From Pondering IR in Pokfulam blog:
The “democracy” that Doctoroff describes in this article is nothing I would describe as such. He does not argue that Chinese would reject principles of government based on (1) meaningful competition for leadership, (2) popular participation in the selection of leaders or on (3) the need to support civil liberties in order to protect the integrity of the political system. He doesn’t because these democratic principles are not inherently antithetical to Chinese culture, prosperity, or national power. Instead, he describes the stereotypical views of democracy currently popular among urban Chinese, views which equate democracy with unbridled individualism, Russia’s economic collapse, and weak central governance among other failures. By these standards, who wouldn’t reject “democracy”? [Full Text]
CDT’s reader Evelyn Atkinson also sent in an email to respond Tom Doctoroff’s article:
Re: “Democracy in China: They Just Say No”
Tom Doctoroff poses an interesting question – whether the inability of China to become democratic is due to the inherent nature of Chinese thought and history. His argument, however, has one big flaw. Taiwan, which shares the same cultural traditions and historical background as China, has already become democratic.
The foundations of Chinese culture and ideology are just as strong in Taiwan as in China – stronger, because Taiwan preserved its traditions whereas China destroyed them during the Cultural Revolution. Yet Taiwan has incorporated these traditions while embracing democracy, and the result is an effective, energetic democratic polity. In 2006, Freedom House rated Taiwan as the freest country in Asia.
What’s more, Chinese philosophy and history extend beyond Confucian ideas of social hierarchy. Before Confucius, and long before notions of democracy had surfaced in the West, one of the dominating systems in China was a government and civil service based on merit, rather than aristocracy.
There is no reason to suppose, then, that China cannot democratize simply because it is “Chinese.” If anything, the force standing in the way of China’s democratization is the decades of brainwashing the PRC government has imposed on its citizens. As long as Beijing continues to have the power to control what Chinese citizens think as it mollifies them with an expanding economy, Chinese citizens will feel content with their lot. The issue preventing China’s democratization is not the nature of Chinese people; it is the power of the Communist regime.