From the Magazine
Democracy in the works
A closer look at China's people-centered governance practice during the Two Sessions
By Wen Qing  ·  2022-03-14  ·   Source: NO.11 MARCH 17, 2022

The Fifth Session of the 13th National People's Congress opens in Beijing on March 5 (XINHUA)

'In my capacity as deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), I think my role includes serving as a bridge between people and government. Collecting the opinions from citizens in my community, I make suggestions to the Central Government on their behalf," Zhu Guoping, a community worker who has served as an NPC deputy for 15 years, told Beijing Review on the sidelines of the Fifth Session of the 13th NPC, running from March 5 to 11.

The NPC is China's highest state organ of power. The annual gatherings of the NPC and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the highest advisory body, are among the most important political events in China, commonly known as the Two Sessions.

Some Western media and politicians believe China's Two Sessions are "rubber-stamp assemblies." However, that stereotype just stems from their lack of understanding of how China's whole-process people's democracy works.

The broadest possible consensus

Take the government work report as an example. In this year's report, Premier Li Keqiang reviewed achievements in 2021 and outline priorities for 2022. It was endorsed at the closing meeting of the NPC session on March 11.

The report was drafted based on a wide range of opinions from all layers of society.

In late January, Li chaired multiple consultation meetings with representatives of the business, education, science, culture, health and sports sectors, experts in different areas and ordinary citizens, according to Xiang Dong, Deputy Director of State Council Research Office. The premier also exchanged views with leaders of non-Communist parties and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce as well as prominent individuals without party affiliation.

Meanwhile, the draft was sent to provincial-level governments, central government departments and selected corporations for feedback. Furthermore, the Share Your Ideas With China's Premier column was launched across 22 online media platforms. Netizens' comments were compiled into 1,100 suggestions, with some incorporated into the report.

It's clear that the report was formulated in an inclusive and democratic way. During the weeklong Two Sessions, more than 2,700 NPC deputies and around 2,000 CPPCC National Committee members had extensive deliberations on the report in a bid to find common ground and a convergence of the people's interests. Roughly 90 revisions were made to the report based on their contributions. After the consensus is built, its work plans enter the implementation stage.

"The main function of the Two Sessions is to turn societal consensus into enforceable laws and policies," Song Luzheng, a research fellow at the China Institute at Fudan University, said. "It is rare to see fierce debate during the Two Sessions, and the reports, legislative items and motions raised by the deputies are often passed by a sweeping majority because the intense and difficult discussions were conducted long before their submission."

If consensus cannot be reached, discussions and consultations will continue, instead of forcibly passing a policy through voting. This is why the whole process of formulating the Property Law took 14 years, according to Song. Beginning in 1993, it was not until December 2002 that the draft legislation was first reviewed by the Standing Committee of the Ninth NPC. The full text of the draft was only released for feedback in July 2005. After six readings by lawmakers, it was finally passed in 2007.

Xia Yunlong, an 82-year-old retired college teacher, at the community-level legislative outreach office in Shanghai's Hongqiao Subdistrict on July 24, 2021 (XINHUA)

Thriving grassroots democracy

The Two Sessions is not the only opportunity to practice whole-process people's democracy as democracy is also flourishing at the primary level.

Since 2015, the NPC Standing Committee has started to establish community-level legislation outreach offices to listen to opinions and suggestions from regular residents, and involve them in the lawmaking process. Hongqiao Subdistrict in Shanghai's Changning District, where Zhu has worked for many years, became one of the first four establishments in July 2015.

Over the following years, Zhu and other local residents participated in the revision of more than 30 laws, including the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, the National Anthem Law, and the Law on the Protection of Minors, and put forward more than 600 suggestions.

For example, in 2016, the NPC solicited public opinions on the National Anthem Law. Xia Yunlong, a retired college teacher, suggested that citizens should be encouraged to sing the national anthem at the "proper places and events" to express their love for the nation. Later, the proposal was incorporated into the law, which took effect in 2017.

"Lawmaking has come to people's doorsteps, and residents voluntarily participate in the work. This is what we mean when we say the people are the masters of the country," Zhu said. "The outreach office is a microcosm of the development of whole-process democracy."

"The Chinese people's enthusiasm for participating in state affairs and their ability to take action amaze me. People are getting involved in the decision-making process, from legislation to compiling national economic and social development plans, and to managing a residential neighborhood and organizing various tasks such as sorting waste," Néstor Restivo, member of the China Research Group of the Argentine Council for International Relations, said.

The NPC now has 22 community-level outreach offices across the country, covering two thirds of the mainland's provincial-level regions; more will continue to be added. According to official statistics, as of August 2021, these offices had solicited more than 6,700 opinions and suggestions from regular citizens on 115 draft laws and annual legislative plans.

A villager casts his ballot during the election of people's congress deputies in Yingfeng Village, Lin'an District of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on December 14, 2021 (XINHUA)

The Chinese essence

Democracy is not an ornament to be used for decoration; it is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve, Chinese President Xi Jinping said while addressing a central conference on work related to people's congresses in 2021. During his address, Xi emphasized that whether a country is a democracy or not depends on whether its people are really the masters of the country.

"If the people are awakened only for voting but enter a dormant period soon after, if they are given a song and dance during campaigning but have no say after the election, or if they are favored during canvassing but are left out in the cold after the election, such a democracy is not a true democracy," Xi continued.

The Chinese democratic model has demonstrated its strong effectiveness after decades of practice and testing. This is in stark contrast to growing institutional failure and incapacity in the West, Song said. In the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, the peaceful transition of power was even jeopardized during the Capitol Hill riot, attesting to the dysfunction of the U.S. democracy.

"Through electoral processes, one side or the other will be elected, which means half of society is alienated right then and there because their representatives weren't on the winning side. And elected representatives typically don't consult with the community in their decision-making," Bruce Boyes, lead writer at RealKM Magazine, told Beijing Review.

Just as the white paper titled China: Democracy That Works, released by the State Council Information Office last year, states, in the richly diverse world, democracy comes in many forms. China's democracy is thriving alongside those of other countries in the garden of civilizations. China stands ready to contribute its experience and strength to global political progress through cooperation and mutual learning.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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