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Is Democracy Coming to Knock on China’s Door? A Reply to Jiwei Ci’s Democracy in China


Jiwei Ci’s Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis (Ci 2019) presents an extraordinarily rich set of ideas regarding the important subject of the prospect of democracy in China. The book argues that it is in the interest of the Chinese Communist Party to immediately begin to prepare China for democracy, as that is the only way to save the party and China from imminent crises of legitimacy, governance, and stability. Drawing upon Tocqueville’s discussion of equality of conditions in America, Ci argues that as China has already more or less become a society of equality of conditions, it already has a democratic society, which will inevitably exert enormous pressures for political democratization, thereby creating serious legitimacy and stability crises for the regime. In my view, Ci overstates the relevance of Tocqueville’s America for China, and his claim that there is a democratic society in China is disputable. In grounding his case for democracy in China, Ci also appeals to a larger species of argument—the argument from social circumstances to political regime, of which Tocqueville’s argument is an example. This is the argument that once a kind of society has become entrenched and is no longer amenable to a political regime’s effort to remake it, it is the political regime that must make itself fit the state of society. I argue that this argument is also problematic.

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I would like to thank Jiwei Ci, Chi Kwok, and Kin Man Chan for instructive discussions on an earlier draft, and two reviewers for their constructive comments. The writing of this essay was supported by a sabbatical leave granted by the University of Hong Kong, and a visiting appointment at the Research Center of Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica, funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (MOST 110-2811-H-001-517) for 2021. I am grateful to these two institutions for their support.

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Correspondence to Joseph Chan.

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Chan, J. Is Democracy Coming to Knock on China’s Door? A Reply to Jiwei Ci’s Democracy in China. Dao 21, 451–466 (2022).

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  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • China
  • Tocqueville
  • Confucianism
  • Jiwei Ci