Archives for posts with tag: political theory

ch-map

When anyone hears the word “China,” the place they are most likely to think of is the People’s Republic of China (PRC), also known in some circles as “mainland China” or “Red China.” The PRC was established on October 1, 1949, after Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist government had been routed following the Chinese Civil War. The capital city was moved from Nanjing to Beijing, and Mao Zedong became the national dictator until his death in 1976.

Immediately following World War 2 and the Civil War, most Chinese people were pretty happy about some stability. Many rich Chinese and former government officials had fled to Taiwan (about 2 million total), so the new Communist government had serious problems with finding experienced bureaucrats and professors. Three things helped the Communist Party achieve relative stability in a short time:

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tw-map

The third “China” on the list is what is now referred to as Taiwan. Although the legal name of the territory is the “Republic of China,” “Taiwan” will be used for clarity’s sake in this article.

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hk-map

Hong Kong and Singapore share enormous similarities, but also striking differences. Both have been historical shipping hubs. Both are islands (although Hong Kong includes a peninsula). Both were British colonies for hundreds of years. Today both are majority Chinese (Singapore, 75%; Hong Kong, 95%). Both have developed their economies from heavy manufacturing in the past to high-tech industry, logistics, and finance in the present. Both have about 6 million people.

Yet, Singapore went from British colony to independent country. Hong Kong became a “Special Administrative Region” of China, the first of it’s kind. Under the doctrine of “One Country, Two Systems,” the Chinese government in Beijing agreed to leave Hong Kong’s freedoms untouched for 50 years after the handover of power in 1997. Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, would say it simply became the colony of a different superpower. Some nationalist Hong Kongers celebrated a return to the “motherland.” Most in the territory consider themselves both Chinese and Hong Kongese. So it’s a difficult mish mash of nationalism.

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FourChinas

I finally got around to reading Fareed Zakaria’s 1997 article in Foreign Affairs: “The Rise of Illiberal Democracies.” I really enjoyed his book, The Post-American World and know that he’s a big shot on CNN now. Still, this article far surpasses anything he’s done on TV or books as of late, and it opened my eyes to a very interesting concept, something I hope to expand upon in an academic article in the future.

Zakaria notes somewhat indirectly how Hong Kong and Singapore, both majority Chinese and former British colonies, took very different paths in political development. Immediately I got to thinking about the other two “Chinas,” Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. They too took very divergent paths in political development. Combined, we have the four majority-Chinese states in the world, each taking a markedly different path. How did this happen? Is Chinese culture really that universal? Or is “Chineseness” simply a farce, at least in political relations? Using some of Zakaria’s terms, I want to look closer into this question.

Zakaria uses the term “illiberal democracy” to define a country that has elections, but they mean close to nothing. “Illiberal” in this sense does not mean conservative, but rather refers to the opposite of classical liberalism. Way before we had the left versus the right, we had royalists versus classical liberals. Liberals like the Founding Fathers believed in freedom of speech, religion, press, and most importantly, rule of law (generally in a constitution). An “illiberal” state, therefore, would have laws made up by the leaders on a whim, limited freedom of the press, and other restrictions on personal expression.

The other half of the phrase, “democracy,” simply refers to popular choice of one’s leaders. After World War II, most countries decided elections were a good thing, even if they were rigged. This would be an illiberal democracy. An autocracy, on the other hand, has no meaningful elections to speak of. Very little is done to imply that the people have any choice, or the elections are for trivial offices. Most authoritarian nations today have rigged elections, or find some way to otherwise suggest they are democratic. The “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” tries for a double whammy, implying both “the people” and “democracy” are involved. In this case, they appear to be overcompensating for their exceptionally oppressive form of government.

This is hardly an exhaustive report, but rather a brief summary. First, Singapore:

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