4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Loyd E. Eskildson
- Published on Amazon.com
Many expected or at least hoped that democracy would follow the opening of China's economy thirty-one years ago. It hasn't - even with China's socialist history and its now highest level of economic inequality in the world. Professor Teresa Wright, Chairman of California State University at Long Beach's Department of Political Science explains why in her excellent book, "Accepting Authoritarianism." According to her in-depth analysis, each major sector of China accepts and supports the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and there is no imminent 'anti-government volcano.' Wright also contends that that the reasons for this are that most Chinese believe their authoritarian government has brought about the country's and their own economic rise and will continue to do so, many depend on the state for benefits or security, and any others have neither a way or reason to link their mostly local protests.
Some of the most obvious 'pacifiers, per Wright:' Private enterprise owners and SOE (state-owned enterprise) workers and managers have privileged relationships with and benefits from the CCP, giving them an interest in preserving the status quo. The state also has control of key economic resources (eg. land, rare earths, state bank loans), as well as issuance of permits, approvals, and contracts. Professionals similarly benefit from positive associations with the state. Thirdly, reforms since 1987 have reduced the appeal of political alternatives - rural residents are now able to elect local leaders, and citizens have a growing ability to voice grievances through petitions and the courts. (Example - protests over potential radiation exposure from extending Shanghai's maglev train brought about its cancellation.) These new powers also help the CCP rein in government corruption and the rapacious elite. Fourth, farmers no longer are dependent on the state in growing and selling crops, college graduates are no longer assigned jobs by the state, and the state is no longer involved in marriage and other personal decisions (except for the one-child policy). Wright adds that older citizens are the most supportive of political stability - they remember the terror and violence associated with the Cultural Revolution while the very oldest also remember the chaos associated with China's 1958-61 'Great Famine' and its preceding Civil War.
Businesspeople formerly were formerly scorned, even tortured and killed. Since 2002, however, they have been invited to join the CCP, and business leaders are now its most heavily represented (34%) component, vs. about 5% nationally. Promoting economic growth has also become key to evaluating local officials, and the government provides major support for high-technology development. The proportion of college students within the CCP has also risen, and the top students are actively recruited - the benefit to them is help getting government jobs and education funding. Laid-off former SOE workers are eligible for government-provided 'basic living expenses,' though only about half actually receive anything, and the amount is inadequate. Much more importantly, most current and former SOE workers receive government-subsidized housing, as well as many others with low incomes.
China's unions are CCP-controlled and been prevented from becoming a disrupting force in the interest of encouraging greater foreign investment. This last year, however, brought their strengthening in the face of labor shortages and the raft of suicides at FoxConn. Wages were increased at FoxConn and Honda, and Wal-Mart in China became unionized. On the other hand, the China Democracy Party (CDP) and the China Labor Bulletin (CLB), formed just prior to President Clinton's 1998 visit, have been stifled and their leaders subjected to long jail terms - a lesson to any group or union thinking of stretching existing 'freedoms.' (Liu Xiaobo's continued imprisonment, despite winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, reinforces the point.)
Farmers and migrant workers represent both the largest (740 million) and the bottom-tier of China's economic strata. Farmers with additional income sources (eg. other employment, shop ownership) are best off; those without have far less income than city-workers, per Wright. Regardless, farmers' situation recently improved through becoming exempt from taxes, and know their situation is now far better than under Mao. China still maintains the 'hukou' system of family registration dating back at least 2,000 years that limited rural residents from migrating to (and overwhelming) urban centers. These limitations, however, generally are no longer enforced and may soon be eliminated. While migrants that move into major cities have very poor living conditions and few rights, their situation has also recently been improved by the government's requirement that employers provide them written contracts, and a vibrant construction (infrastructure, commercial, and residential) boom; regardless, their guaranteed rural land rights provides both them and those remaining on the farm with a sense of long-term security. Resentment over unemployment is tempered by state propaganda that employment is the workers' responsibility, thus for the most part avoiding potential CCP liability. (The state did undertake a major stimulus effort in response to 2008's sagging demand for Chinese imports.) Only about 3% of farmers and almost no migrant workers are CCP members, compared to about 9% of urban adults.
Disturbances, however, are not uncommon in China. Author Wright reports 10,000 'disturbances' in 1996, per official government statistics, rising to 87,000 in 2005 with 4 million participants. Major grievances have included SOE layoffs, inadequate pensions, unpaid wages from private employers, excessive taxes, and numerous unfair land takings by local government officials (usually for new businesses). However, Wright emphasizes that these disturbances do not reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the central regime, and their political goals usually are limited to urging local officials to live up to the socialist ideals of the central government (CCP). Scores of public opinion surveys find very high popular support for the central government; for example, PEW Global Global Attitudes surveys in 2009 and 2010 found Chinese citizens' satisfaction with 'national conditions' and the economy far higher in China than other nations - including the U.S. New state priorities including further improving citizen satisfaction through greater job opportunities for those in central and west China, returning to mostly government-supplied health care and education (aka the Mao era), and implementing/funding a national pension system - all within a background of reducing income inequality.
Wright does not address possible CCP opposition from the military. Mitigating its potential opposition, however, is its inclusion within the CCP, though not as strongly at the top as before. China's initial post-Mao reformer Deng Xiaoping was probably more able to control the military than most, given the respect for his earlier leadership of anti-Japanese forces prior to the CCP takeover; Deng early on counseled the military to wait on most of its demands until the economy strengthened. The military has since also greatly benefited under CCP leadership through modernization, and implementation of asymmetric warfare capabilities (numerous silent submarines, anti-ship missiles, and ICBMs), new carrier and stealth-fighter building programs, and the government's continued hard-line stance vs. Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S. Finally, the CCP has managed to benefit from Chinese nationalistic sentiment through obtaining world-wide admiration of its impressive Olympic and World's Fair performances, taking the world's 'supercomputer crown,' education-building/achievements, and numerous other 'soft-power' enhancements (eg. foreign building projects, loans, and purchases).
Wright believes that those contending democracy is inexorably linked with economic development do so by inappropriately drawing parallels with workers' pressure for political power at the time of the Industrial Revolution. At that time workers wanted protection from both the state and employers, while limitations on capital mobility gave labor much greater leverage than today because capitalists had very limited choices in locating production. China, on the other hand, has already provided a number of benefits to its workers; moreover, in today's globalization Wright sees workers and capitalists needing government assistance in obtaining jobs, as well as protection from other nations via tariffs and preferential procurement. Thus, today's external economic pressures support government, unlike at the time of the Industrial Revolution.
One more topic unaddressed by Wright - China's leaders studied events in the dissolving former Soviet Union and its satellites, concluding that part of the reason government lost control was that it had expanded political freedoms. This has reinforced CCP adherence to continued monopoly of power.
Bottom-Line: Wright's thoughtful and well-documented material provides a compelling explanation of why democracy has not followed economic development in China. Others contend China's rapid and steady progress would not even have been possible in a democratic society with all the associated delays in decision-making and implementation - India's much slower development and U.S. political stalemates and economic stagnation, compared to similar rapid economic development in more authoritarian post-WWII Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan serve as examples. Wright, however, does concede that China's stability is vulnerable if the CCP fails to continue to deliver progress in the future. Instead of democracy in China, we should expect continued acceptance of CCP authoritarianism, and more rapid economic growth.