Words of the Week: Tepid Two Sessions Hailed As a Triumph for “Whole Process Democracy”

This year’s recently concluded “Two Sessions,” the annual gatherings of China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress (NPC) and advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), were more Party-scripted and tepid than ever. The NPC meeting was only seven days long, the premier’s customary post-NPC press conference was canceled, online discourse censorship was intense, and the feedback from CPPCC delegates on the government’s annual work report was underwhelming, to say the least. Nonetheless, the 2024 meetings were hailed by the Party-state and state media as a triumph for China’s “whole process people’s democracy,” a term that was formally incorporated into Chinese law in March 2021.

A recent China Youth Daily Online article authored by Liu Changrong, Yang Jie, and Qing Zhenzi—a portion of which was translated by CDT—juxtaposed the elevated stature and decades of professional expertise of the CPPCC delegates with the timorous pointlessness of their contributions to the government’s annual work report. (One such “contribution” involved quibbling over whether a punctuation mark should be a comma or a period.)

The phrase “whole process democracy” is included as one of 104 entries in our recently launched ebook, China Digital Times Lexicon: 20th Anniversary Edition. The full entry is reproduced below.

whole process democracy 全过程民主 (quán guòchéng mínzhǔ)

Hazily defined Party term for participatory democracy without open elections. In 2021, the term briefly became a centerpiece of China’s global propaganda offensive after the United States hosted a democracy summit that included 100 participating countries, but not China or Russia. Its counterpart “Western Constitutional Democracy” remains a taboo subject in China. In 2013, the infamous official “Document 9” denounced promotion of “Western Constitutional Democracy” as “an attempt to undermine the current leadership and the socialism with Chinese characteristics system of governance.” A screenshot of a 2022 lecture given at a Shaanxi university listed “Western Constitutional Democracy” as the top “false tide of thought” in China’s ever more diverse society.

In practice, “whole process democracy” tends to involve widely derided unanimous elections (全票当选, quánpiào dāngxuǎn). In 2003, Xi Jinping warned against the unanimous election of cadres. A 2011 People’s Daily article put it even more starkly: “If the people’s will continues to be hijacked through ‘unanimous elections,’ it will fuel public resentment.” Nonetheless, Xi was unanimously elected to an unprecedented third term as President of the People’s Republic of China on March 10, 2023. This feat was enabled by a constitutional amendment abolishing the two-term limit which was passed by China’s rubber stamp parliament in 2018 with a slightly less commanding majority of 2958 to two. Xi had already secured his position atop the Party by secret ballot in late 2022. 

Objections were naturally censored online. Weibo searches for the hashtag #2952#, the number of votes Xi won, returned the following message: “According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the page is not found.” On Sunday evening, searches for “2952” only returned results from verified state- and Party-affiliated accounts, colloquially known as “Blue Vs.” Searches for the term, “the People’s choice,” which Party outlets used to celebrate Xi’s election, similarly only returned results from Blue V accounts. At one point, the sheer volume of propaganda related to Xi’s reelection seemingly caused Weibo’s censorship algorithms to malfunction by making Xi’s name entirely unsearchable. Online, many used the pun “Second Coming of Yuan Shikai,” a reference to the early 20th century president-turned-self-proclaimed-Emperor. The references to Yuan were tightly censored, but some still slipped through the cracks. Many started resharing a 2018 essay from Shanxi Television’s WeChat account on Yuan Shikai’s fondness for Tianjin’s famed Goubuli “A Dog Wouldn’t Touch ‘Em” steamed buns. “Steamed Bun Xi” is perhaps the longest enduring of Xi’s many censored nicknames.

While the Party speaks of “whole process democracy,” many Chinese would instead refer to the “Eye-field Clan King.”


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