People often ask what level of democracy does China have, and it takes time to explain that democracy comes in very different shapes and sizes
Asking what level of democracy does China have is like asking what level of democracy Switzerland has?
China and Switzerland have some of the highest levels of democracy of any country on earth, and Chinese people care greatly about democracy.
How Democratic is China?
America and China are both republics, and both claim to be democratic. But finally, how democratic is China?
A glance at history is always a good start. Here’s Mencius, Confucius’ greatest disciple, on the relationship of the state to the people: The state is secondary, and the Ruler is the least important: only those who please the people can rule.
2500 years later, Mao Zedong replied to a Reuters correspondent who asked him what kind of government he was planning for China: It will implement Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s three principles of democracy, Lincoln’s principle of ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ and Roosevelt’s Atlantic Charter. It will assure the independence and unity of the nation and cooperate with all democratic powers etc.
Our political tradition is Roman, and one of our system’s weaknesses is that citizens lose control of politicians once we elect them. It’s one reason why, like our Roman forebears, we regard government as our biggest problem: they don’t keep their promises. Actually, the Romans copied their ideas from Ancient Greeks, especially from Athens’ famous legislator, Pericles.
Current Chinese Democracy
Imagine that, instead of electing eloquent amateurs, we hired professional sociologists, statisticians, political scientists, economists and told them to conduct public surveys to identify our problems.
Then we told them to help state and local governments who wanted to experiment with solutions. They should track local satisfaction for a few years, discard failed policies, and promote successful ones.
California might adopt Canadian-style
Medicare and–if the Golden State’s medical bills fell fifty percent and Californians lived three years longer, we would send volunteers to audit California’s results then, if everything checked out, pass national legislation that would cut everyone’s health costs and allow us all to live longer. That’s what China does: they spend half as much as we spend and live longer, healthier lives likewise.
Beijing has promised to extend the democratic rule of law as education levels rise, but there has been another informal democracy at work for three thousand years.
Any citizen can petition the government.
Any citizen also can petition the government with demand or complaint etc. Historically at any time but especially now, when Congress is meeting with the Peoples Consultative Congress. Thousands of insistent constituents appear on their doorsteps with written petitions. The protocol requires them to start at the neighborhood level then, if they are still dissatisfied, finally go to the next level, all the way to the NPC if needed. In fact, there is a special office, the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, where everyone, even non-citizens, can lodge petitions.
Legislation, which was once published in newspapers and posted on neighborhood bulletin boards, now blossoms online. Every draft is posted for citizens, non-citizens, national and international businesses alike to comment and critique–and they do. If there is strong pushback or resistance to proposed laws, they’re sent back for amendment. And if that is too cumbersome, there is the constitutional right to demonstrate publicly.
Smartphones, social media, and streaming video to multiply the effects of public demonstrations (as 150,000 ‘mass incidents’ in 2018 testify). Rowdy protests–usually triggered by local officials’ unfairness, dishonesty, or incompetence–are cheap, exciting, and safe since the police are unarmed. Indignant citizens paint signs, alert NGOs and the media, recruit neighbors, bang drums, shout slogans, and Livestream their parade, etc.
That once took months now takes hours. Targeted officials–usually after a phone call from an angry superior–speed to the scene. Bow deeply, apologize profusely, kiss babies, explain that they had no idea that such things were going on, and promise brighter tomorrows. Since cell phones became, ubiquitous local officials’ approval has risen from forty-five to fifty-five percent. And by 2025, should rival Americans’ seventy percent.
From land redistribution in the 1950s to communes in the 60s to the Great Leap Forward, as well as the Cultural Revolution, Reform, and Opening and anti-corruption, Chinese politics are almost unrecognizable from one decade to the next, yet policy support rivals Switzerland’s. Tsinghua Professor Daniel Bell credits democracy at the bottom, experiments in the middle, and meritocracy at the top for a string of policy successes. And The New York Times’s Tom Friedman says wistfully, “If we could just be China for one day we could actually authorize the right decisions.”
President Hu Jintao
Former President Hu Jintao, who formalized Trial Spots, wisely observed that there’s more to China’s democratic process than meets the eye, “Taking from each according his ability and giving to each according to his need requires democratic rule of law, fairness and justice, honesty and fraternity, abundant energy, stability, orderliness, harmony between people and the environment and sustainable development.”
Words to ponder.
 Confucius’ most famous disciple, Mencius, lived 372 BC – 289 BC.
 Moreover, Record High Name Government as Most Important Problem. Gallup. February 18, 2019
 The “Surprise” of Authoritarian Resilience in China. Wenfang Tang
 The Voting Rights Act of 1965
 William Sewell and I Stayed in China.
 The China Democratic League is for teachers from elementary school to universities. Since Confucius is China’s archetypal teacher and teachers are held in high regard by society as a whole, this is a highly influential party.
 The Kuomintang of China, KMT; obviously (sometimes Guomindang) often translated as the Nationalist Party of China) is a major political party in the Republic of China on Taiwan, based in Taipei, and is currently the opposition political party in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan.
 The Jiusan Society is for Ph.D. scientists, mostly physicists, and engineers, whose position is ‘everything should be run by science’. Very big on pushing for climate initiatives, environmental protection, more R&D budget, better health policies, etc.
 Authoritarian Gridlock? Understanding Delay in the Chinese Legislative System. Rory Truex. Journal of Comparative Political Studies, April 2018
 The lowest recorded legislative support is sixty-four percent for the Three Gorges Dam project. Which finally repays its original investment every two years. It was the biggest and most expensive single-site project in history whose lake has changed the earth’s rotation, so legislators’ caution in their generation is understandable.
 Public perception of genetically-modified (GM) food: A Nationwide Chinese Consumer Study. Kai Cui & Sharon P. Shoemaker. npj Science of Food volume 2, Article number: 10 (2018)
 Jeff J. Brown, China Rising, etc.
 Tang, Populist Authoritarianism.
 The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy.(p. 9) Daniel Bell etc.