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[ 174 ] asia policy Democracy Is a Good Thing: Essays on Politics, Society, and Culture in Contemporary China Yu Keping Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009 • 240 pp. author’s executive summary This book compiles a series of translated writings by Yu Keping regarding the feasibility of democracy in modern China. main argument Thirty years after instituting policies of economic reform and opening to the outside world, China is now witnessing discussion about political reforms among Chinese scholars and in the official media. The desire for civil expression is not a recent phenomenon but can be traced back over a century. Accordingly, Chinese citizens should learn the lessons of failed revolutions in pursuit of democracy. China will most likely experience incremental rather than immediate democracy, in which gradual reforms are implemented over time and civil society continues to grow. Initial developments such as intraparty elections, grass-roots elections, and legal reforms will help make the political climate in China receptive at some point in the future to a democratic breakthrough. policy implications • In order to be persuaded to adopt democratic reforms, leaders must be convinced that both the price they will bear from the process of democratization and the price to society are minimal. Similarly, if Chinese leaders can re-conceptualize political stability as dynamic rather than static, they will be much more likely to choose negotiation with citizens over repression. • Tensions will persist internally as China tries to reconcile its drive for modernization and its position in global leadership with social and environmental costs and the need to preserve national identity. • The type of democracy that develops in China will look different from U.S. or Western definitions and will need to be consistent with Chinese identity and outlook. Democracy in other countries—such as Mexico, Australia, and Japan—has similarly developed along different lines according to local conditions. [ 175 ] book reviews Democracy Is a Good Thing, But… Tun-jen Cheng A review of Yu’s Democracy Is a Good Thing In the early winter of 2006, when the Chinese political elites were engrossed in viewing the China Central Television (CCTV) series on the rise of great powers (daguo jueqi), the Beijing Daily uncharacteristically featured an aphoristic essay by Yu Keping entitled “Democracy Is a Good Thing.”1 Creating a big splash in intellectual, academic, and perhaps policy circles in China, Yu’s essay—now probably as renowned in China as Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?”—raises a glimmer of hope that a path to democratic change in China has been found and that the debate on political reform can now be concluded. This essay has attracted so much attention that the Brookings Institution’s Thornton China Center set forth to collect Yu Keping’s writings into a book inaugurating its Chinese Thinkers series. Yu’s writings and comments have been meticulously combed in the past few years, probably for a couple of reasons. First, as a Beida PhD and a leading figure in the party state’s brain trust, Yu may provide a clue to democratic reform that China might be contemplating during Hu Jintao’s reign. The Sixteenth Party Congress in 2002 highlighted “intraparty democracy.” The Seventeenth Party Congress in 2007 underscored “people’s democracy,” a notion that seems to be bigger and more promising than intraparty democracy in terms of scope. The train of thought in Yu’s writings may help us to decode the lofty but often vague concepts and projects that the party state claims to have embraced. Yu is situated at the intersection of epistemic and policy communities, so his writings may well be a gold mine for what James Scott would call “hidden script.” Second, as a counterpoint to the view of Pan Wei and others who have espoused legal reform or economic development at the expense of democratic reform, Yu’s insistence on the necessity for China to continue democratic reform put a brake on the newly reignited drive toward political neoconservatism. In his most recent commentary, printed in the September 7, 2009, edition of China’s Business Week, Yu blatantly repudiated Pan Wei’s 1 “Minzu xi hao-dong-xi” [Democracy Is a Good Thing], Beijing Ribao [Beijing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
p. 174
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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