2009-03-04

How do you describe the current status of China?

An authoritarian system at the "macro" level, a set of democratizing practices at the "micro" village and township level; a market-driven individualism at the economic level; and a mix of Marxist, Confucian, and liberal cultural traditions.

I think it is pretty much describing the current status of China. While people are discussing deliberative democracy in the western liberal society, they turn their eyes to China and explore the possibilities of deliberation. I guess they are simply over-excited by the space of deliberation, as shown in the book "The Search for Deliberative Democracy in China". The authors are eager to demonstrate that deliberation has been happening in China!

But as the editors of the book questioned: does China's deliberation lead to democracy? Some even argue that such deliberation may even reinforce the regime and thus become "deliberative authoritarian". The book has also yet to include the other social issues like environmental deterioration in its deliberation experiment. I worry that such deliberation results could violate the environmental interests, without fully informing all the possible impacts incurred from any policy changes.

In addition, as its introduction indicates, without information disclosure, speech freedom and the true citizenship, deliberation cannot truly reflect the results of public debates. It may even become the close-door discussion among the social elites. This is definitely not the desirable outcome of deliberation.

Yet, deliberation is happening in China, given the wider space for public discussion over the local governance / corporate behavior in recent years. However, it is still far from the ideal. While the scholars are taking advantage of the existing liberty for deliberation, how can they advance its effectiveness from simply a process?

And the core question is: does deliberation lead to a meaningful pathway towards democracy? While many of us have already participated in the deliberation exercise, including myself, over controversial issues like Nu River dams, I am doubtful if we can lead to a truly democratic decision-making.

Given the political censorship, deliberation seems to be the only approach. However, can we develop other political strategies to expand the width and depth of our influence? This is perhaps the ambition that every Chinese activists are looking for, while we are not only satisfied by deliberation itself.

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