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Ballot Box China

Ballot Box China

Kerry Brown


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Since 1988, China has undergone one of the largest, but least understood experiments in grassroots democracy. Across 600,000 villages in China, with almost a million elections, some three million officials have been elected. The Chinese government believes that this is a step towards `democracy with Chinese characteristics'. But to many involved in them, the elections have been mired by corruption, vote-rigging and cronyism. This book looks at the history of these elections, how they arose, what they have achieved and where they might be going, exploring the specific experience of elections by those who have taken part in them - the villagers in some of the most deprived areas of China.
Kerry Brown is Senior Fellow on the Asia Programme at Chatham House, London and the co-author of China and the New Maoists (Zed, 2016).
'A sober, readable and much-needed corrective to the idea, promoted with great enthusiasm and increasing success by the ruling Communist Party, that western notions of democracy are alien to China's political traditions and culture.' Richard McGregor, author of The Party: The Secret Life of China's Communist Leaders 'This remarkably clear-eyed primer examines the state of democracy in China from the ground up, in all its complexity. From pen-portraits of local activists to insiders’ analyses, Ballet Box China offers one of the best explanations of how the world’s newest superpower is governed.' Louisa Lim, NPR Beijing Correspondent '"Democracy", Kerry Brown tells us, "best makes sense as part of a host of social forces which are now... recreating the contract between the Party and society." Getting a clear picture of it is a challenge, the key to which is to maintain critical balance. Care must be taken neither to be naive nor, forgetting that politics is the art of the possible, to set the bar so high as to overlook real breakthroughs. Brown finds that despite the initial excitement, "no significant moves have been made to extend the principles" of rural elections elsewhere. It is the constellation of other issues to which they are connected that lends deeper significance to the rural election story. To the basic virtues of balance and objectivity, Brown adds a merciful freedom from jargon and the academic obscurantism. The extension of genuine electoral competition for public office in China has rarely been treated so clearly and readably, making this book a tempting choice for university reading lists.' David Kelly, Professor of China Studies, China Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney; co-author of Chinese Marxism in the Post-Mao Era

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
About the author ii
Acknowledgements vi
Abbreviations vii
Map viii
Introduction 1
1 A brief history of elections, democracy and civil society in modern China 5
Early elections 7
China’s first election 8
The May 4th Movement, 1919 10
Meltdown 11
Mao, the Communists and democracy 13
The Chinese countryside: home to China’s sorrow 18
Democracy Wall, the fifth modernisation and 1989 21
Mr Democracy’s long, unfinished Chinese march 22
How is China governed today? 25
2 Democracy… with Chinese characteristics 30
Socialism is great, but democracy is good 32
‘The Six Whys’ 34
The Six Whys 35
Debating democracy at the Party School 36
The White Paper on Democracy 39
Same old same old 42
Other voices: consultative democracy 43
Many voices, one problem 45
The structure of administration in China 49
When things go wrong: village elections creating contention 49
3 The village election process 57
The village election process: a short history 59
What does the law say? 65
Modern peasant uprisings: Renshou County, Sichuan 65
Why village elections? 68
Down to the countryside: Yali village 70
Elections on the edges: Yunnan 72
Enfranchisement in the cities: residence committees 77
Township elections 80
The township congress activist 81
Foreign support and monitoring of elections 83
Where the buck stops: the Party versus elected heads 84
Conclusion 87
China’s Mr Democracy: Li Fan 88
4 The great debate: where is Chinese village democracy going? 94
Competitiveness 94
2009 : a year of no significance 97
Contention as the key link 116
5 The big picture: elections as part of the dynamics of a society in change 118
Having a heart: the Hu era and consultative Leninism 122
Courts and the rule of law 125
Not for the faint of heart: the story of Gao Zhisheng 128
What happens to those who dare to petition 134
Civil society 135
Environmental NGOs 137
Why the CCP wants to avoid becoming a second USSR 140
Organised political opposition: the final frontier 141
Keeping its own house in order: democracy within the CCP 145
Back to the Party School 151
The blueprint of Storming the Fortress: the six pillars 153
General issues 158
Can it be done? 160
Last words 163
Notes 167
Introduction and Chapter 1 167
Chapter 2 169
Chapter 3 171
Chapter 4 172
Chapter 5 173
Bibliography 176
Index 178