Liu and Chen make a strong argument that China’s government and institutions will have little choice but to become increasingly participatory over time. At the same time, they warn that “democracy with Chinese characteristics” may not be recognizable to, or necessarily satisfy, those in the west who harbor the dream that the world’s largest nation will become its largest participatory state.
China is on the cusp of change, and the two scholars suggest that the Party is losing the support of a the “middle class.” Once the moneyed, educated urban elite goes sour on the CCP, the authors imply, the Party will have no choice but to reform. And sour they will go, the authors note, because the government lacks the wherewithal to continue delivering the economic performance that the people have come to believe are its entitlement. They echo an argument that is becoming increasingly common: the Chinese social contract is broken, and the Party will have to produce reform to establish a new one.
None of the arguments are particularly novel, but the reason it is worth reading is the provenance of the authors. Liu is a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Chen teaches at the University of Macau. For two Chinese scholars to put forth these arguments would have been unlikely if not unthinkable a decade ago. Clearly something interesting is happening in Chinese academia, an indicator that support on the mainland for major change may run deeper than many of us suspect.