2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 186

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]


Liberal Democratization in East Asia? Local and National Perspectives

Organizer and Chair: Kate X. Zhou, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Discussant: Lynn T. White, Princeton University, USA

This panel is devoted to Chinese and East Asian bottom-up politics. The participants will bring in local voices in liberal democratization in East Asia. All papers will stress the significance of politics occurring at the intersection of local, unofficial authority systems and central state forces. Zhou/ Conkling, Li, and Mobrand recognize trends that generate counter-claims to centralized national institutions in policy formation while Ye’s paper points out the problems of state-affiliated companies in China’s global market research. Mobrand’s paper juxtaposes local mobilization for electoral competition in Taiwan against top-down organization in South Korea. The broader lesson from this comparison is that an under-appreciated distinction among electoral regimes is between those organized from above and those led by local forces. Li’s paper argues that intra-Party democracy – especially with its new central-local dynamics ¬– can provide an incremental, manageable, and orderly experiment in Chinese-style democracy. The outcome of this experiment will have profound implications for China’s future. Ye’s paper points out the internal contradiction of China’s state led global investment. She argues that although China may gain some clout in certain commodity markets, the state-led overseas investment is unlikely to enhance efficiency or wealth for Chinese companies. Finally Zhou and Conkling’s paper based on ten years’ personal observation and interviews examines how unorganized and everyday forms of resistance contribute to or build civil society in an authoritarian context and how this resistance has influenced politics in China. All our papers bring both empirical (interviews, personal observations, survey data and literature reviews) and normative lenses to reflect on these complex politics in East Asia, China in particular.

The Local Factor in China’s Intra-Party Democracy
Cheng Li, Brookings Institution, USA

The transformation of China from an all-powerful strongman-dominated political system to its current structure of collective leadership has generated some new institutional rules and norms in elite politics. In recent years, top Chinese leaders have begun using the term “intra-Party democracy” to describe the idea that the Chinese Communist Party should institutionalize checks and balances within its leadership. The development of “intra-Party democracy” in turn has affected elite behaviors and reinforced the importance of factional politics. To a great extent, no individual, institution, faction, or region can dominate the power structure in present-day China. Consequently, as the authority of the central government relatively declines, local leaders in China’s 31 province-level administrations have become increasingly powerful, especially as they exert growing pressure on national authorities for a more representative government and more competitive elections within the political establishment. This article examines the formation of new factional politics in Beijing and the regional distribution of power. The article argues that intra-Party democracy – especially with its new central-local dynamics can provide an incremental, manageable, and orderly experiment in Chinese-style democracy. The outcome of this experiment will have profound implications for China’s future; thus, this development deserves serious attention from the scholarly community.

South Korean Democracy in Light of Taiwan and Southeast Asia
Erik Mobrand, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The body of work produced by Lynn White stresses the significance of politics occurring at the intersection of local, unofficial authority systems and central state forces. White’s work on Taiwan and Southeast Asia, in particular, shows how local, non-state politics can shape elections and the functioning of democracy. This paper juxtaposes local mobilization for electoral competition in Taiwan against top-down organization in South Korea. Indeed, the suppression of local forces, including local business, has shaped Korean electoral politics more than most observers recognize. While elections in Taiwan have invited intense local mobilization, often involving distribution of money and sometimes coercion, in Korea elections have been “cleaner” and more civil. Those characteristics, though, do not indicate that Korea’s democracy is more mature. Rather, they are evidence of the complete sidelining of local elites. In the Korean context, elections serve a highly centralized political elite that relies on mostly legal means in over-regulated elections to win and maintain power. Thinking about White’s arguments about bottom-up politics in Taiwan and Southeast Asia helps illuminate Korea’s truly top-down democracy. The broader lesson from this comparison is that an under-appreciated distinction among electoral regimes is between those organized from above and those led by local forces

Unorganized Resistance and The Emergence of Civil Society in China
Kate X. Zhou, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This paper examines how unorganized and everyday forms of resistance contribute to or build civil society in an authoritarian context and how this resistance has influenced the politics in China. This paper focuses on unofficial “house churches” and unorganized social networks. The paper only studies the most successful Protestant “house-churches,” which refers to usually private, but sometimes public, gatherings of (Protestant) Christians (who, choose to meet in non-registered venues for Bible studies, prayer, and worship. The unorganized social networks described in the paper focus on professional linkage to human rights protection in China and deals with Ai Xiaoming (media workers and professors), Hu Jie (media and education networks) and Fang Yafeng (house churches and environment legal defense lawyers). They have successfully delegitimized the regime in everyone’s eyes, creating a social phenomenon of universal hatred of government officials (chouguang)in China. Based on seven years’ fieldwork interviews, the paper will show the reasons for the rapid growth of unorganized resistanters, the political challenges they face, what strategies of response they have formulated, and offer insight as to how the y might continue to evolve in a rapidly changing China. These case studies of resistance will contribute to theories of regime transformation and social movements.