Huanqiu Shibao, China’s paper for global affairs and hot potatos, published an editorial on the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt on Sunday.
Western democratic culture still appeared to be expanding, but while the first color revolutions (“颜色革命”) at the end of the cold war had been whole-heartedly welcomed, reactions to the more recent events were more muted, writes Huanqiu.
Western countries had interests beyond democracy in the Middle East, given the strong foundations of islamic fundamentalism there.
The Middle East is the area where ideological and emotional confrontations with the West are most intense, and that is also a reason as to why the West has long supported non-democratic political power there.
Democracy may not have taken root in South Korea or Japan either, hadn’t it been at the price of having foreign troops stationed on their territories, writes Huanqiu. In many other places outside the established Western societies, democratic countries had failed, which had led to doubts that Western political systems were practical on a global scale.
It is predictable that Tunisia is still far away from real democracy, and no matter where the chaos in Egypt will lead, democracy is far away there, too. Democracy’s success requires sustenance from a lot of economic, educational, and societal change, and the problem now is that every country has some people who simplify the big topic of democracy.
Western exports of democracy came with no after-sales service, and given the relative decline of its power, the West can’t add the necessary innovation and changes the democratic system would need.
While democracy was a very acceptable principle to humankind, ways had to be sought to implement it in ways which didn’t require the upheaval (动荡dòng dàng) and and misery (痛苦tòng kǔ) of revolutions, argues the Huanqiu editorial. Possibly, there should rather be a competition between countries on innovative ways towards democracy (这或许应当成为各国走向民主的创新竞赛).
I’m not sure who Steven Hill is – “Steven Hill is an author”, the Taipei Times laconically noted at the end of an article written by Hill which it published on Sunday, titled China is walking a democratic path, . But it comes timely, and yes, the democratic path he describes would differ from the Western model.
Of course, as Chinese democracy develops, it is unlikely to replicate the Western model. Confucian-inspired intellectuals like Jiang Qing (蔣慶), for example, have put forward an innovative proposal for a tricameral legislature. Legislators in one chamber would be selected on the basis of merit and competency and in the others on the basis of elections of some kind. One elected chamber might be reserved only for CCP members, the other for representatives elected by ordinary Chinese.
On the village level, democratic experiments had led to encouraging results, Hill writes, citing Yang Yao ((楊姚, an economist), measured in a reduction of corruption.
Jiang Qing (蒋庆 in simplified characters), the Confucian-inspired intellectual referred to by Hill as he describes possible political systems for China’s central level, belongs to a school of Confucianists who believe that the old sage’s philosophy is a self-sufficient civilizational system*) which can provide a practical foundation for the way China should organize its political system.
“Confucius said: ‘Harmony is something to be cherished'”, Hu Jintao reportedly told the National People’s Congress in 2005. Muammar Qaddafi, not always a harmonious personality himself, would probably agree with Confucius these days, if the Economist quoted him correctly last week:
“Tunisia now lives in fear. Families could be raided and slaughtered in their bedrooms and the citizens in the street killed as if it was the Bolshevik or the American revolution.”**)
But not only Islamists may have different opinions. After all, to torch oneself as Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vendor, did on December 17, is hardly “islamic”.
And if there are Europeans or Americans who mute their enthusiasm for Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”, the Economist isn’t one of them:
“To see an Arab country shaking off the shackles of despotism is a rare and unalloyed joy”, one of its editorials said on January 22***) – “and don’t fear Islam.”
It is not an easy calculation. Many Islamists think God and the Koran should take precedence over parliaments, parties, pluralism and popular debate. At the extreme end of the Islamist spectrum are hard men whose rule would be a lot harsher than that of Mr Ben Ali and his ilk. But in few Arab countries is an extreme version of Islam either preponderant or popular. The Muslim Brotherhood, the true opposition in Egypt, embraces a range of attitudes. The more tolerant and sensible in its number are probably the most popular. Seeing that undemocratic secular regimes have failed to give them satisfaction, Arabs should be allowed to votre for Islamists if that is their wish. It is a risk – for themselves and for the rest of the world. However, as the past few weeks have shown, winking at secular despots, as they tighten the screws on their disgruntled people, may in the long run be riskier.
If similar things could happen in China is a question many observers – near and far – have asked themselves in recent days, but usually in a light-hearted or at least casual way, rather than in real belief.
The Telegraph‘s China correspondent Peter Foster digs fairly deep into the well of history, China’s included, but still finds that a successful “emancipation by degrees” could avert revolution in China.
Cup of Cha sees an aspect in the Egyptian uprisings which strikes fear in the heart (see there), but the Chinese have been willing to put up with government corruption, cynicism and cronyism because the economic situation in China is good overall.
And Wang Xuejin (王学圻), a moviemaker who attended the Cairo Film Festival and then reportedly found himself stranded at the airport, hungry and scared, may not be in a revolutionary mood either. He might, however, wish to see a few heads roll at China’s embassy in Cairo. As reported by Ning Caishen, a microblogger:
a friend sent a text message from Cairo: Due to the chaos in Cairo, Wang Xuejin has been trapped at the Cairo Airport for 15 hours already. The telephones are not working. We just saw that the whole country is engulfed in chaos, with arson and bombings sweeping through the city. We came here with the State Film Authority to attend the Film Festival held by the embassy. Our embassy in Egypt are indifferent to our lives. They are hiding themselves to save their own lives.
That said, re-posters of the message paid the highest salute to the embassy for their effectiveness.
*) according to Wang Zhicheng – see translation of 2009
**) The Economist, January 22, 2011, page 30
***) The Economist, January 22, 2011, page 13
No Hidden Ambitions, September 24, 2010