In This Review

Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis
Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis
By Jiwei Ci
Harvard University Press, 2019, 432 pp

There is a Chinese saying about the audacity of negotiating with a tiger for its pelt. In this closely argued book, Ci, a Hong Kong–based philosophy professor, embarks on a similar enterprise. He directs what he calls a “prudential” argument at the Chinese Communist Party: it should give up its dictatorship in order to save China from impending chaos. He argues that authoritarian rule no longer suits a Chinese society that is sophisticated, egalitarian, and dissatisfied with mere material comforts. In reaction to the spread of liberal values, the regime is cracking down harder, but this only accelerates the weakening of what Ci calls its “teleological-revolutionary legitimacy.” By his reckoning, even outstanding economic performance can keep the regime in power no more than another ten or 20 years before a major crisis will trigger its collapse. He says the party should get ahead of events by opening Chinese politics up to dissenting views—something liberals in China have hoped for ever since Mao Zedong’s death, only to be disappointed by each new leader. Ci offers shrewd insights into the contradictions in the party’s ideology, the mentality of China’s middle class, and the various ways the party sustains its legitimacy. But his argument is more philosophical than empirical: the book offers no assessment either of the level of popular support for the regime or of the looming challenges to the regime’s performance.