What America's flawed democracy could learn from China's one-party rule
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First, I wonder if the lack of transparency of the talent-selection process negatively affects the government’s legitimacy. If people are not aware of the selection process, they may suspect that promotion is based primarily on loyalty, connections, or corruption. But shedding light on the actual mechanism will help to dispel such suspicions.
Once I heard from Minister Li about the rigorous selection process for the secretary general of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, my respect for that successful candidate increased tenfold. I assume other people would have a similar reaction. Of course, the very fact that Minister Li told us about the process suggests that there is a decision to increase transparency, which is good sign.
Second, I wonder if constraints on freedom of speech, especially political speech, inhibit meritocratic decision-making. The best political decisions, of course, need to be based on complete information, but fear of negative consequences may inhibit stakeholders from expressing their viewpoints. I realize that the CCP carries out internal polling to get as much information as possible, and that cadres are encouraged to constantly learn and improve, but fewer barriers to the freedom of speech may improve the quality of decision-making.
Third, I wonder if the rigorous, multi-year talent selection process discourages risk-taking. In other words, it is possible that relatively creative and original minds may be weeded out early because they have offended people or challenged the “normal way of doing things.” In times of crisis, perhaps the Chinese political system allows for substantial change, but in ordinary times, there may be unnecessary attachment to the status quo long after it has extended its practical utility. Perhaps this problem (if it is a problem) can be remedied by allowing for one or two positions in important government posts to be reserved for talented people from other walks of life, such as business or academia.
Fourth, I wonder if the leadership selection process is biased against women. The process seems so time-consuming that it seems hard to reconcile with ordinary family life. Since women are often the main caretakers of family members, they may not have sufficient time to compete fairly with men for top government posts. This matters if we agree that leaders should have compassion. If compassion is mainly a female trait (perhaps this statement is controversial), then we should encourage more women in government. Perhaps half of the government positions at the highest levels of government should be reserved for women.
Fifth, I wonder if the leadership selection process allows for enough time for systematic reflection on ethical and political matters. Perhaps a few weeks at the Party School is not sufficient for leaders to read the great works in politics, history, and philosophy that deepen one’s knowledge as to possibilities of morally informed political judgments. If political leaders were encouraged, say, to take a six-month leave period with few obligations other than reading great works (especially the Confucian classics), the long-term effect on the ability to make morally-informed political judgments is likely to be positive.
Sixth, I wonder if there is a need for more international exposure in the selection process. The main task of the Chinese Communist Party is, of course, to serve the Chinese people. But China is now a great global power, and what it does also affects the interests of people living outside of China, and it needs to be as humane as possible in its dealings with other countries.
It is a good sign that the children of government leaders are often educated abroad, because they can serve as informal advisors, but nothing takes the place of personal exposure to foreign ways of doing things. Perhaps the selection process of high-level government leaders can also value experience abroad and even foreign-language skills.
Seventh, I wonder if the Chinese Communist Party can consider changing its name so that it better corresponds to the institutional reality of the organization. For one thing, the organization is no longer communist. Political meritocracy was valued neither by Marx nor Mao. Lenin’s idea of the vanguard party was also different. Moreover, the party is not a political party among others. It is a pluralistic organization composed of different groups and classes that represents the whole country and, to a lesser extent, the world. A more accurate name might be the Chinese Meritocratic Union.
Daniel A. Bell is a professor of comparative political philosophy at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the author of “China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society.”