Taiwan's liberal democratic political culture has set it far apart from the autocratic, authoritarian political culture of China.
Let's first look at China's political culture. Even though many Chinese may perceive the People's Republic of China (PRC) as a modern state, historians such as Philip Kuhn of Harvard and Ross Terrill of the University of Texas see the PRC as an empire rather than a modern state. As a matter of fact, Terrill's 2003 book is appropriately titled The New Chinese Empire.
Kuhn, who published his Origins of the Modern Chinese State in 2002, pointed out in his recent talk on China's historical experience of "Empire and Nation," that in China "empire is still alive in some guise or other in the Chinese body politic and probably in the minds of many Chinese."
Beijing clearly has not relinquished all the modes of empire. The relationship between the rulers and the ruled in China today is indeed little different from that during China's imperial times. In spite of Mencius' view that only a government that respects the people is a just government, political legitimacy in China has never stemmed from the sovereignty of the people. Not unlike their imperial predecessors, the Chinese Communist rulers today look down upon the people.
Mao Zedong (毛澤東), for example, famously regarded the people as "poor and blank," and thus considered them easy to mold in the way that the Chinese leaders would see fit.
Likewise, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) has justified the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) rejection of democracy on the pretext that the Chinese people are poorly educated and thus far from being ready for it.
Jiang had conveniently ignored the fact that democracy prevails in places where its people are not necessarily better educated than the Chinese. Thus regardless of its official name of the "People's Republic," the Republic is not "of" the people, it is more "by" and "for" the CCP than "by and for" the people. More than a century after Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) borrowed Lincoln's concept of government "of the people, by the people and for the people," the Chinese leaders still have no intention of embracing popular sovereignty.
The words "freedom" and "equality" are virtually absent from Chinese political writings that have instead stressed "duties," "status" and "hierarchy" since the time of Confucius. It is no wonder that the Chinese government not only has rules and regulations for censoring Chinese publications and electronic networks, but has also compelled foreign IT networks to remove from their Web sites such western terms and concepts as "freedom" and "democracy." These terms are perceived as subversive to China's socio-political stability and order.
This was the reason why the Beijing government moved to brutally crush the student protesters demanding democratic reforms at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. For the same reason, Jiang and his successor are persecuting Falun Gong followers in China and spying on those abroad. International human rights organizations are particularly critical of Beijing's violation of human rights against Tibetans and Uighurs, as well. In short, Chinese Communist leaders have ignored popular will only because they are not truly elected and are not likely to be elected in the foreseeable future.
In contrast, Taiwan's political culture has evolved over the years to become liberal democratic, ie, more western than Chinese. True, for decades in the post-World War II era Taiwan was under Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) dictatorial rule. Chiang was as much imbued with the perception of China's past imperial glory as Mao was. His Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was as Leninist as the CCP has been.