Muhlberger notes that the definition of democracy has historically been restricted to nations that are adhere to the Western conception of democracy (25). Yet, Muhlberger claims that even within authoritarian regimes, there are components of democracy at the grassroots level. He defines “quasi-democratic” as “any group willing to submit to decisions arrived at by discussion and voting (formal or informal) or abides judgment of elected representatives” (Muhlberger 27). In this essay, I argue that there have been quasi-democratic elements even within the Chinese Communist tradition. These elements at the local level signal the potential for China to fully transition into a democracy in the future.
Muhlberger notes the historical tradition of quasi-democracy within Chinese political development. Under most emperors, village administration was the responsibility of the villagers themselves (Muhlberger 30). Village temples typically provided services on behalf of community. In areas of weaker clan and temple organization, cooperative organizations fulfilled role of providing services (Muhlberger 31). Thus, the Chinese villages enjoyed a certain level of autonomy. Furthermore, this local organization to provide needed goods and services is characteristic of self-governance. Although encapsulated within an authoritarian regime, these beginnings of village self-government revealed quasi-democracy.
This autonomy has considerably increased with the introduction of competitive village elections through the 1982 China constitution (Horsley 44). Village committee elections give hope to the possibility of liberal democratization of the rest of China. Horsley claims that the introduction of competitive elections has opened the path to the rule of law and the spread of democracy in China even through Communism (40). The elections are a result of the destruction by the decade long Cultural Revolution (Horsley 40). Party leaders hoped to re-establish political and economic stability by allowing villagers to choose leaders and making leaders accountable to their constituents (Horsley 40). This also served as a political maneuver of the Party; by improving the relationship between the villagers and state, the government could pass unpopular but necessary central policies (Horsley 40). Thus, the Chinese government is beginning to embrace the liberal notion that effective governance can be made to work if based on consent of the governed. In this way, the Chinese government accepts, to a degree, the necessity of official accountability and democratic appeal.
The village communities are organized as a dual power structure: (1) the village committee works as a democratic executive apparatus to manage day-to-day politics; (2) the Party branch is responsible for general policy and intervenes “if necessary” by using ties to township or county governments (Horsley). This organization is strikingly similar to federalism, regarding the division of power. Similarly,...