Feng Chongyi: Charter 08 and China’s Troubled Liberalism

For Asia Times, Feng Chongyi, associate professor in China studies at the University of Technology, Sydney and adjunct professor of history, Nankai University, Tianjin, has a lengthy analysis of Charter 08 and its meaning for the liberal movement in China. He concludes: “In the long run, the proposals made in Charter 08 could serve as a guide for the emergence of a genuine Chinese democracy”:

Charter 08 represents a significant step forward and provides a remedy for the limits of the 1989 democracy movement. Despite harsh suppression of democracy and liberal ideas by the Chinese party-state, and partly due to this suppression, liberalism and the quest for human rights have been on the rise and achieved a level of sophistication in China since the late 1990s. Charter 08 can be seen as an embodiment and synthesis of theoretical and intellectual achievements by Chinese liberal intellectuals over a decade.

The first achievement is the open embrace of constitutional democracy in rejection of one-party dictatorship, including the illusion of “socialist democracy” or “proletarian democracy”. For those who are critical of the practice of constitutional democracy or liberal democracy in the West, the universal values, liberal concepts and democratic recommendation summarized in Charter 08 are nothing but common sense.

However, as argued by the signatories of Charter 08, one-party dictatorship is the root of social ills and inequality in China, whereas constitutional democracy or liberal democracy, less than perfect as it is, forms the basic institutional framework that is the prerequisite for other improvements, including deliberative democracy, social justice and economic equality. This is a lesson that has been paid for in the blood of millions living under state socialism.


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