China: Struggle at the Top


If democracy has an advantage over authoritarianism, it is that the struggles of interest, power, and ego that are the unavoidable stuff of human life take place in the open, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan. The attempt to repress them runs the risk that they will break out sooner or later, and that kind of upheaval can be hugely destructive, he writes for The New York Review of Books, in a discussion of Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership by Cheng Li, Brookings Institution Press, and China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay by Minxin Pei, Harvard University Press:

Officials around Xi have lately taken an interest in Francis Fukuyama’s two-volume study of political order and political decay.22 In the first volume, Fukuyama argues that the Chinese built “the first modern state” as far back as the third century BC; in the second, he argues that contemporary China has rebuilt this highly capable state. Many in China have interpreted his ideas as confirming the benefits of authoritarian rule. In 2015, Fukuyama had separate discussions with Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan about, among other topics, how to combat corruption.

But in a recent essay Fukuyama reminds Chinese readers that his theory is not only about the strong state but about its relationship with two other sets of institutions—those that provide rule of law and those that provide political accountability. A “legitimate and well-functioning political system,” Fukuyama writes, “needs to have all three pillars in place, operating in proper balance.” The Chinese system as it is structured today “is unbalanced, with insufficient constraints on executive power,” and vulnerable to what he calls the “bad emperor” problem, the risk that an all-powerful ruler will use power for bad ends.23

Nathan and Fukuyama are board members of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. RTWT

On the subject of China’s “rule-by-law”…..

The smuggled memoir of noted Chinese dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng (left) is now available in English, a joint project of the American Bar Association Section of International Law (SIL) and Carolina Academic Press.

In the memoir, “Unwavering Convictions: Gao Zhisheng’s Ten-Year Torture and Faith in China’s Future,” Gao provides an account of the years 2004 through 2014, a period of repression and a personal emotional journey. He wrote the book in secret while under house arrest in an isolated village in Shaanxi province in northwestern China. The Chinese manuscript was later smuggled out of China and published in Taiwan this past June, as reported by The New York Times.  The book has three parts:

  • In the first, the “Unnamed Hell” detailing his account of his secret imprisonments by the police and army from 2004 until 2011, Gao describes how he was savagely beaten and subjected to electric shocks while in custody. He also chronicles his “Named Hell,” the Shaya Prison in the remote western region of Xinjiang where he was jailed from 2011 to 2014.
  • In addition to his personal narrative, Gao provides commentary on the challenges to achieving the rule of law in China and boldly concludes that the Communist regime cannot continue to sustain “its life through violence and lies” and predicts its demise in 2017.
  • The final part of the book envisions China after the fall of communism — a democratic country initially led by a transitional government.


SIL recognized Gao in 2010 with its International Human Rights Lawyer Award, granted to distinguished foreign human rights lawyers who have suffered persecution as a result of their professional activities. The book captures the author’s courage, humility and insight concerning human rights and the rule of law that earned him the distinction as well as a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

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