While academic debate over the future of democracy in China remains fashionable in certain circles, in reality it is of dubious value, Chinese writer Xu Zhiyuan (許知遠) said yesterday.
Xu made the remarks at a conference in Taipei organized by the Research Center for Cross-Strait Exchanges on Democracy and Culture.
Born in China in 1976, Xu is a columnist for Yazhou Zhoukan magazine and the Financial Times. He is also the independent founder of the famous One-Way Street Library.
On the prospects of a democratized China, Xu said the reason Chinese academics had “high hopes” for civil society was primarily because of the defeatist views toward “great revolutions.”
Old-style revolutions such as those launched by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are now seen as failures, he said.
Past hopes for progress to a more “enlightened leadership” have also been proven to be ill-founded, he said, adding that as a result, civil society had become “the straw at which the drowning man clutches.”
Present-day China is something akin to Taiwan in the 1970s, he said, with a gradual loosening of the political system. China also faces problems like those facing Taiwan, such as the fragmentation of civil society, which is also becoming increasingly superficial, Xu said.
As a result, China, where the CCP retains a firm grip on power, but where people can open independent bookstores, must perform a difficult balancing act and failure to do so could bring the whole house of cards crashing down, he said.
Chinese academics hope a future China would allow for political plurality granting greater individual freedoms, he said. However, were the CCP to relinquish power now, it would immediately be taken over by the corporate sector, he said.
In such an environment, civil society would still be at the bottom of the ladder.
This is neither optimism nor pessimism, he said, but rather about acknowledging reality.