Heike Holbig

Official Visions of Democracy in Xi Jinping’s China

Kapitel in Sammelband | 2022

  • Abstract

    The Chinese communist party regime (Chinese Communist Party, CCP) is widely reckoned as the antithesis of liberal democracy, with the latter defined by open, free, and fair elections. Democracy in China thus appears to most outside observers as an oxymoron, a contradiction in and of itself. Yet, within the country, the party-state has consistently been framed by its leaders and in the mass media as a democratic political system, employing multiple visions of democracy with and without adjectives. Against this backdrop, the objective of this chapter is to analyse the self-perceptions and worldviews of China as a major global power and an increasingly important actor in Eurasia; it is not to normatively evaluate Chinese democracy, or to euphemise official attempts of political self-legitimation. To put it differently, the focus is not on Democracy with a capital letter as political scientists usually apply it when they discuss democracy in Western countries, or when they deplore the backsliding of democracy across the globe. Rather, the focus is on using a context-sensitive approach to explore processes of experimentation, adaptation, localization, and reinterpretation of the notion of democracy with a lowercase d, that is, as a signifier open to multiple construals by all kinds of actors, and with all kinds of motivations. When Chinese discourses about “democracy” are quoted or paraphrased in the chapter, the intention is not to spread the word but to offer a better sense of the internal logics of justification as well as of the changing tonalities in party discourse. In the framework of the debate around the impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative on political regimes in Eurasia, this chapter starts from an empirical point of view, taking into account the scepticism that some readers might feel when reading about China’s democratic self-adulations.
    The chapter will proceed as follows. To set the scene, Western perceptions of China’s political system articulated in recent years are outlined. Against this backdrop of outside images, we will delve into the official self-images of Chinese democracy as propagated by the CCP. While the period before Xi Jinping is sketched only roughly, a more detailed analysis is offered of the period since late 2012 when Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao as China’s paramount leader. Five examples of the use of democracy in party language are selected to illustrate the changes in the official visions of the notion of democracy under Xi Jinping. The conclusion offers some reflections about the importance of understanding Chinese visions of democracy and the potential implications these might have for the international realm.

    Erschienen in

    Securitization and Democracy in Eurasia


    Anja Mihr

    Paolo Sorbello

    Brigitte Weiffen











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