Staff members of the Circuit People’s Court of Yunyang County in a legal education event with residents of Tuanpu Village in Yunyang County in southwest China’s Chongqing, April 12, 2018. (Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized while addressing a central conference on work related to people's congresses, held from October 13 to 14 in Beijing, that the country should continue to uphold and improve the people's congresses system, with an aim at enhancing whole-process people's democracy.
The concept of "whole-process people's democracy" was first used by President Xi when he visited Shanghai in November 2019. It was again heard in the president's speech on the Communist Party of China's 100th founding anniversary when he talked about the journey ahead.
To Western observers, the idea is difficult to understand as democracy is so stereotyped in Western countries that few analysts would understand it from a new perspective.
The conference held from October 13 to 14 would shed light on the meaning of the term. This is the third time that the term has been used, and on a quite unique occasion – a specific meeting by the Party for work related to people's congresses. Previously, the affairs were addressed by a conference called "the Central Political and Legal Affairs Conference."
The meeting therefore says more than it appears. It for the first time indicates that people's congresses at all levels should operate under the Party's leadership, because the word related to people's congresses in the future will be matters addressed by the Party's gatherings.
Staff members of the Circuit People's Court of Yunyang County in a legal education event with residents of Tuanpu Village in Yunyang County in southwest China's Chongqing, April 12, 2018. /Xinhua
But what does it mean by "whole-process people's democracy?" According to the authoritative explanation of Xinhua News Agency, the concept at least encompasses two-fold meanings.
First, people's democracy means people will be at the center. The Party was established with the mission to pursue happiness for the people, and over the past 100 years, has stayed true to its original mission and put people high on the country's political agenda.
It requires that all state institutions and officials serve the people whole-heartedly, with channels established to hear people's voices, be they concurring or dissenting. What we see in China today is that the people exercise state power through the National People's Congress and local people's congresses at different levels. China also has a unique political consultation system and corresponding institutions, which are important ways for the people to get involved in democracy.
Secondly, the idea attaches great importance to the "whole process." As President Xi demonstrated, China's democracy is different from the West, where politicians and election campaigners would only hear what the people say when casting ballots. China should practice a whole-process democracy in which the people not only have the right to election, but also have the right to be broadly involved in the whole process of decision-making and governance.
This is a new type of democracy that is different from the West. Theoretically, the people should be empowered to supervise the government's operation, and have a say on how they should be governed. But mostly this is Western political rhetoric. In China's telling, the people should not be cast aside when the election ends. Instead, all things relating to the people's interests should be debated and carefully handled by the government.
The Chinese authorities brought about this idea with an ambition to sum up China's past revolution, and more importantly, to distinguish China's democracy from those in the West. In doing so, China aims to find its own political narrative to justify and push through ensuing reforms. What we will see is that the concept will be more often used in the country's political telling, and its implications will be sensed in the days to come.
(Zhu Zheng is an assistant professor focusing on constitutional law and politics at China University of Political Science and Law)