Published on Aisixiang on June 4, 2015
1, In the past, the threat of Western democratic society comes from the Outside: in the beginning it was the Natzi, and then the Soviet Union; right now the threat is from the inside. After the financial crisis, there is huge clash in Western societies. There is opposition from the working class and the extreme wealthy class; there is opposition between ordinary people and multinational corporations; there is opposition between the conservatives and the liberalists.
2, The enemy of Western democracy is not the challenge of dictatorship anymore, but rather from its internal populism and extremism. In terms of political governance, there is a lack of leadership in Western societies.
3, The promotion system: rule of the Party replaces the democratic system
Under this circumstance, there is special significance of China’s promotion system. Chinese officials are not voted by each individual person, but rather promoted by their superior organizational departments. If a person wants to get promoted in the Party’s political system, they must start from the basic level, and get promoted many times to reach a high level. There are rounds after rounds of competitions among officials. Only those who are lucky enough to be on the front all the time could get promoted. This system replaces the democratic election system and encourages officials.
4, There are two sets of structure of the Constitution in China. One exists in legal texts; the other exists in reality. In legal texts, the Party’s leadership is only represented in the prelude of the Constitution; in reality, the Party’s governance in our country is the hub and its functions are twofold: one is to draft important political guidelines; the other is to promote its officials. The latter is the replacement of democratic election and encourages officials.
5, The Communist Party could win power is mostly related to its sophisticated network. After the reborn of the Republic, this tradition was well kept. The Party’s network was permeated in each pore and corner of the society. During the time of planned economy, because the Party overly stressed on the characteristics of ideology, the overall coverage of the Party made the whole Chinese society over politicalized. After the reform and open-up, the characteristics of the Party’s ideology has gradually faded. It is generally believed that after the “Three Representatives” was written in the Declaration of the Party in 2002, the Party has finished its transition from the Revolutionary Party to a Civil Party. Actually, “Three Representatives” also indicated a more important shift, which is that the Party was no longer a political organization consisted of a group of people with the same political agenda, but it had become a system - an indispensable part of our country’s governance structure. Wang Hui considers this process as a “de-politicalized” process and has analyzed its negative consequences. However, taken into consideration of China’s historical environment, this kind of de-politicalization is more of a progress; besides, from the perspective of a country’s governance, it makes the Party’s functions more obvious and opens the doors for the Party to play more roles within the framework of the Constitution.
6, If we could realize that the Party is not the political Party in the Western sense, but rather a part of the country’s governance structure, then we won’t question why the Party’s position should not be challenged by other political power. Western scholars generally don’t understand this - this is the main reason that they misunderstand China’s political structure. On this point, Chinese scholars have our responsibilities. Many scholars in Party construction can’t really look beyond the so-called traditional discourse and their discussions can’t be understood by international scholars, let alone being accepted. Many of the political scientists care more about using the Western discourse, and deep down they have their arrogance of “starting everything from Greece”. It is the responsibility of Chinese scholars to use the language that the international society understands to articulate China’s issues clearly.
7, China’s promotion system is set up on two political bases, one is a disinterested central government, the other is division of economic power. The general situation of developing countries is either the government is controlled by few powerful interest groups, or it is constrained by populism, or somewhere in between the two. In this case, the government is either in the service of a small number of people, or in a non-manageable situation. Democracy in developing countries generally doesn’t really work, and this is the reason. A disinterested government is a government that does not belong to any interest group and does not service any interest group. “Being disinterested is often misunderstood as the government does not have any interest of its own, which is wrong. A disinterested government - or more precisely, its main officials - of course have their personal aspirations. Its disinterested nature is compared to the general society.
8, Over the past three decades the Chinese government has basically played a role of a disinterested government. Here we say “basically” because at certain time, at certain points we could always see that the government has their preferences - in the beginning of the reform and open-up they favored the peasants and special economic zones. In the 90s the reform in state-owned enterprises made the working class shoulder lots of consequences of the reform, etc. But in the long term, the government basically has been in the middle way. A disinterested government is not only good for economic growth, it also provides solid foundation for the promotion system.
9, To make promotion a system there must be two conditions: one is openness, the other is coherence. Openness means that government positions are opened to all classes in the society, without it we can’t start talking about promotion.Coherence requires the standard for promotion be applied everywhere. A disinterested government does not pre-determine their preferences of social classes. Therefore it does not care which class its promoted officials come from. So it will not be interfered by any political forces. Its policies and standards for promoting officials have more coherent logic.
10, Therefore we could see, our current fiscal system is actually very divided; actually, it might be the most divided system in the world.
11, However, in the US in each level of government there is no budgeted income, which means that the profit making capacity of local government in the US is much lower than their Chinese counterparts. Besides, the US federal government has relatively little leverage on the income of each state’s income; the federal government spend money from their own gains. Therefore, from the spending perspective China’s division is more obvious than the US.
12, Currently there are two ways for the Central government to control local governments: one is financial maneuver, the other is assigning positions. The two work well together. Assigning officials is the core method for the Central government to control local government and it is a main representation of the promotion system. But this needs the backup from a central government with financial power, otherwise local government officials could refuse the orders from the central government because of their own financial independence.
13, As we have discussed before, China’s promotion system has replaced the democratic election system. How are its effects? Could it promote outstanding talents? From what we could see in the news, it is prevalent that people do buy political positions. What we could learn from anyone is also that network is a key reason for an official to get promoted. However, excellent officials could still get promoted. There are two reasons: first, a disinterested central government aspires to promote the most capable officials, because it cares about the development prospect of the country and it needs capable officials to manage economics and the society; the second, if every lower official gives gifts to their superiors then everyone will be more or less come back to the same beginning line. In the short term, those who could bid a very high price might have more chances to win, but in the long term, this will just raise up the prices.
14, Though it is a thorny issue to evaluate the capability of an official - the capability to develop economy is very easy to measure. Meanwhile, at this stage, it is the most valued capability from the upper government. Though the GDP-oriented theory is criticized by the government and media, but we could see that in practice, GDP is still the main goal of the government.
15, A local official face many assignments from their superiors. However, none of these assignments - unless those that could be vetoed, like the previous family planning, the current big environmental disasters or production accidents - could be measured so precisely like GDP. Therefore it is natural that they care about GDP growth. It is futile for the upper level to make their promotion standards more sophisticated.
16, The challenge presented to China scholars, based on its reality, is that though corruption is so omnipresent and severe, how come China could still maintain such high-speed of economic growth? There could be many reasons. One of them might be related to the promotion system. Though the promotion system may not supervise officials, and that’s the reason for so much corruption, it puts capable people on key leadership positions. Though they are corrupted they have done many meaningful things to the society. One example is Liu Zhijun, who was one of the most corrupted officials. But China’s railway could develop to today’s level is directly related to his previous leadership in the Ministry of Railway. Corruption is a persistent disease for developing countries. If a developing country wants to gain economic growth, perhaps it needs to learn to grow with pain. China’s promotion system actually provides a possible path.
17, Obama was elected the president because of his slogan of “change”. He had the chance to become a great president like Franklin Roosevelt, but right now it seems he might be the worst president since the Second World War. There might be many reasons, but Obama’s personal capability might be largely responsible. In comparison, senior Chinese officials have rich governance experience from the lower level to higher level, which is helpful to increase their confidence and make them brave enough not to make very populist decisions.
18, Towards the conclusion of this article I would like to highlight again that the promotion system is not a perfect system and it might not be possible for it to become China’s ultimate political system. However, its essence might serve as some beneficial guidance for the reconstruction and redesign of democratic system.
19, Perhaps, readers could understand the conclusion better after reading the comparison of India and China written by two Indian scholars:
“It is well worth remembering that the difference in the economic performance between China and India is not the extent to which each has turned to markets, because both have. Rather, the Chinese Communist Party-state, as an economic institution, is more responsive, more meritocratic, and more skilled in human capital than the Indian state. Rebuilding the Indian state on firmer foundations may well determine not just what future India will have, but whether it has a future.”
(From Rebuilding the Indian state, written by Devesh Kapur and Arvind Subramanian at the Business Standard in September 2013).
——Devesh Kapur和Arvind Subramanian,Business Standard，2013年9月6日