Democracy Is a Good Thing: Essays on Politics, Society, and Culture in Contemporary China

What do China's leaders mean when they say that the Chinese system is democratic and getting more so? To help answer this question, the influential John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution offers a translated set of key writings by Yu, an adviser to Chinese President Hu Jintao. In the simple yet often elusive language of Chinese scholar-officials, Yu addresses such subjects as intraparty elections, legislative hearings, judicial independence, good governance, social welfare, and globalization. Especially meaty are his discussions of civil society, in which, he argues, the "actual space" exceeds the "institutional space" allowed by current, out-of-step regulations. Although he labels democracy a universal value, Yu rejects Western models. The puzzle is whether such arguments are intended to push for reform from within the system or to appropriate the label of democracy for practices that are anything but. A thoughtful introduction by the Brookings China expert Cheng Li nudges the reader toward the more optimistic interpretation; a line from Yu -- "making democracy safe for China" -- hints at the alternative interpretation.

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