Beijing Univ. Law Prof. He Weifang Praises Taiwan Democracy – Zhu Jianling
The impact Taiwan is having on mainland China should not be underestimated. Over 200,000 Taiwanese live in the Shanghai area. While western democracy mediated through foreign languages and foreign cultures can be especially hard to understand, Taiwan’s remarkable progress in rule of law and democracy are easy to see for people in China mainland. Some watch Taiwan TV on the very common albeit theoretically illegal satellite dishes.
The November 21 China Times article below argues that Taiwan’s political turbulence is actually a good advertisement for Taiwan democracy and quotes Beijing University Law School Professor He Weifang. This reminds me of the Chinese reaction to President Clinton’s impeachment. The Chinese were in absolute awe that a President could be held accountable for his behavior by Congress. I thought at the time the impeachment was a more effective advertisement for U.S. democracy than 100 years of public relations efforts. The Chinese were envious — many would like to see some of their own leaders impeached. My sumary translation is followed by the Chinese language text for the benefit of sinoliterates.
According to a November 21, 2006 article from the China Times (Taiwan), many people in Taiwan feel the arguments between the Blue and the Green and the present controversy about President Chen’s wife is an embarassment for Taiwan. However many Chinese in mainland China and Singapore greatly admire Taiwan democracy. They are very impressed that in Taiwan it was possible for Chen Ruiren to sue President Chen’s wife.
Qiu Liben, of Hong Kong’s Asia Week magazine said that Chen Ruiren suing [the President Chen's wife] is a much stronger statement than any political declaration. It is like a powerful stealth missile aimed at the heart of legal circles in mainland China, something that will strike the hearts of very large numbers of professional people in China, as well as in the hearts of China’s 1.3 billion people.”
Law professor He Weifang of Beijing University (note: He’s writings collected on line here) says that knowing that Taiwan can build a democracy is very important to mianland China. From Taiwan’s experience, the people realize that Chinese people are not born with a saddle attached to their umbilical cord, they are not born for someone to get on them and ride, to be driven and whipped. Chinese people can create a democracy too”.
He Weifang says that the orderly behavior of the demonstrators in Taiwan is very impressive – the crowds are acting rationally, showing that Taiwan is a rule by law society. Ever since He Weifang visited Taiwan in 1999, he has been telling Beijing University students “Taiwan’s today is the mainland’s tomorrow”.
What is important is not just the result but also the process. Lecturer Teng Biao of Zhengfa Daxue said that over the past year when many mainland rights lawyers have defended the rights of the Christian house churches, they thought of the lawyers who defended the Meilidao ["rioters" of 1979 in Taiwan].
People need an enlightenment experience in order to understand democracy, said Teng Biao who graduated from Beijing University. Teng said that listening to lectures by professors, reading and discussions, he little by little put aside the ideas he had learned in high school and formed his own thinking. Teng said he discovered by reading the early works of Long Yingtai and Li Ao that the motive force of democracy came from constant conflict between people in society and intellectuals with the power structure. He learned that more people in the mainland need to stand up and make their voices heard.
Of course the historical background and social conditions of Taiwan and the mainland are different. Therefore Kang Xiaoguang of Qinghua University argues for benovelent government under and authoritarian system and Professor Pan Wei of Beijing University calls for the rule of law instead of democracy. But He Weifang disagrees, saying that the differences between Taiwan and the mainland are largely due to the different levels of democracy in the two areas, and shows the direction the mainland needs to go.
He Weifang believes that during martial law Taiwan did not deny the validing of western democratic values but used the laws for the suppression of rebellion to delay democratization. This is why Taiwan had a fairly smooth transition to democracy after the end of martial law. In the mainland, even for a long time after reform started, the communists totally opposed western democracy, claiming that socialist democracy is better than western democracy. But the communists have already changed their tune. Now their argument against democracy is that China does not have the proper conditions, using that argument to postpone or only go through the motions of allowing the democratic aspirations of the people. They not longer flatly oppose the basic values of western style democracy.
‚Ä®He Weifang believes that only with land holding , private property, and the emergence of a middle class will there be voices for democracy. This is the fundamental condition that Taiwan has that the mainland doesn’t have. This shows that the differences between the Taiwan and the mainland show just where the mainland needs to learn. This difference should be a motive force for progress on the mainland and not an obstacle.
But the attitude of many Taiwanese be they KMT, DPP or independents, is that Taiwan should be a good example for the mainland but not take any positive steps to promote democracy in the mainland. That attitude discourages many democracy activists in mainland China.
Some Chinese who have studied and worked overseas for a long time and then returned to the mainland (sea turtles) hope that Taiwan will take a more active role in the democratization of the mainland.
He Weifang said that Deng Xiaoping himself said that except for the “One China principle” anything can be discussed. This includes even Lian Chan and Song Chuyu going to the mainland. Why doesn’t Taiwan talk with the communist rulers about multi party politics, why not talk about letting Taiwan newspapers like China Times circulate on the mainland? They hope that not just Taiwan’s ruling and opposition parties talk with the mainland but that Taiwan become an active force promoting the democratization of mainland China.