My Beijing neighborhood committee and town hall are constantly putting up announcements, inviting people of a certain grouping (renters, homeowners, over 70, women under 40, those with or without medical insurance, retirees, etc.), to answer surveys. The CPC is the world’s biggest pollster for a reason. Baba Beijing wants to honor its Heavenly Mandate and keep society harmonious and cooperative. China’s democratic dictatorship of the people is highly engaged at the day-to-day, citizen-on-the-street level. I find it much, much more responsive and democratic than the the travesty dog and pony shows acted out in the West, and I mean that seriously. I know, because I live in a middle class Chinese community and talk to them all the time. Jeff J. Brown
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, “Nine in ten Chinese are happy with the direction of their country (85%), feel good about the current state of their economy (91%) and are optimistic about China’s economic future.”
And the WorldPublicOpinion.org survey, which is managed by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), asked 19,751 people in 20 countries how much confidence they have in each of seven key leaders “to do the right thing regarding world affairs?” Among the least negative were citizens of the world’s fastest-rising powers: China and Russia. Russians gave Vladimir Putin a popularity rating of 75 and the Chinese gave Hu Jintao an almost unbeliveable 93.
Ivo Daalder, a former staffer on the National Security Council who’s now at the Brookings Institution, argues: “Where is the average condition of the average person looking brighter?” Umm, China?
Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, explains Chinese respondents’ generosity by arguing that “when you’re on the rise, as China is, there’s an upbeat feeling that leads to a sunnier disposition. The Chinese feel that life is working for them.”Britain’s BBC World Service asked 22,783 adult citizens across 22 countries: How much of your taxes are being wasted by the government?” China is the most optimistic among all the countries surveyed for business conditions over the next five years (66% good times). Do we really need to ask is the government of China popular? Let’s ask Jack Ma, one of the most successful Chinese businessmen and one of the richest men in the world:
Martin Jacques: Is China more legitimate than the West?
You are probably thinking, “Ah, America at its best, China at its worst – the absence of democracy. China’s Achilles heel is its governance. This will be China’s downfall.”
I want to argue quite the contrary.
You probably think that the legitimacy and authority of the state, or government, is overwhelmingly a function of democracy, Western-style. But democracy is only one factor. Nor does democracy in itself guarantee legitimacy. Think of Italy. It is always voting, but the enduring problem of Italian governance is that its state lacks legitimacy. Half the population don’t really believe in it.
Now let me shock you: the Chinese state enjoys greater legitimacy than any Western state. How come?
In China’s case the source of the state’s legitimacy lies entirely outside the history or experience of Western societies.
In my first talk I explained that China is not primarily a nation-state but a civilisation-state. For the Chinese, what matters is civilisation. For Westerners it is nation. The most important political value in China is the integrity and unity of the civilization-state.
Given the sheer size and diversity of the country, this is hugely problematic. Between the 1840s and 1949, China was occupied by the colonial powers, divided and fragmented. The Chinese refer to it as their century of humiliation. They see the state as the embodiment and guardian of Chinese civilisation. Its most important responsibility – bar none – is maintaining the unity of the country. A government that fails to ensure this will fall.
There have been many examples in history. The legitimacy of the Chinese state lies, above all, in its relationship with Chinese civilization. But does the Chinese state, you may well ask, really enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of its people?
Take the findings of Tony Saich at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In a series of surveys he found that between 80 and 95% of Chinese people were either relatively or extremely satisfied with central government. More from Martin Jacques…