From the people, to the people and with the people. Qin Gang, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., highlighted these salient features of China's whole-process democracy during an online conversation held by the Carter Center and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations on September 22. This is an edited excerpt of his views:
The idea of putting people first has been part of the Chinese DNA since ancient times. Confucius, an ancient Chinese thinker who lived during the same time that ancient Greece existed, raised the idea that people are the foundation of a country. Mencius, Confucius' follower, said, "To a state, the people are the most important thing. The state comes second. The ruler is the least important."
An ancient Chinese ruler believed that the people are to the monarch what water is to a boat, and he cautioned that the water can carry the boat; but it can also overturn the boat. One hundred years ago, the Communist Party of China (CPC) was established as a political party for the poor and, since then, its founding mission has been to pursue happiness for the people. With the slogans of anti-dictatorship, anti-autocracy and anti-oppression, it enabled the people to become masters of their own country and, in doing so, won the people's hearts. As the governing party, it has remained faithful to its founding mission: being people-centered and serving the people wholeheartedly.
What China has today is a whole-process democracy. China's Constitution prescribes that all power belongs to the people. The people have the right to elections, and they can be broadly involved in national governance according to law. They exercise state power through the National People's Congress and local people's congresses at different levels, equivalent to America's Congress and state legislatures. Deputies to the people's congresses at the county and township levels are directly elected. Those above the county level are indirectly elected. People elect deputies, who will politically represent them and elect leaders. Deputies maintain close contact with the people, and all major legislations and decisions are made through scientific and democratic processes as well as extensive consultations.
China also features a unique system of political consultation and corresponding institutions, which are important ways for the people to participate in democracy. Any matters that concern people's keen interests are discussed by people's congresses, the government, the political consultative conference, social organizations and industry associations, before major decisions are made, to make sure that what the people want is reflected in the final decisions.
In China, government officials have many meetings to attend, and they also participate in many field visits. Meetings are for discussing problems and exploring solutions; field visits are for gaining firsthand knowledge of conditions on the ground. Decisions are made through discussions and debates, which are extensive and intense, just like those on Capitol Hill.
In China, talents have been chosen based on their abilities and merits since ancient times. Another Chinese philosopher, who was a contemporary of Plato, once said, "Prime ministers must have served as local officials; great generals must have risen from the ranks." China had an imperial examination system over 1,400 years ago. Whoever passed the exams, regardless of their age and wealth, could be appointed as officials. They usually started from positions at the lowest level of government, and were then promoted or removed based on their performance. This is the original form of the civil service system in the West today.
In this system, officials who are incompetent, dishonest or disapproved of by the people have no chance of being promoted.
The incumbent members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, China's top leadership, have all had long years of work experience from the grassroots up to higher levels in different localities. President Xi Jinping, also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, became a farmer in a poor village in northwest China at the age of 16. He was appointed Party secretary of Shanghai, the biggest city in China, at 54. The decades in between saw him work at a variety of posts in different places, and the populations he served varied from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand, to millions and to tens of millions. As he rose through the ranks, he has come to understand the people's kitchen table concerns. He deeply loves the people, cares about the people, and has become capable of managing complexities and getting things done for the people. At the same time, he is trusted and supported by the people. This is why you often find China's senior officials elected with an overwhelming majority of votes, or even unanimously.
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
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