The “two sessions” – the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – have evolved from a window for foreigners to understand China (watching how state affairs are managed in the country), observe China (discerning Chinese public concerns through hot topics), and predict China (reading development trends) into one showcasing the Chinese political system.
The “two sessions” are an important part of the Chinese political system. By assimilating achievements of Western modern political civilization and combining them with Chinese culture and national conditions, especially experiences in Chinese nation-building and reform and opening up, the nation has established a model of political modernization for major developing countries. With Chinese characteristics and global significance, it is a success story of great reference value for late-developing countries to surpass the West.
First, it transcends Western outlook on power. In Western political logic, the Christian hypotheses about the original evil of human nature and power led to containing evil (power) with evil (power). This certainly is justifiable, even advanced in some aspects. Yet while highlighting power itself, it fails to take good care of the rights of ordinary citizens. Western political systems have cultivated the paradoxes of advocating democracy at home while practicing autocracy abroad, advocating pluralism at home while preaching universalism abroad. Based on the political consensus on division of work and coordination, co-existence and mutual supervision, and sharing weal and woe, the Chinese “two sessions” have maneuvered the combination of power and right, and prevented partisan wrangling and political in-fighting under the Western multi-party regime.
Second, the Chinese-style consultative democracy transcends Western procedural democracy. Consultative democracy is not a Chinese invention, but it has thrived in the process of Chinese political modernization by combining with Chinese culture and national conditions. In dividing a cake, for instance, under the Western rationality principle, when I cut it, you will distribute, maintaining an appearance of fairness; the Chinese, however, would distribute on the basis of need, taking into consideration both fairness and stakeholder feelings. Through centuries of practice, Western democracy has seen its marginal benefits decline, because Westerners have taken democracy and human rights as ends, rather than means for building order and winning hearts. Their obsession with procedural rationality has frequently made self-righteous Westerners point their finger at Chinese practical rationality, resulting in divergences and struggles over such core values as freedom and self-discipline.
Chinese consultative democracy, as embodied in the “two sessions”, is enriching global understanding of democratic institutions. Democracy is format, popular endorsement is the ultimate goal. The Chinese way of realizing democracy is opposite to the Western order. Chinese democracy differs from Western democracy mostly in approach (from top to bottom vs. from bottom to top) and order (which comes first, governing by law or election). That in turn proves Chinese democratic practices supplement and transcend Western democracy, and reflects their global significance.
Third, it transcends the idea of binary opposition. The Western way of thinking tends to assume “stand on our side, or you’ll be against us”. Such a concept of binary opposition is embodied in the design of checks and balances, especially those between the two-chamber parliaments that mirror the nobles-commons split. The CPPCC and NPC in China are not the upper and lower houses. Both are under the leadership of the Communist Party, honor the promise that all powers belong to the people, reflecting the traditional Chinese philosophy of unity of opposites, and the pursuit of harmony.
Fourth, it transcends the least bad, and pursues the best. Winston Churchill once asserted democracy is the least bad political system, which reflected both Western political self-confidence and helplessness. Austrian political economist Joseph Schumpeter believed democracy entails several conditions to succeed: First is people’s qualifications, i.e. those who lead and manage the partisan machinery should be sufficiently competent. Second is democratic restraint. Today, few countries qualify. Democracy has become a catalyst for the West to export political shock therapy and create political chaos. With political arrangements with Chinese characteristics that incorporate traditional Chinese culture and are constantly refined in political practice, China’s “two sessions” model has surpassed the Western pursuit of the least bad in such aspects as people’s qualifications and democratic restraint. This is because one can approach the best only when he or she is after the best.
Such transcendence resulted from the fact that China’s modernization has assimilated the achievements of all advanced human civilizations, including those of Western politics. The West’s problem does not lie in political systems themselves, but in its inability to adapt to changing conditions. China’s “two sessions” model is not without problems. China has many serious problems. But one can’t negate its system through negating its problems.
The advantages of the Chinese political system lie in the fact that it takes into consideration both democracy and centralization, efficiency and fairness, outcome and procedure. The “two sessions” embody both people’s status as master of the state and equal participation of all parties and social organizations as well as the Communist Party’s centralized leadership. In a short period of 10 days, they pass resolutions and discuss state affairs in a highly efficient manner, while fairly coordinating interests of all aspects and stratums. They highlight the future implementation of policy proposals while observing democratic and legal procedures, avoiding Western parliaments’ low efficiency and the problem of winner-takes-all, hence the political in-fighting under Western multi-party regime.