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January 30, 2011

Comments

Phil

If they're broadly supportive of the status quo, I imagine they'd react with a shrug and something about needing to be realistic. Besides, even on the uncensored Internet the evidence of a widespread desire to participate credibly in online discussion, as distinct from the desire to fling digital dung, is fairly equivocal.

Myles

Much of the sinosphere found this figure rather on the high side. I do too, intuitively, but given that the survey was confined to affluent people in China’s three largest cities I don’t find it incredible.

The support for the status quo is high because the alternative to the status quo, most people seem to have internalized, isn't democracy or freedom but either anarchy or Kerensky-style ineffectiveness followed by tyranny.

The internet poo-flingers are, by definition, people without power and outside the system. They seem perpetually discontented for the same reason as the Daily Mirror: they know they can't actually shift the government much, so talk is cheap and they do lots of it. If advocating for a military confrontation with Taiwan, or advocating for serious democracy, actually meant either of them would have tangibly greater chances of happening, you would see a lot less people being enthusiastic about either; it's rather easy to talk the big talk about facing down the Seventh Fleet when it has no chance of actually happening.

ajay

The support for the status quo is high because the alternative to the status quo, most people seem to have internalized, isn't democracy or freedom but either anarchy or Kerensky-style ineffectiveness followed by tyranny.

Myles is spot on here. There are lots of well-educated Chinese people who regard democracy as a good thing for Britain, France etc but will tell you very firmly that it could never work in China, because China's too big and/or Chinese people are too fractious.

Mind you, not all of them may fully understand exactly how it works. A Chinese colleague of mine got his UK passport a few years back and, when we congratulated him, asked two questions in (as far as I could tell) utter seriousness: should he join a political party, and if so which one would be best for him from a career point of view? And, when the election came round, who was going to tell him who to vote for?

I don't think those famous citizenship classes are really cutting the mustard.

Myles

Mind you, not all of them may fully understand exactly how it works.

I think as an empirical matter they are probably wrong, although this is the sort of risk that doesn't comes with escape hatches. If a seriously leftist party gets elected in China, as will probably happen under universal franchise (rural vote), the government will rapidly lose legitimacy in the wealthier cities and among the middle classes, with the attendant economic consequences.

In any case, it would be insane to introduce full democracy without the great state monopolies (banking, telecom, energy) being fully privatized, and without property rights being clarified. They are complete powder-kegs, and given how permeated the former are by descendants of Party families, it would amount to a purge of established interests, which can be destabilizing.

Myles

As an interesting sidenote, I think the general situation within the government will stabilize some more under Xi Jinping. One of the problems faced by Hu Jintao was structural: elite Communists didn't really like him because he was the pick of the older generation, and his attempt to purge the Shanghai government probably made him more unpopular and somewhat polarizing among the insiders. There's also a vague indication that he might have tried a tiny bit to outmaneuver the rules about power-sharing earlier on.

Xi on the other hand is actually liked by the younger insiders, generally seems disinclined to purge people, has no intention to circumvent the existing system, so on. I find it rather revealing that Jiang seemed to have become more popular among the higher Communists during the Hu era.

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