Thursday, September 03, 2009

The ‘China Post’ takes democracy to task

Even before I began working for its competitor three years ago, I was never a big fan of the English-language China Post newspaper. Not only did its pan-blue political line not coincide with my preferences, but the quality of its copy, and dearth of local reporters, made alternatives more obvious choices to stay informed about what’s going on in Taiwan.

This said, I cannot but help encourage my readers to check out the editorial it published on Wednesday, titled “Time to think the unthinkable on system of government?” I urge readers to give it a try not because they will learn something, but because it is so irreparably bad. After all, what else should we expect from an opinion piece that opens with the following: “Democratically elected former President Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁], some would argue, has turned out to be the most corrupt head of state in modern Asian history,” which is followed by a similarly risible, albeit dishonest, attempt at political balance: “Democratically elected President Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九], others would argue, has turned out to be the most incompetent head of state in modern Asian history”?

Most corrupt? Most incompetent? Where was the China Post when Ferdinand Marcos, Thaksin Shinawatra and Suharto, to name just a few, were in power, amassing billions of dollars illegally while mismanaging their countries, sometimes bringing them close to civil war? What about Kim Jong-il, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong (毛澤東), for that matter, who all engineered widespread famine, dislocated and displaced entire segments of society, and executed untold many of their own people?

The gist of the editorial is that Western liberal democracy “is nothing more than a political system riddled with defects,” and that democracy can do no better than offer voters a choice between the lesser evil. It argues that Francis Fukuyama, who announced “the end of history” soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was wrong (in that regard, the Post isn’t entirely off the mark) and that former British prime minister Winston Churchill, in all his wisdom, was equally mistaken in saying that “Western liberal democracy may be a system riddled with defects, but it is nevertheless the best form of government mankind can ever hope for.”

The China Post argues that “the rest of us” — that is, not Churchill, Fukuyama and those who are foolish enough to place their hope in democracy — do not have to accept that flawed Western liberal democracy is our best option. The alternative, we are told, is “an entirely different political system, one that isn’t riddled with defects.”

Fair enough. So what is this new political system? The Post: “something unfamiliar to most of mankind, and which most of mankind has yet to try. Perhaps the final form of human government, the one that will replace Western liberal democracy, is ‘self government.’”

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere: “self government.” That form of governance, the Post tells us, is not the US model, which is “elective government,” whereby an influential minority, or self-interest groups, govern and “coerce” the majority. Sadly, by the time we reach the last line, which wisely advises us that “perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable,” we are no closer to knowing what “self government means.” In fact, I’m not sure the Post knows either. The wording is nevertheless chillingly reminiscent (though probably more banal) of Standing Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea member and Khmer Rouge Vice Premier for Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary’s reference to socialism “without reference to any existing model,” which quickly became the nightmare of the killing fields in Cambodia soon after Phnom Penh fell in April 1975.

Whatever system of government a country chooses, it will always be flawed, as human beings are by their very nature flawed. The few experiments in history where groups of people attempted to scientifically engineer a flawless, or Utopic, political system, led us collectively into the heart of darkness and cost tens of millions of lives: communism, fascism and all the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in between. “Thinking the unthinkable,” the Post’s prescription for a better Taiwan, is just empty words, hot air that altogether fails to propose anything.

In its dirge for Western liberal democracy, furthermore, the editorial completely fails to contrast this undeniably flawed system with that which defines governance across the Taiwan Strait — a non-liberal, non-Western and certainly non-democratic system that brooks no opposition, silences, locks up and kills dissidents, and corrupts whoever comes in contact with it, even Taiwan. Is this silence an apology for that system? Is this the “unthinkable” the China Post would have us ponder?

Yes, democracy is flawed. But Churchill (and many others who came after him) was right: It is the “least bad” system we have at our disposal and the one that is most likely to impose checks and balances on power and the few who wield it in our name. A good criticism of democracy is healthy. But to discard it out of hand while proposing an undefined “unthinkable” is an insult to our intelligence and invites social experiments that had better be left alone.


Dixteel said...

This is very interesting...I recently blog some stuff on this. And I also sense that pan-blue media seems to have little faith in liberal democratic system and always try to discredit democracy.

I was actually wondering if this is the possible motives of pan-blue media a few days ago: (under the sub section of "An Alternate Conspiracy Theory")

STOP Ma said...

My Chinese co-workers always spew this crap. "Democracy is too 'chaotic'", they say.

But something worth noting is that a democracy is only as good as the people (and institutions) in that democracy. A democracy requires a few things for it to work adequately. For example, the population needs to be both informed and have reasonably good critical thinking skills. Also, a good democratic system needs the voter to have choice between (at the very least) two different political rivals.

Sadly, the U.S. is failing in all three of these aspects now -- so it is a very poor model to look at when analyzing democratic systems. It astounds me that a large population of American citizens are content voting on unverifiable electronic voting machines now.

If the KMT and China want to look at a good system that maintains authoritarianism with the "illusion" of democratic values, one can take notes watching the United States of America.

Anonymous said...

Any idea of whether such opinion pieces are sincerely based on the author's commitments, or paid advertising for the CCP? Unfortunately, it may be the return of history and the end of democratic dreams.

Anonymous said...

'Totalitarian-loving and semi-literate rag the China Post, some would argue, has turned out to be the worst newspaper in modern Asian history.'

阿牛 said...

Simply chilling.

Taiwan Echo said...

The most important ingredient in Chinese culture is "privilege." People do whatever they can to get privileged, and the authority uses the privilege to buy loyalty. The entire social structure is built on the give and take of privilege.

That's why the true justice is impossible in Chinese society, because it requires that everybody is equal in front of the law.

That's why the democracy is denounced by Chinese, especially Chinese intellectuals, because in a democratic society the non-educated share the same political right as educated.

If you are a member of any of most Chinese organizations, you would find that they work as much as possible to avoid "rules," because existence of rules means everyone should follow.

Chinese don't like rules, don't like laws, and reject the democracy, because there is no room for privileges.

Understanding this, it won't be hard to see the source of the chaos in Taiwan.

"Any idea of whether such opinion pieces are sincerely based on the author's commitments, or paid advertising for the CCP?"

I can't say if it is paid for, but it doesn't need CCP to pay for this. That's in Chinese culture so they will say it for their own benefits, for free. We will continue to see Chinese intellectuals saying how bad a democracy is.

Anonymous said...

@ Taiwan Echo. you make some interesting points. but if chinese hate rules, wouldn't they like 'chaotic' democracy? if democracy seems to have less structure, then it would allow you more freedom from rules...? in a way, you seem to be arguing what the CCP has often argued. democracy is a western idea that is necessarily in conflict with chinese (confucian?) culture. Partly relevant is Bell's book 'China's New Confucianism. He argues that chinese will probably prefer some form of confucian rule, may be not democracy. (He also gives an interesting argument why, according to the confucian view on just war, China couldn't attack Taiwan if the latter declares independence.)

Readin said...

I wanted to put this as a comment on the China Post site, but for some reason the form didn't seem to work. I hope you don't mind having it here.


The editorial fails to tell us what "self-government" is. It only says it is different from "Western liberal democracy" in that it doesn't force individuals to submit to others. This sounds like anarchy, not government at all. Or it sounds like the kind of minimalist government advocated by libertarians - an ideal the original U.S. government strove for (but did not completely achieve).

Is the China Post actually proposing something new and different, or simply trying to pull down democracy and Taiwan so that it can be replaced with Singaporean style one-party rule that the KMT seems determined to put in place using the judiciary to silence political opponents?

Anonymous said...

I am all for renaming "confucianism" to "just another piss poor attempt at autocratic conservatism". JAPPAAAC

vin said...

Anon 2:50 A.M.:

Of course Chinese culture (as it has thus far existed) and democracy are antithetical to each other, and yes, Taiwan Echo is, I think, in effect, saying so. But to argue this -- and I fully agree with the choice and content of his alternative emphasis -- in no way constitutes taking the step the CCP/old-guard KMT chauvinists take which is to presume that democracy is therefore not suitable for Taiwanese or Chinese people.

Culture is never immutable, and the trend, in Taiwan anyway, IS toward greater understanding of and respect for democracy.

You wrote: "...if chinese hate rules, wouldn't they like 'chaotic' democracy? if democracy seems to have less structure, then it would allow you more freedom from rules...?" Considering only these two factors, yes. But Chinese and Taiwanese prize stability above all else -- and stability has for so many Chinese centuries has been based on orthodoxy built on privilege. The huge logical contradictions involved in this melange are slowly resolving themselves, unfortunately not through clear-headed insights that reflect a flowering of thought but rather through understandings derived from meandering -- at best zig-zagging -- experience. It all reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work: character revelation, not development, drives the plot. Ideas presented don't do much to make clear to Taiwanese and Chinese the nature of Chinese authoritarianism; modern life (including natural disasters), however, does.

vin said...

P.S. Dixteel's piece is definitely worth a look.

Anonymous said...

The China Post fired its old editors and got a new team this summer. Allan Fong is one of the, he is from Macao and he hates Taiwan, probably is working for some Kong Kong or mainland team. He is not Taiwanese, yet he runs the paper now. They got a bunchy of other new editorial people who cannot spell or use correct grammer or even know what newsrooms are really all about. Yesterday they quotes an American write who wrote an oped opiece for the Washington Post, which the China Post subscribes to, their news service that is, and the Taiwanese writed, maybe David Ting who loves China more than Taiwan, or the un named ediotiral writer that day, wrote the So and So wrote a "Special to the Washington Post" article. What a dummy. That "special to" in the byline just means that the writer is not a fulltime writer for the Washington Post, it is NOT special to anything. So calling it " a special to the Washington Post" article is pure illiteracy on the China Post people's part. They are really stupid people. The expats that work there must be really ashamed of their jobs. But they need the money, it's okay. But wow, Mr Fong and his crew have got to go. They really do not like Taiwan.

Taiwan Echo said...

Since my response to some netters here grows to long writings, I made a blog post here:

Privilege - the core spirit of Chinese society

Taiwan Echo said...

Quite polarized reviews from readers on Daniel Bell's book China's New Confucianism in Amazon, 3xone-star vs 3x5-stars.