Why Taiwan is no Model for China’s Political System

Radio Taiwan International QSL card, showing the shortwave broadcasting site in Tainan

Broadcasting to China and to the world: Radio Taiwan International Tainan Shortwave Broadcasting Site (RTI QSL card)

I had a discussion with an (apparently) Taiwanese commenter on a Peking Duck thread during the past two days. Having a discussion is quite different from reading, or from revisiting your own brain’s lobes, and can lead thoughts into quite different directions. Both his, and my comments, could stand as blog posts in their own right respectively, but obviously, I can’t simply copy and paste someone else’s comments from someone else’s blog. The Taiwaner’s views can be found here and here. The following is a re-mix of what I wrote in the same thread. It’s basically about why Taiwan may or not be a model for China’s future political development. The following is also more decided than many of my usual posts, as frequently happens when its the result of an argument, rather than of mere reflection.

China probably isn’t going to become a democracy at all, and will feel “threatened” by the mere fact that democracy is a more attractive concept to most other nations.

Within China, fear of the outside world will continue to perpetuate dictatorship – but obviously, I hope that the brave people within China who continue to believe that their country can do better will prove me wrong.

But there are great differences between the Taiwanese “model”, and the Chinese “copy”.

One difference is that Confucianism isn’t the Chinese model. There have been and there still are academics who advocate the great tradition (i. e. political, rather than just popular, Confucianism). But the party is far from adopting Confucianism. They’ve cherry-picked some of its most stifling aspects, like “harmony” – but even Mao liked to use the classics for creating slogans of his own. No party document refers to classical values, but each document refers to Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, Dengism and the “Three Represents”.

There is another decisive factor which makes China and Taiwan very different. Chinese people fear the world. The Taiwanese, if anything, fear China. A climate of fear perpetuates dictatorship. I think we have seen (comparatively sophisticated) beginnings of such a climate in America, after 2001, and they still seem to continue to exist in parts of American legislation – but there, such trends haven’t continued to reinforce [each other]. Provided that efforts within civil society towards liberalisation are to continue in America, the 9-11 streak will abate.

I think the only time when the Chinese public made genuine moves toward the rest of the world was in the 1980s, and possibly at times during the 1990s and early this century. Especially if democracy continues to stumble forward in the rest of the world (in a number of Arab countries, for example), China’s leaders will continue to create fears, and make use of them.

The climate among urban Chinese, including some people who I know quite well, doesn’t make me think that GDP or purchasing power per person will be the defining metric here. It isn’t an irrelevant factor in my view, but it’s not always a pivotal one either. Within Arabia, I think it’s possible that, despite a much lower GDP per capita than Saudi Arabia, Syria is a more likely democracy than its rich neighbor to the south, and that Taiwan, even if its GDP per capita was lower than China’s, would be a more likely democracy than China.

China is a country where many mortifications are felt. The roots for many of these can be found inside China as it is today, rather than abroad – but it is abroad where most Chinese people, even otherwise liberal-minded, seem to seek fault.

I’m sure the CCP has nothing against Confucianism as a popular tradition, as long as it works the way you describe in your previous comment – if it’s conducive to perpetuating the powers that be should be alright. But that doesn’t elevate Confucianism to a guiding ideology within the party. You won’t find references to Confucianism in CCP documents, as far as they are published, to the end that Confucianism would be part of what they build their organization on. That would be everything from Leninism to the “Three Represents”, i. e. the ruling dynasty’s heritage to date.
It may be hard to think that Chinese rulers may not put Confucianism first, and what Chinese scholars put forward in that regard, even very palpable constitutional drafts as the one by Jiang Qing, or Zhang Xianglong‘s concept of “special Confucian zones” [might suggest that they expect to have an actual say in China’s future design],  but the CCP is a very particular brotherhood, and I think there are Confucians who are too convinced of the “naturally guiding role” of Confucianism to understand the relativeness (if not irrelevance), in Beijing’s view, of their ideas.

It seems to me that the last time Chiang Kai-shek undertook a genuine ideological effort to control peoples’ minds, and not just their behavior, was his “New-Life movement”. His rule on Taiwan was authoritarian, but I see no totalitarian ambition there. That authoritarian rule weakened has a lot to do with the vanishing ambition to “regain the mainland”, simply because that goal was becoming unrealistic. Taiwan counted in CKS’ books as a military base, not as something worth in itself to possess. Sure – Chiang Ching-kuo kept referring to the “recovery of the mainland” even in his last speeches, but these were somewhat ironic (and melancholic, I feel) scenes, just the more as Chiang was by then wheelchair-bound. All that stuff about getting the mainland back had become an empty slogan, waiting to be replaced by something else.

1987 Double-Ten Military Parade

1987 Double-Ten Military Parade (click picture for source)

The meaning of Taiwan had begun to change, even among KMT loyalists from China. That’s one important factor which loosened the KMT’s grip in the first place. The CCP has no reason to follow that example. Another factor was that Taiwan is quite different from China. To keep myself from going from length to length, I’ll just drop the “yellow” and “blue culture” buzzwords for now. If they are of any use, and if they are relevant categories when it comes to Taiwan, I’d categorize Taiwan as rather “blue”.

Context here. The thread contains arguments far beyond this topic, and Richard‘s (Peking Duck)  post’s original intention wasn’t Taiwan-related either.

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Related

» Lee Teng-hui’s New Central Plains, October 18, 2011
» Causes of Democratization, Wikipedia, as of Dec 4, 2011

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