The Crisis for Democracy in China
The push for democracy in China did not disappear after the government violently ended the protests at Tiananmen Square. The children of the 1989 protesters have grown up under the oppressive hand of the CCP, and have started to voice their own concerns for their nation. Most loudly heard in Hong Kong, these movements have been gaining momentum and will soon become an urgent issue. The Chinese Communist party will most likely remain communist in name, but the growing threat of student protests and their partnership with a rural working class frustrated by corruption will force it to democratize in Hong Kong and Mainland China. As seen in the photo below, the youth are the ones spearheading this movement, and are influencing generations even below them (Barria).
The short-term cause that brought this crisis for democracy into global attention was Hong Kong, citizens’, specifically students’, inability to elect political candidates. China’s government promised Hong Kong “universal suffrage”, but the caveat was that the only candidates were ones that had been chosen by the Communist Party (Sheehan). The Hong Kong University students were outraged, claiming“What's the difference between a rotten apple, a rotten orange and a rotten banana?”, referring to the party-chosen candidates (Sheehan). The students organized a movement to occupy Hong Kong’s Financial center, a protest named “Occupy Central” (Schiavenza). A survey of the Hong Kong University students showed that “75 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 expressed distrust in the Chinese government” (Schiavenza). Their push for democracy has been gaining steam, and China is losing the youth’s support.
The party’s censorship and corruption lead urban youth to distrust the government, and demand a new system. The Chinese government is currently performing a new Cultural Revolution of sorts, but instead of Confucianism, they are attacking western social culture. The People’s Liberation Army put out a statement claiming, “Hostile Western forces and a minority of ideological traitors within the country are using the internet to attack our Party” (Kuo). This attack and censorship has the opposite of the desired effect, as the urban youth is becoming increasingly dissatisfied and skeptical of the party. This is reinforced by party corruption. It was reported that, “the expenditure on officials’ banquets, cars, and foreign trips was 900 billion RMB per year” (Will Democratize). The corruption of the party is a factor to consider when asking why this crisis hasn’t been solved yet. These kind of benefits cause leaders to have no need to make political change, as long as they are benefitting. The video below displays the demands that the students have, and the reaction that the government is offering (China Threatens Chaos).
It is important to consider that the University students in Hong Kong are not the only social group that is victimized by the government. The disparity of wealth between rural and urban areas in Mainland China creates growing frustration that leads to criticism of the Communist party, favoring a democratic approach. Although we have not seen serious revolts from the countryside, it is very possible that the shocking distribution of wealth will create serious infuriation with the party. A study shows that “Rural income per capita being only 39 percent of real urban income per capita” (Park 43). Democracy seems to be the clear answer to the rural class that suffers under China’s “communism”. The photo below depicts young girls working in a farm in rural China. This way of life is far different from the fast moving, industrial image that China projects (China Breaks Long Silence).
We can understand the call for the solution of this crisis given the economic direction China has been moving in since Deng Xiaoping was president. With his implementation of “special economic zones”, a clearly capitalist move, he has set up China as a not entirely communist country; one that at least semi-embraces western economic values (Socialism with Chinese Characteristics). Given this change, it is not unrealistic that the rural class, urban students and all other groups that face inequality would expect the social benefits that come along with western economic values.
The support of the working class would be the final push this movement needs to be a real threat to the Communist Party. An example of this from history would be Tiananmen Square. The government thought it could control student protest, but as soon as the working class joined the cause, Tiananmen became an issue that the CCP would have to deal with immediately (The Tank Man). The threat of workers striking or quitting would pose a threat to China’s economic security.Although we have not seen their support yet, it is very conceivable given the incredible inequality they face.
China’s government will have to address this issue sooner or later and it is very possible that they will give in to their concessions while maintaining its Communist façade. It would be too much of a shock to call itself an outright democracy, given their continuous rejection of western ideals, but current president Xi Jinping’s embracing of Confucianism could lead to less embracing of Communism. Jinping spoke at en event for Confucius, “Extolling Confucius and his importance, [saying] that “to understand today’s China, today’s Chinese people, we must understand Chinese culture and blood […]” (Moses). This notion of understanding the past could just be a cover for his desire to move away from Communism.
It could be argued that the CCP will ignore the power of the students and working class squash this movement just like they did with Tiananmen Square, eradicating all traces of the push for democracy. The party is already censoring this movement, filtering out all Instagrams under the tag #HongKong (Woollacott). The government uses the Basic Law to claim that the protests are illegal, arresting protesters where they can (Gracie). However, the use of social media and the Internet in other parts of the world will gain the protests global attention, therefore making it harder for the CCP to stop them from gaining momentum.
The threat of students alone is great, but their expected joining with the working rural class will make their push for democracy undeniable. Although the Chinese Communist party will remain communist in name, the growing threat of these two social groups, frustrated by corruption, inequality, and censorship will force the party to democratize in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
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