What if China had elections? Of course China has had elections in the past, but what brings the topic up for me are the recent Chinese reactions to the American elections. At least one Chinese web user has speculated that an election map for China, pitting the CCP against the GMD, would look like this.1
I suppose that filling out a map like this might be fun for Chinese people, but what does it mean? First, what would the election be for? The U.S. actually has lots of elections, and the maps look different depending on what race you are looking at and what level of detail you look at. My state of Pennsylvania gave all its electoral votes to Obama, but he only carried a handful of counties. Apparently there is something of an urban-rural split in the U.S.
More of us voted for Democrats for the U.S. House, but the Republicans actually got more seats. Apparently sheer number of votes does not matter as much as you might think.
The question that interests me is not “Should a democratic China borrow the American model of a federal government, electoral college, etc.”2 but rather if Chinese people were voting for something what would the data reveal about them? To some extent this is a silly question, since cool election maps require party identification. People like to complain that Americans are uninformed voters, but a party system makes a lot of information irrelevant. As someone pointed out, all you really need to do is stick your head up once a decade or so and make sure the parties have not had a major re-alignment and you know how to vote. If you tell me what issues matter most to you and what policies you favor I can tell you if you should be voting D or R in 2016 -right now-. Worried about global warming? Vote Democrat. Concerned about preserving marriage? Vote Republican. Tired of pointless bluster about China every four years? Sorry, the current party system is not responsive to your needs.3
If Chinese were to start having elections what would the issues be and who would line up where? The Weibo map at the top of the post assumes that the two parties would be the Communists and the Nationalists, and that they would essentially be re-fighting the civil war. This seems unlikely.
China does have elections right now. There are village elections all over, and the current events in Beijing are an election of sorts, with a very limited franchise and rather opaque rules.
Ogden4 was favorably impressed with the Chinese reaction to local elections. Peasants were not overly impressed with the trappings of Democracy, generally ignoring elections if they thought there was nothing at stake, but they were quite capable of taking an interest if there was something at stake and using elections, petitions, and other methods to get what they wanted. (p.214) I would guess that things have been less free since 2002, but China still has local elections, petitions, and sometimes even political protests.
SO If China did have elections, what parties would emerge? Let’s assume a proportional representation parliament, with no bar to very small parties. So probably we would get something like the Israeli Knesset. In the long run parties might consolidate, or at least form semi-permanent alliances. Like in the current Party Congress, delegates would not always have to be chosen geographically. There might be
-Ethnic parties (if not banned)
-Maybe anti-ethnic parties, appealing to Han in minority areas
-Provincial parties or factions. Does a Chinese national ticket need someone from the Northeast to balance it?
-Many varieties of rural parties
-A Buddhist party? (Japan used to have a Buddhist Clean Government Party. Think that would get votes in China?)
-An urban elite party
-A Green party?
-An even more anti-Japanese party?
-Maybe some sort of party to represent factory workers. (But what would you call such a party?)
-Would a women’s party make sense?
-Libertarians (seem to be everywhere)
(feel free to suggest your own.)
How these groups might coalesce into larger parties would depend on the issues or events. Are those without Shanghai registration allowed to vote in Shanghai? If not that might be an issue that would bring together lots of rural groups against city groups. If they were it might force municipal governments into policies that benefited everyone in town. Rural voters in Shaanxi and Guangdong might both agree on the importance of supporting rural schools, but disagree on what type of agricultural policies China should have. Would China end up with two big parties, one generally supporting the interests of the urban well-off, and one of the rural poor and migrant workers? I guess that would make someplace like Hubei a real swing province. Or maybe like in Japan, have parties but always elect the LDP? I can’t see the old North/South split mattering the way it did in the early Republic, but Jiangnan vs. the rest might work. How would the young and the old or the male and the female split out?
If you imagine a pan-Red group building around the CCP core, who would be in a pan-Yellow group opposing them?
I like fun with maps, but I also like to know what I think I am mapping.
originally from Tea Leaf Nation, which seems to be having trouble right now. ↩
Answer: No, and it seems like a pretty irrelevant question right now ↩
More significantly, there is no-anti war party ↩
Ogden, Suzanne. Inklings of Democracy in China. Harvard University Asia Center, 2002. A very good book. I assume there is a lot of more recent stuff, but since I blog for Frog rather than JAS I don’t have to look it all up to post this ↩
I think ideology might be a more interesting way of starting than interests, since interests always seem to be expressed in an ideological framework. Looking at what gets talked about in China now (I’m a really casual observer so please forgive any errors!) there would at least be a Bo Xilai-esque Maoist party and some sort of Western-oriented liberal party, since these seem to be the two ideological poles Chinese political discourse orients itself around. Presumably the liberal party would gain traction with east coast middle classes by championing quality of life issues, while the Maoist party would attract those who favor a more socialist path. I suppose either could integrate the current establishment, or there could be a third centrist party.
My main point is if we look at things in terms of different demographics and the sets of issues that would appeal to them rather than issues alone we might be able to get somewhere. Of course there’s still the problem of how many people are in each demographic, but I think it is interesting to think of Chinese politics in terms of the wants and needs of the various social groupings that make up China rather than simply in terms of the elite political discourse that dominates today.
China is so big, and there are so many rural areas. I would have to believe that there will be not one, or two big parties, but a whole bunch of different parties and leaders.