church. Finding an appropriate
vocabulary to use political scientific concepts appropriately about the CPC is challeng-
ing simply because it has proved hard to pin down right at the start what the best
definition of the CPC is. This is a classic doctrine of the nameschallengewithout
the right term at the start, we cannot make any progress. But for the CPC, there isnt
an easy, simple term from our extant intellectual vocabularies to do this.
The issue of human links and family connections
In his triad of attributes of a modern polity, Fukuyama refers to the state, rule of law,
and democratic accountability. If you want modernity (and China evidently does) then
Fukuyama seems to argue, you have to deliver a certain standard of universalized
reform in these three areasconstrained state behavior, impersonal rules imposed on
everyone, and ability of citizens to give feedback on leaders through elections and
other forms of response.
The Xi leadership in a strange way has delivered its own version of reform, or at
least a reform vision, in each of the three areas that Fukuyama outlines. Before looking
a bit at these, it would be worth discussing an issue at their heartthe highly net-
worked, connected nature of Chinese society, and just how much this has been a
source of strength but also weakness. The classic statement of this is in the work of
the great sociologist Fei Xiaotong, whose wonderful From the Landin 1949 talked to
Chinese society, with its predominantly agrarian roots, being one where everyone
knew everyone else, issues were overwhelming local, and where the individual existed
within a dense field of elasticlinks. Feis metaphor captured something of the ways in
which in such a vast, complex society, Chinese managed to create a zone of control
and predictability around them. It was, Fei said, a society that was intrinsically self-cen-
tered, and, in some senses, selfish. Life in rural society is very parochial,Fei states.
Villagers restrict the scope of their daily activities; they do not travel far; they seldom
make contact with the outside world; they live solitary lives; they maintain their own
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isolated social circle. All of these characteristics contribute to the parochialism of rural
China. This is, he concludes, a society without strangers, a society based totally on
the familiar”’.
In many ways, the whole Communist experiment over the last seven decades has
been to attempt to erode and destroy this pre-modern, networked structure to
Chinese society. This continues to today. Guanxi ()is the term beloved by some
foreign analysts. But a more appropriate one is renqing (), one that comes closest
to all of placing human links and personal relationships at the heart of everything.
Renqing has been one of the mainstays of Chinese society, and helps to explain the
kinds of tribal, factionalist, networked behavior one sees evidence for at almost all lev-
els, from the existence of provincial networks in business (the famous Wenzhou model,
or the Zhejiang villagethat existed in Beijing in the past), to claims about Shanghai,
Shanxi or even Fujian cliques in politics. Trying to come up with some manageable
way of navigating such a vast, complex and often fragmented society is not irrational.
Mao Zedong famously complained about Chinese people being like sand, and
although this statement is taken now as typifying his dismissive, coldly abstract views
of the society he was so influential on, the metaphor does capture some of the
remarkable fluidity and illusiveness of China. Individuals building enabling networks
and trust capital through relationships they know, understand, and to some extent can
control and predict, is understandable.
The Communist project has always been antagonistic to this pre-modernform of
behavior, and yet the Party has often been accused of being prone to the same kind
of coalescing of vested interest and self-supporting cliques as any other entity within
China. Xi Jinping, for instance, it is claimed, sits within a network of princelings, second
and third generation offspring of former elite leaders. The Party itself, it is said, had
created its own aristocracy, a group of people who have attempted to mold, direct
and in some senses hijack it to their narrower purposes.
And yet the Party itself has
attempted to present its key ideological commitments as based on scientific principles,
ones which are immune to the claim they promote one ephemeral network over
another. They are for the good of society over all, letting it unfold according to the
eternal, unbending principles of dialectic materialism which are heedless of human
linksand connections.
Within this context, much that Xi Jinping and his colleagues have done since they
came to power in late 2012 is to try to pursue the project of modernity in China, tak-
ing account of Chinasunique circumstances(guoqing, ). They have not directed
a break with their predecessors, but addressed the issue of Chinas continuing reform
within a framework where the option of using western models of democratic govern-
ance have clearly been discounted, definitely for the short to medium term future, and
possibly for good. For them, achieving the centennial goalin 2021, when the CPC cel-
ebrates a hundred years in existence, and the country is due to achieve a per capita
GDP of around USD 13,000, making it a middle income country, means facing a num-
ber of potential threatsfalling growth with the challenges to the Party legitimacy
this poses, rising social inequality (Chinas Gini co-efficient is famously extreme now),
environmental issues and the real worry of falling into the middle income trap where
manufacturing jobs dry up but not good enough quality service ones are there to
replace GDP growth and maintain employment levels. While other societies have faced
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these issues, and confronted them with varying degrees of success, for China it is the
scale and speed, as ever, which differentiates it. It is safe to say that no country has
tried to do what China is doing so quickly, and on such a vast scale. No wonder that
the CPC is highly risk averse and careful. In this context, it feels that the CPCs
approach to government and political control of the core terrain is one of the few
sources of predictability, not one of threat and contention.
This is not to justify the Chinese leadership in their attitude. Demarcating political
and economic reform in the way they have, allowing innovation in one area, but none
(or very little) in another might end up being incoherent. But the context in which
they have made this decision, with all its risks, challenges, and problems, at least
explains why they have taken the option they have. In the three areas Fukuyama has
highlighted, therefore, in an odd way they have made some progress. The question is
whether it is enough, and how sustainable it will prove to be. Each area is character-
ized by hybridity.
The reach of the state
Fukuyama talks of the Weberian notion of the state in its pre-modern form being a
fiefdom of special interest, and then modernizing out so that it loses this and
becomes a more collaborative, consensual and broader entity. Under Xi Jinping, the
fundamental link between the Party and the State remains as mysterious as under his
predecessors. There is no constitutional division of responsibilities. The CPC maintains
its privileged role in society, and remains answerable to no one except itself. Its leader-
ship transitions while institutionalized increasingly in recent decades remain highly
opaque. No one outside the most innermost circle of the Party really knows how Xi
Jinping came to be placed at the heart of the leadership after 2012, for instance. Nor
is there much clarity about how he himself might eventually be replaced, presumably
(if precedent is maintained) in 20222023.
In another interpretive framework, however, the Party and State have worked out a
new accommodation with society. As Fukuyama acknowledges, since 1978 they have
increasingly withdrawn from large areas of life. The One Child Policy introduced in
1980 is now no longer. Massive internal migration means that people live, work, and
function with increasingly little involvement with either the state, or the Party it
answers to. The Party too has tried to spell out what its function iscontrol of macro
strategic direction, political objectives, and larger abstract issues, leaving administrative
and implementation functions to state entities.
The most striking issue that Xi has expended political capital on since 2013 has
been the anti-corruption struggle. This illustrates some of the ambiguity of what he is
doing. Some have interpreted it as a clear political campaign for him to consolidate
and further his own networks and political visiona purge, in other words, in which
he has cleared away potential opponents. Over 80 thousand officials have been pun-
ished to the middle of 2016, with some high level figures like former Politburo
Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang and close associate and prot
jintao, his former aide Ling Jihua swept away. The problem, however, with regarding
the anti-corruption struggle in this way is that there is, as yet, no clear political narra-
tive that links the main targets, beyond their being linked to networks that embezzled
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large amounts of money largely from state entities. Of course, there were many more
who were also up to this who have not gone down. The question is in what sense
these people and their behavior can really be interpreted as the germ of organized,
credible opposition to Xi. There is an associated question: in what ways are those peo-
ple Xi is meant to be supporting and bringing into his network ideologically, politically
and organizationally unified. What, in the end, is a Xi prot
e and a Xi enemy? Under
Mao, it was clear enough working out the line between those who counted as his ene-
mies and friends (even though figures like Deng Xiaoping frequently passed from one
side of the line to the other and back again). But under Xi it is hard to see what dis-
tinctive ideas, political approaches, and visions he himself holds that are purely cen-
tered on him, rather than the Party he leads.
In some ways, the anti-corruption struggle, ugly and brutal as it has often appeared,
can be interpreted as an attempt to smash some of the vested interest, feudal control
of specific state sectors, and recruitment of the Party to local, limited networks and cli-
ques rather than larger and more general social visions. It works against the narrowing
of the Party support base down to a few winners and controllers and tries to discipline
the leadership so that they do not succumb to the remarkable money making prowess
the Party has stood at the center in the previous decade. Under Hu Jintao, there were
dangers that the Party was about to become the largest, and most formidable, self-
interested commercial lobby group within China, with different internal networks con-
trolling specific state sectors and siphoning off vast profits. Under Xi, this has been
partially rectified. The Partys purpose has been shifted back into the domain of polit-
ics. While not constitutionally codified, the outcome is clear enough to see. The Party
does politics, and has returned to its role as the core strategic body within Chinese
society directing major political objectives. The government responds to these through
implementation, and society works within the framework that has been created. The
primary objective has been to clear away, not collaborate, with the idea of a society
and a Party based on renqingand personal connections and subject development to
more impersonal, and potentially rule-based forces.
Rule of law
This brings us to the second of Fukuyamas areas, rule of law. This also shows, under
Xi, evidence of hybridity. The Fourth Plenum in 2014 set out the notion of rule by
law’—so no attempt to allow supreme courts to exist which can then threaten or chal-
lenge the legitimacy of the Party. And certainly no tolerance of activist lawyers trying
to use law to effect political change. Chinese Party analysts had fingered this group as
one of the key culprits in the Colour Revolutions and the other popular revolts from
the 2000s onwards that had brought about the collapse of Communist and other
authoritarian systems. But in certain areas under the Fourth Plenum there have been
moves to an acceptance that stronger, more explicit law leads to a level of predictabil-
ity which is necessary for further economic reform.
Political leadership under Xi Jinping, like anywhere, has to have a sense of its key
constituencies and audiences. For Xi, the emerging, serving sector working, high con-
suming, urban middle class are key. They are the future agents of higher value, sus-
tainable growth. And for this group, property ownership, consumer rights, greater
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legal safeguards are important. For that reason, commercial law proved to be the focus
of the Fourth Party Congressgreater assurances over delivering justice in economic
and commercial issues, and more attempts to codify the ground rules. This is intim-
ately linked to delivering better outcomes for the rights at least of the emerging mid-
dle class.
Part of this whole process has involved a move to make explicit and set down on
paper what is already, in practice, happening. The rules on Non-Government
Organisations (NGOs), for instance, typify this. Hugely controversial when announced
in early 2016, for many analysts they simply spelt out what was already common prac-
tice. For all their draconian sounding form, therefore, ironically they at least showed
the ground rules. That, surely, is a part of the progress towards modernitynot having
things exist in nebulous, abstract form, but actually written clearly.
The legal area typifies strongly the ways in which China under Xi is laudable and
reprehensible at the same time, and therefore antagonizes a more purist vision of how
it would be developing promoted by scholars like Fukuyama. The risk (allowing law-
yers to become some kind of threatening fifth column) is clear enough for the Party
clear enough, at least, to prompt it to harshly detain and intimidate over 250 rights
lawyers from 2015 into 2016. And yet on the other hand, courts are now funded in a
more systemic way, training is being provided to judges, and a level of professionalism
is being aspired to that did not exist even a decade ago. People on the whole are fol-
lowing rules, and implementing them. Attempts to control the court system through
connections and pressure by some networks and cliques have been reduced. There is
even evidence of occasional successful appeals to higher courts to overturn judgments
from lower onessomething unheard of in the past. In the legal area, therefore,
Chinas position now is completely mixedreforming, and yet not reforming.
Interpreting this bewildering situation has proved challenging. In the end the only
thing one can say is that the Communist Party leadership feels that they cannot, and
will not, risk following models of complete separation of the legal and political
domainyet. They have kept them linked.
Democratic accountability
Finally there is the issue of public feedback, and accountability. Here perhaps the
issues are clearer. No official in China is elected by public plebiscite. Village elections
championed from the 1980s have not been expanded to higher levels of government.
Ad hoc experiments to introduce some limited elections for town and country con-
gresses have not been rolled out beyond specific areasand, under Xi, there have
been few new developments in this area. The appetite by the Party for elections of
any sort is best exemplified by its attitude towards the special administrative region of
Hong Kong where the notion of introducing universal franchise for the Chief Executive
elections scheduled for 2017 was stymied, and a compromise electoral commission
proposeda proposal rejected by the Citys legislative council.
The Communist Party has argued that it allows consultation, and in that sense it is
democratic. Some have talked of the current system being consultative Leninist’—
allowing feedback on government and Party performance but not through the
ballot box.
Any attempts to set up organized political opposition have been
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ruthlessly suppressed. The Xi leadership follows in the same tradition as Deng
Xiaoping in 1979 and his outlawing of the demands of some of the Democracy Wall
protesters, the crushing of demands for more representative democracy in 1989 and
the uprising then, the annihilation of the China Democracy Party under Jiang Zemin in
1998, and the response to the Charter 08 demands under Hu Jintao in 2009. Chinese
Communist leaders have consistently set their face against any attempts to cede space
to organized political opposition, and to allow unbridled expression of public senti-
ment through elections.
The explanations of more liberal thinkers like Yu Keping is simply that while China
wants democracy, it wants it in a more predictable way than it sees in, for instance,
America or Europe. Systems that can throw up potential leaders like Donald Trump,
Silvio Berlusconi or Boris Johnson, and which often deliver very low turnouts, perplex
and, in some cases, simply dissuade some Chinese thinkers and officials. The most one
can say in this area is that despite the clear receipts that the CPC would get for its
legitimacy through holding at least some elections, it has still vehemently opposed
these. Either this is through a profound lack of political imagination in its current elite
leaders, or a sense of insecurity. The Chinese Party elite seem to believe it is possible
to deliver modernity in the economic and administrative realm without participatory
democracy. The question therefore is, are they right?
The role of the Chinese citizen
Fukuyama points to a crucial issue when he talks of the role of the citizen within
democratic systems and the ways in which they, their expectations, economic power
and agency, shape everything else. There is one fundamental anomaly in the fiscal sys-
tem of contemporary China that has profound political importance relating closely to
this issue of citizenshipthe very low levels of government revenue that comes from
personal taxation. In the UK, for instance, almost a quarter of all government revenue
comes through peoples direct payment of various taxes, mostly from their income.
This could be a similar figure in the US or any other developed country(see Figures 1
and 2). People relate to their governments through the simple fact that they pay, and
see that they pay, for them directly from their income. Payment means, as the great
Tom Paine said, that you want a voice: no taxation without representation.
In China, personal taxationtaxation direct from citizens to the stateconstituted
only 7% of overall revenue in 2014. Part of that might be through indirect taxation
the ways in which wages in China have been kept low and household income
depressed throughout the last forty years. But as wages rise, and as the new normal
appears, in which individuals do start to earn more, and work in higher service sector
jobs, there is a serious question about how sustainable this arrangement of Chinese
citizens directly contributing so little to government revenue is. This is particularly the
case as companies, particularly state companies, which make up the bulk of state rev-
enue, fall in their contributionssomething that is already happening.
The question of political reform in China therefore might boil down to something
no more complicated than the need, eventually to reform the fiscal system. At the
moment, low personal contributions mean low demand for participation in decision
making. Higher contributions will, presumably, mean greater demands. Then the
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unique social contracton which China has been running since 1978 (people can
enjoy freedoms in the economic realm, while leaving political issues alone) might
come to an abrupt end. The myth, therefore, of an apolitical, compliant Chinese public
will be exposed. China will start to follow the trajectory of the rest of the worldwith
Figure 1. Chinese Fiscal Revenue 2014 (Source: National Bureau of Statistics, Beijing).
Figure 2. UK Fiscal Revenue 2014 (Source: British National Office of Statistics).
402 K. BROWN
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democracy being an outcome of fiscal changes and accounting for where peoples
hard earned money gets spent on by the state.
This essay should not be read as a defense of the Chinese system. The diagnostic that
Fukuyama gives of it of incomplete modernization is, on many levels correct. It is an
anomaly that the worlds second largest economy should have at the same time a
market directed, highly mixed, and often privatized model, and yet also maintain such
a major role for a Communist Party with a monopoly on power. Explaining this by fall-
ing back on notions of China simply being exceptionalis also frustrating, as it raises
questions therefore about the edifice of modernization theory within political science
generally. Either new rules need to be devised that can accommodate what China is
doing, or the whole notion of having models and predictable patterns in the first place
needs to be eschewed.
In some ways, we are at a cross roads moment for China. The Party and its hybrid
model of development might be about to rewrite the rules of modernity by showing
that one party rule is sustainable, and can deliver a high level of living in a developed
country without the need for disruptive elections and changes of power from one pol-
itical party to another. Even so, there are plenty of ways in which this massive experi-
ment could go wrong. Falling growth could erode the Party State legitimacy. The Party
could fragment and divide. Massive uprisings within China over inequality, environ-
mental or justice issues could cause fragmentation and revolution. The Party could
all too easily be swept away. If that were to happen, then we would be able to look
back at the prognostications of figures like Fukuyama, and say that in the end they
were right.
Five years into the era of Xi Jinping, however, we see no sign of any attempts to
address these issues of political reform. The anomaly therefore continues, and the evi-
dence we have shows that the very people most involved in Chinas future develop-
ment, and who have the most influence over itthe elite leadership of the CPCare
the least convinced that liberal democratic reform offers them any answers. It is
unlikely that the menu of ideas offered by Fukuyama will persuade them they are
wrong about this. The only likely thing to cause them to change their world view is a
crisis forcing change on them. But by that time, it might already be too late. No one
ever denied that reform in China was a game of the highest possible stakes.
1. Roger Irvine, Forecasting Chinas Future: Dominance or Collapse., 2015.
2. Frances Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man., 1992.
3. The most concise statement of this was issued from the Peoples Daily editorial department
in Liu ge Weishenme., (The Six Whys), 2009.
4. Daniel Bell, The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy., 2015;
Yu Keping, Democracy is a Good Thing: Essays on Politics, Society, and Culture in
Contemporary China., 2009.
5. See Ray Huang, 1587: A Year of no Significance: The Mind Dynasty in Decline., 1982.
6. See Andrew Walder, China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed., 2015.
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7. See Arthur R Kroeber, The Chinese Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know., 2016.
8. Ben Hillman, Patronage and Power: Local States Network and Party State Resilience in Rural
China., 2014.
9. See Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun, Paradox of Post Mao Rural Reforms: Initial Steps
Towards a New Chinese Countryside, 19761981, 2016.
10. See Kerry Brown, CEO China: The Rise of Xi Jinping., 2016.
11. Fei Xiaotong, From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society., 1992.
12. See Kerry Brown, Factionalism in Elite Chinese Politics.,6172.
13. See Steve Tsang, Consultative Leninism: Chinas New Political Framework., 865880.
Disclosure statement
The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content
and writing of this article.
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(2016): 6172.
Brown, K. CEO China: The Rise of Xi Jinping. London and New York: I B Tauris, 2016.
Daniel Bell. The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2015.
Fukuyama, F. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 1992.
Hillman, B. Patronage and Power: Local States Network and Party State Resilience in Rural China.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014.
Huang, R. 1587: A Year of no Significance: The Mind Dynasty in Decline. Yale: Yale University Press,
Irvine, R. Forecasting Chinas Future: Dominance or Collapse. Routledge: London, 2015.
Kroeber, A. R. The Chinese Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2016.
Teiwes, F, and W. Sun. Paradox of Post Mao Rural Reforms: Initial Steps Towards a New Chinese
Countryside, 19761981. Abingdon: Routledge, 2016.
Tsang, S. Consultative Leninism: Chinas New Political Framework.Journal of Contemporary
China 18, no. 62 (2009): 865880.
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... 33 Frieden (1991Frieden ( , 1994. 34 Brown (2016). members (at the end of 2011), from every profession, including a rising percentage of private entrepreneurs and college graduates, the Party appears as strong as it has ever been." ...
... The international institutions with responsibility in this arena, notably the IMF, seem incapable of exercising firm surveillance over the exchange rate policies 74 Rose (1998, p. 146). 75 Mesquita et al. (2005), also see Brown (2016). ...
Full-text available
This book examines the international political economy of China’s exchange rate policy making from theoretical and empirical perspectives. It identifies the limitations in the existing Economics studies on the RMB exchange rate and the research gap of the Comparative Political Economy (CPE) and International Political Economy (IPE) approaches to exchange rate politics. The author develops a three-level game framework for China’s exchange rate policy making based on revision and synthesis of the existing CPE and IPE approaches, which provides a richer portrait of the dynamism and complexity of China’s exchange rate policy making. The book has applied the three-level game framework to empirically analyzing China’s exchange rate policy making under the Hu-Wen administration. The book also discusses some further exploration of China’s exchange rate policy in the Xi era and comparative case study of exchange rate policy making. It is a timely and rigorous study on the role that international and domestic politics play in forging China’s exchange rate policy making in the twenty-first century.
... 33 Frieden (1991Frieden ( , 1994. 34 Brown (2016). members (at the end of 2011), from every profession, including a rising percentage of private entrepreneurs and college graduates, the Party appears as strong as it has ever been." ...
... The international institutions with responsibility in this arena, notably the IMF, seem incapable of exercising firm surveillance over the exchange rate policies 74 Rose (1998, p. 146). 75 Mesquita et al. (2005), also see Brown (2016). ...
This chapter analyzes the resumption of China’s exchange rate reform after June 2010. The level I game and level II game are combined to explain the Chinese leadership’s decision to continue the exchange rate reform in 2010. It finds that, while the Congress’s influence on the RMB issue generally diminished over time after the global financial crisis, international criticism and pressure from the US administration and the IMF still played an important role of agenda-setting in China’s exchange rate policy making in 2010. The Chinese leadership stood firm to the external pressure and demonstrated solidarity and consistency towards the exchange rate policy. It argues that, with the development of RMB internationalization and increasing capital account openness, a flexible exchange rate was the feasible choice to preserve the independence and effectiveness of China’s monetary policy, which produced the Chinese leadership’s consensus on the RMB exchange rate reform in 2010. The RMB appreciated steadily and gradually against the dollar in the second round of exchange rate reform, aiming to improve confidence and promote the international use of RMB.
While the Chinese governance system retains the characteristic of being in the class of ‘administrative progression models’, it has evolved greatly since the Responsibility System was introduced in the late 1970s, and spread from agriculture to SOEs and local governments. As fiscal strains developed, modern institutions and tax and budget systems were introduced from 1993/4 on, and have been evolving since then. While there has been rapid economic growth, stresses have emerged in terms of congestion and pollution in the major metropolitan areas, increasing spatial and interpersonal inequality, as well as risks associated with possible rent-seeking and buildup of liabilities. Additional economic, institutional and legal reforms are needed to strengthen the governance framework, yet policies taken from US-style competition models may not work. Further, dire predictions based on a medieval characterization of the Chinese model are misleading, and fail to take into account the role of institutions and information that have transformed the Chinese governance structure.
Drawing on more than a decade of fieldwork in a rural southwest China county, this book examines the unwritten rules of Chinese officialdom and suggests that these rules have helped to hold the one-Party state together during decades of tumultuous political, social, and economic change. While scholars have long recognized the importance of informal institutions in Chinese politics, this study goes behind the scenes to explain how informal institutions actually operate. The book pays special attention to the role of patronage networks in political decision making, political competition, and official corruption. While patronage networks are often seen as a parasite on the formal institutions of state, this book argues that patronage politics provides a supplementary set of rules that enables China's political system to function. In a system characterized by fragmented authority, personal power relations, and bureaucratic indiscipline, patronage networks play a critical role in facilitating policy coordination and bureaucratic bargaining. They also help to regulate political competition within the state, which reduces the potential for serious conflict. Understanding the role of patronage networks in Chinese politics is essential for understanding the resilience of the Chinese state through decades of change.
China’s economic growth has been revolutionary, and is the foundation of its increasingly prominent role in world affairs. It is the world’s second biggest economy, the largest manufacturing and trading nation, the consumer of half the world’s steel and coal, the biggest source of international tourists, and one of the most influential investors in developing countries from southeast Asia to Africa to Latin America. Multinational companies make billions of dollars in profits in China each year, while traders around the world shudder at every gyration of the country’s unruly stock markets. Perhaps paradoxically, its capitalist economy is governed by an authoritarian Communist Party that shows no sign of loosening its grip. China is frequently in the news, whether because of trade disputes, the challenges of its Belt and Road initiative for global infrastructure, or its increasing military strength. China’s political and technological challenges, created by a country whose political system and values differ dramatically from most of the other major world economies, creates uncertainty and even fear. China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know is a concise introduction to the most astonishing economic and political story of the last three decades. Arthur Kroeber enhances our understanding of China’s changes and their implications. Among the essential questions he answers are: How did China grow so fast for so long? Can it keep growing and still solve its problems of environmental damage, fast-rising debt and rampant corruption? How long can its vibrant economy co-exist with the repressive one-party state? How do China’s changes affect the rest of the world? This thoroughly revised and updated second edition includes a comprehensive discussion of the origins and development of the US-China strategic rivalry, including Trump’s trade war and the race for technological supremacy. It also explores the recent changes in China’s political system, reflecting Xi Jinping’s emergence as the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. It includes insights on changes in China’s financial sector, covering the rise and fall of the shadow banking sector, and China’s increasing integration with global financial markets. And it covers China’s rapid technological development and the rise of its global Internet champions such as Alibaba and Tencent.
The decollectivization of Chinese agriculture in the early post-Mao period is widely recognized as a critical part of the overall reform program. But the political process leading to this outcome is poorly understood. A number of approaches have dominated the existing literature: 1) a power/policy struggle between Hua Guofeng's alleged neo-Maoists and Deng Xiaoping's reform coalition; 2) the power of the peasants; and 3) the leading role of provincial reformers. The first has no validity, while second and third must be viewed through more complex lenses. This study provides a new interpretation challenging conventional wisdom. Its key finding is that a game changer emerged in spring 1980 at the time Deng replaced Hua as CCP leader, but the significant change in policy was not a product of any clash between these two leaders. Instead, Deng endorsed Zhao Ziyang's policy initiative that shifted emphasis away from Hua's pro-peasant policy of increased resources to the countryside, to a pro-state policy that reduced the rural burden on national coffers. To replace the financial resources, policy measures including household farming were implemented with considerable provincial variations. The major unexpected production increases in 1982 confirmed the arrival of decollectivization as the template on the ground. The dynamics of this policy change has never been adequately explained. Paradoxes of Post-Mao Rural Reform offers a deep empirical study of critical developments involving politics from the highest levels in Beijing to China's villages, and in the process challenges many broader accepted interpretations of the politics of reform. It is essential reading for students and scholars of contemporary Chinese political history. © 2016 Frederick C. Teiwes and Warren Sun. All rights reserved.
Chinas future development is likely to have a huge impact on twenty-first century global outcomes. It is therefore surprising that, thus far, so little attention has been given to comparing and evaluating expert forecasts of Chinas future in the post-Mao era. This book presents an illuminating and comprehensive summary record of contrasting and competing expert forecasts and judgements about the major issues confronting China within four principal domains political, economic, environmental, and international. After considering the principal forecasting methods available to experts, the author comments critically on the degree of success achieved in using those methods and emphasises the confusion created by the polarisation of opinion and by the failure of many experts to accept the high degree of uncertainty that characterises most of the key issues. The book recommends a new approach based on the study of a hierarchy of critical uncertainties and on continuing analysis of opposing expert opinions about these uncertainties. It emphasises the potential for both positive and negative outcomes for these critical uncertainties, and the importance of maximising the potential for positive outcomes through improved analytical and policy frameworks. Providing insights for specialists and non-specialists into the most critical issues that will determine Chinas future direction, this book will be of particular interest to students and scholars of political, economic, environmental, and international relations issues in China and Asia, as well as to readers in business and government.
Westerners tend to divide the political world into "good" democracies and "bad" authoritarian regimes. But the Chinese political model does not fit neatly in either category. Over the past three decades, China has evolved a political system that can best be described as "political meritocracy." The China Model seeks to understand the ideals and the reality of this unique political system. How do the ideals of political meritocracy set the standard for evaluating political progress (and regress) in China? How can China avoid the disadvantages of political meritocracy? And how can political meritocracy best be combined with democracy? Daniel Bell answers these questions and more. Opening with a critique of "one person, one vote" as a way of choosing top leaders, Bell argues that Chinese-style political meritocracy can help to remedy the key flaws of electoral democracy. He discusses the advantages and pitfalls of political meritocracy, distinguishes between different ways of combining meritocracy and democracy, and argues that China has evolved a model of democratic meritocracy that is morally desirable and politically stable. Bell summarizes and evaluates the "China model"-meritocracy at the top, experimentation in the middle, and democracy at the bottom-and its implications for the rest of the world. A timely and original book that will stir up interest and debate, The China Model looks at a political system that not only has had a long history in China, but could prove to be the most important political development of the twenty-first century.