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  • "Legitimacy, Performance, and China's Democratic Future—Navigating between Prudential Pragmatism and Moral Idealism"
  • Gang Lin (bio)
Jiwei Ci, Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2019. x, 420 pp. Hardcover $45.00, isbn 978-0674-23818-3.

During the third wave of democratization, liberal democracy gained popularity in the world. In the past decade, however, it lost momentum, leading to an arguable view of worldwide democracy decline.1 In the case of China, the quest for democracy started well before the third wave, when the first republic in Asia appeared in 1911, although the early rehearsals of representative democracy in that country were unsuccessful. What China has practiced since 1949 is socialist democracy informed by Karl Marx's communist thought but constrained by social and economic underdevelopment and an inexorable legacy of authoritarianism cohabitated uncomfortably with partial and periodical egalitarianism. The Chinese Formula (zhongguo fang'an, in the words of Xi Jinping) of democracy featured by Leninist democratic centralism and one-party leadership is at odds with universally accepted definition of democracy contributed unilaterally by Western democratic societies, where the mainstream views disregard China as a democracy, simply relegating to lip service that country's official upgrading of democracy, freedom, equality, justice, and the rule according to law as part of socialist Core Value (hexin jiazhi).

The subject of Jiwei Ci's book—democracy in China—is explored with such arguable conventional wisdom. The coming crisis as the subtitle actually refers to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), rather than democratic fortune in China. Actually, the main theme of the book is why China needs a democratic change and how China can overcome the related challenges with appropriate responses. This volume demonstrates its strength in theoretic/philosophical discourse and logical reasoning, free from empirical hypothesis and verification relying on quantitative analysis.

From a prudential perspective, Ci makes a strong argument in the Introduction that China is in an urgency to bring about a democratic regime complementary to its democratic society. While people may disagree on such asynchronism in China's political and social developments, Ci believes China [End Page 177] has developed a substantial degree of democracy in society based on "equality of condition," a concept used by Tocqueville in his pathbreaking book Democracy in America.2 From this viewpoint, political democratization in China is justified not so much by moral desirability as by prudential necessity for reason of institutional fittingness and governability on the part of regime. This does not suggest that the author has no normative inclination on this value-laden subject. As Ci contends at the very beginning, one extraordinary challenge to liberal democracy is its "oligarchic capture" manifested by growing "polarizing effects of globalization and digital technology" in the United States and, to a lesser degree, other advanced European countries (p. 2). However, liberal democracy, despite its drawbacks, is still better than other choices for China. This does not suggest China can easily approach such a desirable—however modest—and necessary goal. Four daunting challenges to China's democratization are presented thereafter: (1) the inexorable role of the ruling CCP, (2) the absence of a basic level of individual and societal moral maturity, (3) the weakening of the party's centripetal capacity of holding a vast country full with ethnic diversity but lacking democratic tradition, and (4) a lack of preexisted institutions to balance democracy against capitalism as well as neoliberalism. According to Ci, these daunting challenges require prudent responses.

This book is divided into three parts. The first part (chapters 1 and 2) argues that a looming legitimation crisis calls for an urgent and prudent response. Legitimation crisis is a hot issue in the field of China studies after Mao, as by-products of reform and openness, economic inequality, social polarization, and official corruption have agitated a new legitimation crisis in China. In response to the wave of global democratization, the CCP has tried to "keep pace with the times" and perpetuate its lifespan by transforming itself from a revolutionary ruling party into a "developmental ruling party"—regaining its ruling legitimacy by building a relatively prosperous society and rejuvenating the Chinese nation. In other words, the ruling...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 177-186
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-29
Open Access
No
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