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Elusive Democracy
Conceptual Change and the Chinese Democracy Movement, 1978-79 to 1989
Universityof Minnesota

"Politicsis a communicativelyconstitutedactivity."This claim has been taken to heartby many scholars who pay attentionto linguistic actions in political practice(Habermas,1984; Ball and Pocock, 1988: 1; Skinner,1988). Politics may be aboutassertingone's rightsagainst a dominantpower or making allocative decisions or organizing and building coalitions for a common purpose. Undergirdingall these activities are concepts, words, and speech that make possible the asserting, the decision making, the organizing, and the coalition building. Withan eye to the significance of the communicativedimensionof politics, this articlerevisitstwo rhetoricalsites of China'sdecade-long democracy movement from 1978-79 to 1989. One is the Democracy Wall movement of the winter of 1978-79; the other is the student-led Pro-Democracymovement of 1989. On both occasions, democracy The word was the rallyingcause for tens of thousandsof participants. minzhu-the closest Chinese translationof democracy-was repeatedly invoked by the activists. In this article, I try to analyze and this understand centralconceptin the contextof these two movements. I retainthe Chinese word minzhuwhenever possible and use democracy only when the word minzhugets in the way of presentation.1
AUTHOR'S NOTE: l am indebtedto Daniel Kelliherfordetailedcommentson earlier versions of this article. I would also like to acknowledge the comments and support of Lisa Disch, RaymondDuvall, Jim Johnson, Li Lianjiang, Bruce Lincoln, Liu Qing, Bill Seeley, and Wang Dongmei. Thanksto Richard Gunde, Stanley Rosen, and two anonymous referees of Modem Chinafor valuable suggestions. Vol. 1996 417-447 MODERN CHINA, 22 No. 4, October ? 1996SagePublications, Inc. 417



is Conceptually,democracyin its Chinese incarnation a mixtureof elements inheritedfrom Chinese history and lifted out of the many Westerndemocraticdiscourse. Given the rapidityand the extent of conceptual change in China, any conceptualcontinuitiesin the case of minzhu are all the more remarkable. Discussing these continuities characteristics the Chineseidea of gives insightinto the distinguishing of minzhu. Duringthe decade from 1978-79 to 1989, the concept of minzhuas reflected in popular protest movements underwent a qualitative change. As old meaningswere lost and new ones were gained,and as emphases shifted, people of 1989 spoke a quite differentlanguageof minzhufrom those of 1978-79.


The claim that the 1989 movement was democraticis disputable havesuggestedthattheparticipants' on severalgrounds.Some authors vision of democracy representedonly personalistic and reactively oppositionaldemands(Solinger,1989:621-632). Othershave pointed out thatthe way the studentsorganizedthemselveswas notdemocratic at all (Lubman, 1989; Hunger strikers' declaration, cited in Wu Mourenet al., 1989: 552). Still othershave arguedthatthe democracy activists excluded peasants from their vision and showed signs of paternalisticelitism towardother segments of society (Esherickand Wasserstrom,1990: 835-865; Jacobs, 1991: 13; Shue, 1992: 157-168; and Kelliher,1993:379-396;Walder GongXiaoxia,1993:1-29).Inspite of all these counterclaims,nobody disputes the fact that throughout invokedone word-minzhuthe movement,virtuallyall participants almost as if it were a mantra.As is typical of political movementsin modern China, the 1989 democracy movement saw charges made, speeches delivered, petitions signed, declarations issued, posters posted, and slogans shouted.Democracy-minzhu-remained in the center of this hubbub of activities. At the rhetoricallevel at least, in participants the movementheld minzhuto be theirgoal and sought to practiceit among themselves.2 Minzhu was also the most frequently used single word in the activists' vocabularyduringthe 1978-79 Democracy Wall period.A

revolution. minzhu appeared80 times. both definitions regardmin as a generic and corporate term. 1989) has gone the farthestin emphasizingthe unique featuresof Chinese democracybut has stoppedshortof a full-fledged conceptual analysis that aims at explicating the multiple meanings attachedto the term by the democracyactivists. min and The Chinese word minzhuis composed of two characters: zhu. "butwe need more of it" (WuDunn. This usage has continued into the present in such expressions as minyi (public [in contrastto official] opinions) and minxuan(popularlyelected [rather than appointed by officials]). respectively. Andrew Nathan(1985. poorpeasants.""the public" or "the common people" in contrastto officialdom. min has acquired a class meaning. 1984: 161)." one student said. It came to stand for renmin(the people).quotedin Han Minzhu. Anotherself-styled "professional means a political system that strives for mocracy [minzhu]primarily democracy [minzhu]"(posterat Beijing NormalUniversity. In Zhongguo renquan (China's Human Rights).3Min in traditionalChina denoted "the governed.and 255 times in Beijingzhi chun(Beijing Spring)comparedwith 153.however. But what did the democracyactivists really mean when they cried out minzhuin TiananmenSquare?Some participantsadmittedtheir own ignorance of the term. Thus the character min takes on two meanings when used in combination with zhu: it can denote the common people (vis-a-vis officials) or people with a class distinction(vis-a-vis class enemies). Political scientists have done little to unpackthis central concept to understandits different meanings in the Chinese context. next only to renquan (human rights). renmin(people) (Liu Shengji. "I don't know exactly what democracy [minzhu] is. min does not denote "individual" (geren). the Communist othersocial elementssupposedlysupporting The antithesisof renminconsistsof so-calledclass enemies. .for the next most popularword. which at various stages of the People's Republic included. which appeared 85 times (Liu Shengji.the proletariat.260 times in Siwu luntan (April5 Forum). and247 times. held that"derevolutionary" 1989).226. Here. In the Communistparlance. 1984:161).DEMOCRACY Guang/ ELUSIVE 419 content analysis of the majorunderground publicationsthen shows it was used 173 times in Tansuo(Exploration). and the accordingto the officialdefinition. As we can readily see. 1990: 142).

elements from Chinese history.yijia zhi zhu (family head) or zhuren (master)-to a more generalsense."Since the rise of the human rights discourse in the late 1970s. min as in minzhu has increasingly come to be understoodas "individualcitizens. while zhu has only two. there is little correspondencebetween the various notions of minzhu and Westernnotions of democracy.4 The .zhu seems to take on two meandifferentfrom each other. and the liberal democratic tradition privileging individual liberty over collective interests. They reflect the influence of diverse meanings of the two characters." Since such an understandingmoved away from the corporate/collective definitionsof min. As we can see. Table 1 tries to capturethe complexity and the entanglednatureof the Chinese concept minzhu.someone who is in charge. In ancienttimes. at least six different each drawingupon a differentset of conceptions can be articulated.oftentimes parochialinterestsin the name of minzhu.it can suggestwhatis zhuyao (primary)in contrastto ciyao (secondary). Such a definition has allowed activists to assert their individual. of perhaps. while "primary"only means being taken seriously by. it can be used in combinationssuch as zhuren(master)in contrastto puren(servant). populism.1981: 39). 1984: 95).in the second. Combining min and zhu.420 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 Rather. for example. When combined with min to form minzhu. In that sense. we get minzhu. min can also denote "individuals.Marxism.minzhu could now be definedas "individual rights" or defined in such a way thatit would incorporate legitimatepartial as welfarist demands by individualsor groups of individuals. the emperorwas called the zhu underheaven. The variouscombinationsof the differentmeaningsof the two charactersyield differentconceptionsof the single termminzhu. the other characterthat makes up the term minzhunamely. However."Master"meansbeing put in charge. These range from quite particularsenses-for example. Like min. The different interpretations the word zhu thus invoke a qualitativedifference in the interpreters' attitudetowardthe masses.it refersto whatSun Yat-sencalled "anyunifiedandorganized body of men" (Sun Yat-sen.while his dukesandprinces were regardedas the zhu of landandgrain(Ci yuan. zhu-also has multiple meanings.But we have to keep in mind that min has three differentmeanings or senses.In the ings that are slightly yet importantly first sense.

of the Communistrepresentation a class-based democracy-all this. its by in early modem transformation the hands of Locke.however. with the recent importationof Westerndiscourse on human together various rights.next come the landandgrain.entangled and hardly amenableto a single interpretation. in its "internalframeworkof significance" (Womack. minzhu still has to be understood. makes minzhuan amalgamof meaningsincorporating strandsof thought. presupposesa distinction between the ruler and the ruled. 1979: 4130).andlast. section 1) is embodied in the idea of minben-treating the welfare of the common people as the basis of the wealth andpower of the polity.In spite of the impactof Westernideas since the turnof the century (Western ideas have served to popularize minzhu tremendously in China).the princes"(Ci hai. It ultimately envisions a unity of interestbetween the governor and the governed. 1991: 54). however.its modem metamorphosis the formof representative governmentas envisioned by Mill andMadison.It is reflected in the classic Chinese statementmin wei bangben (people alone are the basis of the state) and in Mencius' injunctionthat"mostimportant are the min.if understoodat all. The ancient teachings of Confucius and Mencius regardingthe importance of people's welfareto the healthof the princedom.The latter.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 421 concept represented the word democracy-in its Greekorigins. It seeks to . The following is an analyticexercise thattriesto mapout the different conceptions of minzhu in contemporaryChina before we proceed to a historicalexaminationof the rhetoricof politicalactivistsin 1978-79 and in 1989. Rousseau.the unof even interjection Western democraticideas atthe turnof the century. and exhorts the ruler to put the common people's interestabove everything else to securethe kingdom.the thousandsof years of traditionof remonstratingby intellectuals-cum-officials. The same is trueof Chinese minzhu. and in Montesquieu.5 Such a conception. The traditional Chinese conception (see Table 1. Minben is very much a paternalisticidea.down to the radicalization of democracy along class lines in the writings of Marx and Engels andthe ascendenceof humanrightsdiscoursein recentyearshas followed a historicaltrajectorypeculiar to Westernculture. Democracy has acquired its meanings (and transformedthem in the process) from these contexts.springsfroma different traditionand acquiresits meaning in a differentcontext.The rangeof meaningis huge.

in contrast to servant) 2."self-controlby the common people" 4. Marxistconceptionof minzhu: the formerlyexploitedpeople (e.TABLE 1: Conceptions of Minzhu in the Chinese Context Min Zhu Pingmin(CommonPeople. proletariat as the basis or as someone whose welfare is of primaryimportance Zhuren (master. in Contrastto Class Enemies) basis. in contrastto secondary."class-based controlof the state" .. as someone whose welfare is of primaryimportance Renmin(People.Ben (primary. Conceptionof minzhuby some of the 1978-79 activists:common people as the masterof theirown destiny. Zhuyao.g. proletariat) becomingthe master of theirown destiny. Minben:common people as the basis. nonessential) 3. in Contrast Officials) to 1.g. ChineseCommunistParty's conceptionof minzhu:the former exploited people (e.

he also advocatedoverthrowof immoralrulerswho fail to securethe welfare of the people.1982). such as corruptionand bureaucratism. Marx's vision of democracy-exploited people rising up. section 4). The popular images associated with minzhu as minben consist of enlightenedemperorsof the past andpopularofficials like Bao Zheng of the Song dynasty who consistently protectedthe interests of the common folk againstthe powerful. It of does not call for the participation the ruledin the governing of the It stops short of encouragingthe rulersto put the interests of polity. Xiao Gongquan.7 Besides the traditional Chinese discourseof minben. practicingwang dao (the kingly way) and ren zheng (humane rule) (Lin Mousheng. which practicedradicalegalitarianismand working-classself-management.The dominantimage of a minzhu management system is that of the Paris Commune. the idea of minben has apparentlybeen incorporatedinto their conceptions of minzhu. But his writings are firmly in the genre of cautionary advice to princes aboutthe properway of governingtheir subjectsthat is. Zhu here indicates the people's desire to become the masterof theirown destiny by directlyparticipating the in andcontrolof the state.DEMOCRACY Guang/ ELUSIVE 423 ensure the welfare of the common people in orderto keep the rulers in power. minben does allow common people to hold governmentofficials accountablefor their actions.As we will see in examining the rhetoricof the Chinese democracy activists. likely to are draw the wrath of the people and so would be deemed as not in conformitywith the doctrineof minben. . Government actions endangering the welfare of the common people. not to extend to the people autonomyand power of participation in government.It is true that. In this latter sense. the ruled ahead of everything else.6 Many Chinese commentatorswould regardthis idea of minben as a majorobstacle to minzhubecause it does not ask for anythingmore than a passive people and a benign ruler(Liu Zehua. and supplantingit with proletarian dictatorship-has captured the imaginationof Chinese youths since early in this century. min has acquireda class meaning:its ranksconsist of the proletariat and its allied classes that had been exploited by the bourgeoisie and other dominating classes. smashing the old state machine.Here. 1942: 29-59. 1986: 25-33). in the case of Mencius.anotherinfluential strandof thoughtaffectingthe Chineseunderstanding minzhu of comes from Marxism (see Table 1.

section 3). ordinary peoplethanmin as progressive The Chinese CommunistParty(CCP) had its own twist on Paris Commune-style minzhu in the 1970s.The conceptevolves as any one conception or a particularmixtureof certainconceptionsgains ascendence over anotherone or anotherset of conceptionalmixes. section 6). manyChinesecame to individualisticdimension minzhuto have a very important understand collective definition (see Table 1. Revolution In the late 1970s. the extentthattheCCPregarded more as a tool for achieving policy goals than as an end in itself. rights" marksa significantbreakwith past democraticthinkingin China. concernedmore with min as connotation. The various conceptions considerableextent. The main part of .424 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 As we will see. Given the predominantly minzhuas "individual of min in the Chinesepoliticaltradition. These youthstook to heart radical egalitarianismand the idea of self-government.The goal was to mobilize of mass supportfor the implementation policy.the ideal types arenowhereinstantiated of minzhu overlap to a analytic clarity. the party'sconception of minzhubore an importantaffinity to the traditional Chinese idea of minben. not mass involvement massparticipation To in its formation.But taxonomy is fraughtwith danger. coincidingwiththe end of the Cultural had revealed the vulnerabilityof individualsto the arbitrary (which exercise of power) and PresidentCarter'spromotionof humanrights of in a majorreorientation U. classes (see Table 1. But the CCP was more concerned with enacting massregarding policies through the vanguardparty than with allowing people direct control of the policymakers. the model of the Paris Commune inspired many Chinese youths in theircall for minzhuin 1978-79.In with the same artificial reality.The CCP's conceptionof minzhuthus reflected the confluence of both Marxistideology and the traditional minbendoctrine(see Table 1. The CCP espoused a certain degree of egalitarianismand committeditself to mass mobilization in and a measureof directlocal-level participation the governmentby the people. foreignpolicy.although they did not necessarilyshare the view that min had a class Theirswas a populistvision.8They also reflect the shaping influence of the differentstrandsof traditionand thought in Chinese history. Any person's idea of minzhu may be a mixture of the variousconceptions. The above five conceptionsthatI have chosen to identify indicate the richness and complexity of the concept of minzhu.S. section2).

Whatsprangfromthis act has since become known to minzhuactivists as the XidanDemocracy Wall movement. There were also continuities in the . like freedom of the press and direct election of national leaders. I first dwell on the continuitiesthathave markedthe democracymovementsfrom 1978-79 to 1989. characterposters on a 200-yard-longbrick wall at the intersectionof Chang'anAvenue andXidan Streetin Beijing. at the end of a decade-long national struggle for economic reform and political liberalization. I then analyze the importantchanges that ultimately set the two movements apart. In the following two sections. Beijing studentsled anotherpopularmovementthatcalled for minzhu and otherpolitical reforms.10 Some issues. were common to both movements.and smallparticular. At the same time. The ideological hegemony of the Mao era was then gradually yielding to a call for the "emancipationof the mind. as the world knows. Ten years later. 1984: 151-165)." Consideredby Deng Xiaoping as an importantprecondition for "emancipatingthe mind.9 Importantcontinuities in areas other than concepts exist between the two movements.This movementlasted barelya monthand a half and. This short-lived mass-based protest has since become popularly knownin the Westas the 1989 Pro-Democracy movement. was violently suppressed by the government in June 1989. Some activists of the 1978-79 movementstayed on and were prominent leaders again in 1989.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 425 this article is an exercise in examiningthe democracyactivists'usages of the term minzhuand in drawing out the conceptual assumptions behind them. a group of young activists upstagedthe party in the winter of 1978-79 by publishing a spate of independentjournals devoted to the discussion of China's political system in general and the practice of minzhu in The movement startedwith the posting of big. CHINESEDEMOCRACY: CONCEPTUAL FROM1978-79 TO 1989 CONTINUITIES The 1978-79 DemocracyWallmovementcame in the aftermath of the CulturalRevolution. however." minzhu was put on the official Communist Partyagenda for the remainingdecades of the century(Deng Xiaoping.

it must first of all become politically demowealthy betweendemocracyandnationalism cratic(minzhu). "we can see that the economies of all well-run democracies [minzhuguojia] have developed fast and with increasing momentumuntil a very high level has been reached.. 1985: 24-26.. At the conceptual level. We are fully justified in asserting that democracy [minzhu] is a prerequisite for rapid economic modernization"(Wei Jingsheng. there were two particularlystrong continuities between the movements: their nationalistic orientationand their inadequateattention to the conflictive natureof interests. The observationwas that the economic powers of the world all operatedundera democraticpolitical system." In 1978-79. in historythe two have often actedas opposingforces.shouldChinaas a nationwantto become The resultant and powerful. activistswere convincedthatthe realizationof minzhu was a necessary condition for the four modernizations enshrinedby the Deng regime." Wei Jingsheng confidently wrote. see a close connection:no democracy.426 / 1996 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER tactics employedby the activists who saw themselvesmoreas remonstratorsfrom withinthe system thanopponentsof the party-stateand who largely renouncedviolence as a means of achieving democratic change (Nathan. A citizen's purpose in demandingdemocracy [min- . 1989). First. indeed. both the Democracy Wall and the 1989 minzhu activists regardedminzhumore as an organizingprinciplefor nationaldevelthana politicalprinciplefor reconcilingdifferopmentandprosperity economic developent interestsand ideologies thatmight well retard mentin the shortrun.of course.Chineseactivistsseemed the to believe. belief was that. "From the standpointof modem history.Minzhuwas desirable.withoutprotecting people's and buildingthe countrythroughdemocracy[minzhu].Such recognitionwas based on one key observation and a resultantbelief.The relationship can be highly problematic. Chinesedemocracyactivists. that 1980: 63).it would rights be impossible for any country to build itself into a thriving and prosperousstate.no powerandprosperityfor the nation. because it represented best developmentalstrategyfor the Chinese nation.Minzhu shidai (Minzhuand the of all independent yu Times)proclaimed: the Withoutfosteringdemocracy[minzhu].. In a paragraph was typical of the opening statements minzhujournals.however.

He should have no otherobjective than in this [Minzhu shidai. from our pure and loyal love for our great motherland"(poster at Beijing Aeronautics Institute. were careful to let the public know that their struggle for individualism was not just to promoteand protectindividualinterests. In this light. Chinese studentsfaulted the existing political institutionsand longed for a minzhusystem that Priorto 1989.activists promotedminzhu because of its value to the nation. . If modernization of the countryneeded minzhuand if minzhuneeded individu- ."studentsproclaimedthat"[W]eonly have one goal: the modernizationof China" (quoted in Wu Mourenet al. 1989: 131).1980-1981: 45]. Takingthe power and prosperityof Chinaas their goal." And they claimed that they sought "nothing other than the power and prosperity of the Chinese nation"(quotedin Wu Mourenet al.In a "Letterto Chinese across the Nation. sprang from our patriotichearts. students did not think that their views differed fundamentallyfrom those of the government. what they perceivedto be the stalling of China'seconomy on the lack of political reform.minzhuas individualrightshadfew advocatesbesides Wei Jingsheng (Nathan. In 1989.quoted in Han Minzhu. On this point.. quoted Tong.In the "New May 4th Manifesto.Guang/ELUSIVE DEMOCRACY 427 zhu] and humanrightsis for the constructionof the countryand for the prosperityof the entirenation. 1. this discordancewas not that serious. while emphasizing the value of individual rights."a groupof studentspronouncedthat "the sole objective of the tens of thousandsof college studentsis to build up the nationthroughminzhu[minzhuliguo]. On closer analysis. 1985: 106). some minzhu activists' emphasison individualrightsappearedto strikea discordant note in the general discourse of minzhu. yu the Such language permeated writingsof minzhuactivistsin 1978-79. 1990: 76). Thus one of the persistentpoints in the Chinese conceptions of minzhu has been its nationalisticorientation. "Ouractions . student activists. economic reform had reached such an could only come about impasse in the late 1980s that a breakthrough with the implementationof a minzhu system. In the case of the Democracy Wall movement. 1989: 324).no.. .To them. many studentsblamed would facilitate modernization."Wehave no selfish motives or hidden ambitions"was the message studentstriedto convey to the nation. Some of the rhetoricby 1989 activists was strikingly similar.

the mythof unitaryinterestshadbeen shaken. such collective welfare could easily attainthe status of a moral imperativeto be championed. A second continuity consists in the fact that. those embracingthe rights-centered conception eulogized abstractrights of existence. First. But here again. then the power and prosperityof China could not be secured except throughindividualism. suchmoralisticunderstandings of minzhucontinued. when they do talk about interests.Intellectualactivistsshunned"specialrightsand interests"and claimed to be "spokesmenfor the entirenationand the vanguardof social justice" (poster at People's University. thus partial.Thus the seeming contradictionin the discourse on minzhu between the nationalisticorientationand the emphasis on individualismwas reconciled. and there was a tendency to identify minzhu with a certain degree of political pluralism. 1990: 35). no. people's welfare was defined in collective terms. voluntarism.428 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 alism.By the late 1980s. hungerstrikersintendedto use theirwisdom and actions to make the .1982. quoted in Tong. Activists adoptingthe Marxistconceptionof minzhusoughtto restore the sovereignty of the people. Second. In 1978-79. 1985). they are blind to any conflict among them. for example. Nathan.quoted in Han Minzhu. Instead.In 1989. activists tend to elevate minzhu to the level of a moralprincipleinsteadof groundingit in concreteinterests. 1980-1981: 36). Through an ultimate act of self-sacrifice. But "interests"and conflict among interestshad yet to take center stage in the Chinese conception. The most explicit interest-basedconception of minzhu came in the form of the traditional Chinese notion of minben in which minzhu was defined as active concernfor the welfare of the people.Withoutpartialityand plurality.the Chinese concept of minzhuis not anchored in a strongassumptionof the legitimacy of pluralisticand contradictory interests. Two consequences for the minzhu movementfollow from such a lack of emphasis on interests. unlike the Western notion of democracy. minzhu activists called on their fellow travelersto rise above their "personalinterests"and plunge into "the struggle of reformingthe society" along minzhuprinciples(Renmin zhisheng. 3. interests and embracingthe interests of the whole was a moralact that affirmedthe high moral value of minzhu. and general harmony in any system of minzhu(Xiao Gongquan. Renouncingone's personal. they see Confucian values such as cooperation.

1980: 65). ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY: CONCEPTUAL CHANGESFROM 1978-79 TO 1989 continuitiesin the concept of minzhu Despite the two fundamental discussedabove. minzhu was "as much a moral issue as a political one" (WuDunn. economic. 1989: 550-551). minzhuactivists wanted to adopt "a spirit of toleranceand cooperation"andthus defined democraticpolitics as "politicswithoutenemies andwithoutthe mentalityof hatred" (Hunger strikers'declaration.Minzhuactivists wanted to believe that once minzhu was achieved.. This was clear in the thoughtof DemocracyWall activists who saw minzhu as "a cooperative system" that"recognizesthe equalrightsof all humanbeings and resolvesall socialproblems thebasisof cooperation" on (WeiJingsheng. 1989). In 1978. 1989: 553).Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 429 government "feel ashamed" in face of the moral force of minzhu activists (Hunger strikers'declaration.they seemed to adopta very benign view andenvision a harmoniousrelationship amongthem.therewereimportant decade conceptual changesduring thatseparated DemocracyWallmovementof 1978-79fromthe 1989 the protest movement. As a Westernjournalist observed. andpoliticalcontextswithinwhich these two movements took place could not have been more different. in 1989.the pressingconcernthen was how . No fundamentalconflict of interest was recognized. in Chinese politics.To minzhuactivists. Conceptualdiscontinuitypoints toward largerdifferences in the nature of the two democracymovements. people would naturally cooperate for the common good. When minzhu activists did acknowledgethe importanceof partial and individualisticinterests.quotedin Wu Mourenet al.China was still in the grip of a tightly controlledcommandeconomy and an interventionistadministrativestate. in the wake of the CulturalRevolution.quoted in Wu Mouren et al.. Again. Minzhu became a symbol of harmony of interests instead of a means for reconciling differences. The social. Semantic identity-that minzhu was proclaimed by both movements-does not entail conceptual continuity-that minzhu as used in 1978-79 and 1989 referred to the same thing.

in this environment intellectualsandordinary an important changeoccurredin the minzhudiscourse:it shiftedfrom both political and economic criticism of the governmentto almost Thus.12 these historicalcontexts. TO FROMDIVERSITY UNIFORMITY The winterof 1978-79was certainlya time of ideologicalcontention in China. as one commentatorput it. as much as they were constitutiveof purelypolitical criticism. 1983:241).Almost simultaneously. such as the idea of human rights.debateson minzhuin these two periodswere of shapedby the changingnature the Chinesestateandthenew politics of marketreform.Furthermore.it was also a time of opened possibilities in politics. began to trickle into the public consciousness of certainsegments of the Chinese population. 1983b: 66-85. it opened up the politicalfrontfor contestationandattackby disaffected citizens.by keepingto the old rigid political system (or one perceived as such by students). Socialist minzhu should "not only affirm people's rightto speak out should allow the people to [on public affairs]. was "peoplebecomingmastersof theirown lives" (ZhouXun. affairs" by electing representativesand supervising manage state . A decade later. It was a time of reopeningto the outside world afterdecades of isolation.Contemporary non-MarxistWesternideas. 1984). Chen Erjin. rangingfromMarxistanalysisto the Western Most of the postersandjournalarticleson minzhuof this time were writtenin line with the dominantpolitical discourse-Marxism of the late 1970s. Minzhu. humanrightsdiscourse.in the midstof economic liberalization a gradual and retreatfrom a commandeconomy. Readingthe postersthat covered the DemocracyWall. As we will see. People like WangXizhe and Chen Erjintried to distill a practice theoryof minzhufromMarx'swritingsor fromcontemporary in the Communist countries (Wang Xizhe.430 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 to pare down the colossal state machine and to make economic and political decision making an accountableprocess. one cannotbutbe struckby the diversityof the views expressedon minzhu. however. the Chinese governmentseemed to have convinced its people of the virtueof the marketin regulating economic activity. because no new political vision had exerted a hegemonic influence in the nation.but more importantly. 1983a: 51-85.

1979: 304). Chen Erjin identified the principles of the Paris Commune as one of the three sources of "the [minzhu] system" (Chen Erjin... each individual exists independently. Wandingof the HumanRights League.therealso appeared distinctstrand of thought focusing on human rights and the protection of human of individuality. was the power of control over elected leaders (the power of recall was mentioned frequently)and the egalitarianwage structureunder which leaderswere paid no more thanordinaryworkers(Beijing yige tielu gongren. and Ren Jingsheng. 1979: 309).as one of them put What attracted it.People's sociality is formed of the common character and common interests of many different individuals. 1983: 249). People's sociality depends on individuality just as humansocieties necessarilydependon the existence of individu- .also with its workers' self-governmentsystem attracted the attention of many minzhu activists. 1980: 72). but minzhu meantnot only citizens' participation a degree of positive control over state affairs. Wei Jingshengsuggested that minzhu was a system in which "all men have an equal political right to fight for the right of existence" (Wei Jingsheng. 1983a:53).Theirmostcommonreferences bureaucratism were to Marx'sdiscussion of the ParisCommuneandthe Yugoslavian worker-management system. talked about abolishing "the system of appointingcadres"and establishinga minzhusystem "modeledafter the Paris Commune"(Lu Min.Thecontemporary exampleof Yugoslavia.Well-knownrepresentatives this approachwere Wei the former publisher of Tansuo (Exploration). He wrote: Society is composed of differentindividualsand. in an articlein Beijing zhi chun (Beijing Spring). proletarian-democratic these people to the ParisCommune. Lu Min.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 431 leaders at various levels (Zhou Xun. accordingto natural instincts. In their vision. 1984: 15). those who adopted a Marxist perspective were most concerned with the alienationof the CCPfromthe people andthe growing withinthe government. WangXizhe called on the partyto regulate its relations with people according to "the principles of Paris Commune"(WangXizhe. In their calls for minzhu.1983:124-127).. He "deniedthe claimed that the theory of dictatorshipof the proletariat of individuals in a society to satisfy their different goals and right wishes" (Wei Jingsheng. public While most of the writings during this period were couched in a Marxistterminologyandanalysis. in public enterprises.

this idea assumesthe existence of a collective entitycalled min (people) whose interestsare in the custodyof the government.terms. 1980: 58). Such a corporatist.As I have suggested. rights-centered.InWeiJingsheng's and Ren Wanding's conception..For Wei Jingsheng. tion of minzhufound expression even in Wei Jingsheng'sostensibly individualistlanguage. a governmentthat upholds the principle of minben and thus deserves the name of minzhu.not individualistic.for example. a participatory enhances people's welfare because it mobilizes "thewisdom. and If all three conceptions of minzhu-Marxist. talents and creative spiritof all membersof society" in the people's interest (Gong Min. It seems that .. that did not seem to be the case in 1989.)A unity of interestis posited between the min and their rulers. had built up an organization centeringsolely on concern with humanrights. Jingsheng. Minzhu was thus less about achieving positive control over governmentalpolicies than aboutcarving out a realm of freedom for individuals against the power of the state and also affirmedthe equalityof every person. traditionalwelfarist-were significantly present in the Democracy Wall period. Ren Wanding.A good government. minzhu was predicated upon the political primacy of rights.The Nineteen Points of his Human Rights League broke new ground by calling on the government to respect citizens' civil liberties and their economic rights(Zhongguo renquan tongmen. Thus a minzhusystem. For otheractivists.432 1996 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / als.(Here. 1980: 57]. 1980: 233). society.. Eventually. by allowing individual development.promotesharmonyand enhancesthe collective welfare minzhu system also of the people. People's individualityenjoys priorityover theirsociality [Wei Jingsheng. min is understoodin corporate.1983:288-292). Such daring assertions of individualityagainst society struck a sympatheticchord among people who had suffered the capricious abuse of power by both leadersand "themasses"duringthe Cultural Revolution. Such individualism Mixed with the Marxistdiscourse of minzhuand the language of "rights"was the traditionalChinese idea of minben.individualinterestswould to naturallyconvergeonce they were allowedthe opportunity develop individualsand society would be in harmony(Wei freely. is one that strives to maximize the welfaristconcepcollective welfareof the people.

one of them had won out.Minzhu is to ensure the inviolability of these rights throughlegislation" (Ni Yuxian. Many minzhu activists. one could find few. Welfarist conceptions were generally criticized because they lent themselves to use by even autocraticgovernments. Some activists recognized a difference between humanrightsandminzhu. 1989: 1).the Westernidea of humanrightswas repeatedlyinvoked."5 .But they agreedthat. if any. who claimed that "minzhu is the recognitionby each person of equal rights in being a human.in China. And thatone privileged humanrightsmorethananythingelse. 1988: 83). In the 1989 Pro-Democracy movement. including people like Fang Lizhi who did not participatedirectly in the movementbutwhose ideas hada powerfulinfluenceon the student activists.. In the springof 1989.An open letter signed by intellectualsat the beginningof 1989 called on the government to release all political prisonersin an effortto "conformwith the world's general trend that human rights are increasinglyrespected" (Chang Chen-pang. This call was importantin setting the general agenda for the minzhu activists.'4 FROMSUBSTANTIVE MINZHUTO PROCEDURAL MINZHU The diversityof views on minzhuin the late 1970s did not preclude a common emphasis on the substantiveaspect of a minzhu system. and minzhuwas frequentlydefined in termsof such rights. who form our society as a whole. 1989: 565). Images of Paris Commune-styleminzhu and the Yugoslavian system were not conjuredup at all in any majormass publication. 1989: 16). This was echoed by overseas activists like Ni Yuxian. discussions of minzhu based on Marx's analysis of the Paris Commune.Nor were issues of economic democracysuch as workplacecontrolcentral to the discussion. Following FangLizhi.Guang/ELUSIVE DEMOCRACY 433 after a decade of contending with each other. It meansthattheirbasic rightsas citizens and humanbeings should not be somethingconferredfrom above but something we are born with" (Fang Lizhi. 1989:21). defined minzhu explicitly in terms of human rights: "The core of minzhu is recognition of the basic rights of all citizens. Chai Ling declaredthat"minzhuis a natural right" (quoted in Wu Mourenet al.humanrights hadto come firstbeforeminzhucouldbe realized(Ding Chu. humanrights seemed to have capturedmost of the imaginativeminds among pro-democracyactivists.13 Instead.

. 1984).the formulation legal codes. proceduralminzhu emphasizes estab- . "consentand ratification by all workers would have to be sought on any matter of of concerningthe creationof structures power.. Chen Erjinproposedthat the monopoly of power by the partybe replacedby the principleof "all power to the people" in a proletarian-minzhu system. Under such a system. Shi Huasheng. If substantiveminzhuis definedby the goal of empoweringpeople politically and economically.quoted the means of productionare owned but not directly controlledby the people. was the goal. they remainedcognizant of the limits of mere proceduralism-namely. 1983: 167-181. To achieve such control.notjust nominallyown. but it did not define minzhu in and by itself for the activists. inspiredby the Paris Communemodel and the Yugoslavian experience. activists then were concerned with direct control of the decision-making process and with the practice of minzhu in the economic realm as well. 1983: 182-183). luntan. Thus many broadsides by minzhu activists were directed against the cadre apof pointmentsystem. and the alienation of the CCP from popularcontrol. this emphasis on political power and control by the people was cast in the languageof rights. ratherthan the guaranteeof procedural rules. and the appointmentand dismissal of officeholders" (Chen Erjin. In a socialist system. the bureaucratism state organs. To the extent that they were concerned with procedural matters in safeguarding minzhu. Chen Erjin suggested a "systemof conferencesof people's delegates"throughwhich real legislative andsupervisory powerwould be placedin the people's hands. the means of production(see. To preventthe CCP from becoming the people's master. it may or may not lead to empowermentof the people in both political and economic realms. 1980: 76).people's power needed to be institutionalizedto supervise the party (Wang Xizhe. Proceduremay be necessary. 1983a: 53). e. minzhu citizens to have an impacton society" included"therightof individual of and "to take partin the management state and social affairs"(Siwu in Li Yizhe et al. Direct control. 1984: 174).g. Chen Erjin.434 / MODERNCHINA OCTOBER 1996 As I have suggested.Wang Xizhe asserted. They could only achieve this economic control through control over the cadres (Lu Min.As one activistputit. This separationof ownershipand control necessitatesa minzhu system wherebythe people could control. Sometimes.

If the DemocracyWallactivists hadwantedto secure minzhuby returning legislative powerto the people andby havingthe people check and supervisethe government(throughelections. 10: "The essence of minzhuconsists in checks and balances. with how decisions were made thanwith what decisions were made. left office in the good graces of the party.They recalled that none of the partysecretaries-general. 1990:34). minzhuactivists in 1989 triedto arriveat a formula-a set of institutionalarrangements procedures-through which differand ent government institutions would check and counterbalanceone another(see HanMinzhu. in languagereminiscentof Madisonin FederalistNo. The emphasison rules and procedures shares with the rights-centeredconception of minzhu the overall thrustof political liberalism. referenda. Puttinginto place a set of proceduralrules would serve to curb the arbitrary exercise of power by the partyelders.By 1989. by an elaboratesystem of institutionalchecks andbalances.).. In this context.Later into the movement.butthey also thought it necessary to constrainthese officials. the removal of Hu Yaobang from power two years before had violated minzhu procedures. it is not difficult to see the appeal of the American political system." Liu Xiaobo and his fellow hunger strikers declared. Not only did these activists think that officials should be selected and promoted(or demoted)accordingto minzhuprocedures. etc. means and proceduresof political operation"(Hungerstrikers'declaration.. since the founding of the CCP.. "[W]hatis importantis the mannerin which one comes to power and loses one's power.. 1989: 552). they had reason to fear that an unpleasantfate awaited Zhao Ziyang. 1989: 551-552).. once they were in power. lishing a set of "correct" minzhu activists were moreconcernedwith how leaderswere chosen than with who were chosen. Appointing someone to a position of power or removinghim from it withoutobservingminzhu procedures only leads to autocracy"(quoted in Wu Mouren et al.quoted in Wu Mourenet al. As Liu Xiaobo andhis colleagues wrote. We believe that the actualrealization of minzhu politics lies in the minzhu nature of the process. . "It is not importantwho is in power and who is removed from power.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 435 rulesandproceduresfor politicians. To these minzhu activists. We would rather have ten devils who can counter-balance one anotherthan one angel in possession of absolutepower.

the myth of unity of interests began to be shaken. proposed the establishment of "a dual Communist Party system" under which one party would function as a kind of opposition. All activists. But both of his partieswould be Communistin natureand"sharethe same interest and only differ from each other in strategies and policies toward the consensual attainmentof common goals" (Chen Erjin. this somewhat hesitant recognition of the plurality of social interests was a new phenomenon.and explore together"(Li Jiahua. In lofty and harmonious unity.Therewas no mentionof potential conflict amongequally legitimate interests. Minzhu was no longer taken to be predicatedupon unified but amorphous"people's interests. think." Rather.minzhuwould encourage"voluntarycooperation[amongindividuals]on the basis of freedomand the formationof relativelyhomogeneousinterests" (WeiJingsheng.Compared reconciledthroughprocedural 79. the pluralistic nature of interests began to be acknowledged. The proletariat possessed interests by virtueof its position in the relationsof production. For those writing in the Marxisttradition. 1984: 167-174). who believed that in a minzhu system.436 / MODERNCHINA OCTOBER 1996 TO FROMUNITARY POLITICS POLITICAL PLURALISM The emphasison minzhu proceduresreflectedthe pro-democracy activists' concern that society containedwithin it conflicting pluralistic interestsand thatthese interestscould be best accommodatedor withthinkingin 1978rules. however.whatevertheirparticular notion of interest. people "will share the same views and principlesand have identicalideals. Such people seemed to expect unified intereststo emerge from the good natureof humanbeings. of what exactly those interests consisted in.Chen Erjin.For those who stressedhumanindividuality.the proletarian class interestwas the unifying force. pioneer.1980: 272). indicating that the meaning of minzhuhadundergoneanotherchangeduringthe interveningdecade.they will produce.This view of unityof interestwas sharedby Li Jiahua.1979: 305).live.for example.tried to look for unitaryinterests(yizhi liyi) to anchortheirconceptionof minzhu.There was little theorizing. During 1978-79. invent.Since unified interestsgave rise to the centralization . Ten years later. activists agreed that minzhu meant letting the people be the masterand letting their interestsreign supreme.with the rise of the discourseof individualrights.

either because they have not achieved the level of collective consciousness of their interests(as in the case of illiterate peasants) or because their interestspose a threatto the smooth functioning of the democraticsystem (as in the case of militantworkers). the minzhuandpluralismbecame intertwined.they furtherargued. FROMPOPULISMTO ELITISM While the 1989 activists acknowledged the pluralityof interests.Guang/ELUSIVE DEMOCRACY 437 of power. certainpeople or groups of people may be excludable from the minzhu system. exclusionaryturn.thatcertaingroupsof people are incapable of perceivingtheirown interestsor thatthey possess intereststhat are inimical to minzhu. comparedwith unitarypolitics.It can be arguedthatminzhuactivistsembracedpluralismbecauseit is regarded by most Western theorists as essential to democracy and because.Therewas little concrete analysis of the differentinterestspossessed by differentsegments of society in the writingsof minzhuactivists. and in that sense.It may be the case. Under such circumstances. Thus in 1989. 1990: 110). that calls for political pluralism remainedbased on a vague notion of interests. held thatthe old system "mustbe supplantedby a pluralistic social-political structure.and a pluralisticnation"(Ren Wanding.a veteranof the DemocracyWall movementand an activist in 1989.supplanting concept of that was currentin the late 1970s.minzhu politics will forever remain empty talk" (Han Hua.a pluralisticdemocracy [minzhu]. Activists linkedpolitical pluralismwith minzhu. I would arguethat from 1978-79 to 1989.1990: 122-123). moving from a moreor less populistconceptto an elitist notionthatexcludeda sizable . the discourse of minzhu remainedlargely disconnectedfrom concrete discussions of interests in spite of the emphasis on political pluralism.Ren Wanding. pluralisticintereststhus called for political pluralism. however. In this sense. the concept of minzhu had taken an elitist. many activists thought. they did not believe that all the people know what their interests are and that all interestsare worthy of equal consideration. It minzhu based on unitarypolitics must be pointed out. it allows some space for raisingissues of individualrights.a pluralistic culture.so much so thatthey claimed that "without political pluralization.

that was of direct and immediateconcern to the general something To population. "Butwith the improvementin their culturallife. 1991: 129146. for example. even in the view of many minzhuactivists. intellectuals-minzhu of would involve the active participation the masses in the managementof stateaffairsafterthe fashionof the ParisCommunemembers. 1993: 1-30. Such populist concerns with economic welfare of the masses were also reflected in the activists'call for humanrights."but such welfarist provisions as the assuranceof "basicfood rationsforthe peasants"and"government welfare for unemployed workers" (Zhongguo renquan tongmen.peasants.438 1996 / MODERNCHINA OCTOBER portionof the populationas yet unfit for minzhu (Perry. The need for economic minzhu had prompted many people to look to the Yugoslavian experience-workers' self-managementat the factory .To be sure. it was not to be extendedto class enemies. the freedom to talk to foreign correspondents.They also stressedthe importance economicminzhu. Second.the "Intellectuals publisherof Siwu luntan. In 1978-79.etc. But class was becoming less and for less important activists.The NineteenPoints of the Human Rights League.In anycase.whenextended and to the people-including workers."Xu Wenli. The populism of the minzhu idea in 1978-79 was manifested in several ways. wrote.) some controlover of the allocationof resourcesandmanagement the production process. 1983: 228). need politicalminzhu. as I havenoted.WalderandGong Xiaoxia. Finally.and the freedom to publish works abroad. the averageperson. 1983: 291). and allowing ordinaryeconomic agents (workers. DemocracyWallactivistsdid not narrowtheirvision to the of politicalrealm.economicminzhumeantnarrowing the wage differences between cadres and workers. except for class enemies. 1983: 253).minzhuwas then defined in broadlyparticipatory terms. Kelliher. nobody was counted out as not ready or unfit for minzhu.buteconomic minzhuandminzhu "Wenot only in the productionprocess" (Zhou Xun. First.peasants. workersand peasantsare also expressinga strongdesire to be their own masters"(Ou Pulei. have an instinctualdemandfor minzhu. included not just such rights as "the freedom to go in and out of foreign embassies to obtain propaganda materials. the idea of minzhu was populist because it stressed the organizationof a democraticsystem at the grassrootslevel.1993: 379-396).

they clung to the illusorybelief thatthey remainedthe "onlyhope for the resurgence of the Chinese nation"(big characterposter. Unlike DemocracyWall activists who embraceda populist. Compared with these people.quoted in Han Minzhu. quotedin HanMinzhu. and their initiative to strive for the rights. the 1989 studentsand intellectualsbelonged to a privitheirviews of minzhuhadan elitist tone. leged class. 1983: 253). intellectuals. at least urban citizens. inclusive vision of minzhu. 1990: 73).Guang/ELUSIVE DEMOCRACY 439 level. Not surprisingly. As Fang Lizhi put it. As students. The populist tendency of the Democracy Wall movement partly reflected the composition of the activists. The students claimed that their "sacred mission is to uphold the (posterat BeijingUniversity.Most were ordinaryfactory workers. activists in 1989 were content to practice a "limited"minzhu. A small-characterposter put it this way: "Certainly.. 1984: 187).andcommunelevels was consideredto be necessary to solve the problem of "blind commandismof the lordly leaders" (Zhou Xun.brigade." quoted in Wu Mouren et al.quoted in Han Minzhu. people's interests" 1990: 75) and "to liberate people from the constraints of feudal ideology" ("New May 4th Manifesto.they claimed to standon a moralhigh groundin fighting for the interestsof the people because they thoughtof themselves as the least self-interestedgroup in society. 1989: 131). Such grassrootsminzhu at the team.minzhuactivists hopedthatpeasants'"natural sense of their own best interestswould suffice to produce within them both a burningdesire for democracy [minzhu] and a genuine ability to make a properchoice of 'good housekeepers'for the [production] team" (Chen Erjin. In the countryside. and Communist Party . 1990: 283).To some extent. As intellectuals. Some had spent quite a few years in the countryside as sent-down youth during the Cultural Revolution."but they did not want to enlist the active supportof the masses for fearof endangering"socialstabilityandprice stability" (poster at People's University. with their sense of social responsibility. "It'sup to the intellectualsas a class. 1988: 85). theirelitist position reflected their confidence that they would be "in"the system as power-holdersin a democratic society. to decide whether the democratic[minzhu] system can survive and develop in a given society" (Fang Lizhi.their consciousness about democracy. They hoped "to win the understandingand support of society at large.

regard as the same overlooks the differenthistorical minzhuand democracy trajectorieseach concept has traveledand the differentcontexts from which each gains its meanings." in the degree that they have engaged each other in the racy overlap course of Chinese history in the last hundredor so years.The resultis a To highly complex amalgamopen to multipleinterpretations.to progress and to the gradual process of guided popularenlightenmentthat will eventually take the dangerof political reform out of democracy"(Shue. culturedpeople.is thatthe studentactivists acknowledgedthe fundamental (procedural) equality of citizens on the one hand and tried to "keep democracy safe from the masses" on the other(Kelliher. Chinese political activists have selectively absorbed some ideas from the Westerndemocratictradition. 1990: 35). people dedicated to modernization. 1992: 163).As VivienneShue points out.and mixed them with differentelements of the indigenouspolitical tradition.In that sense. 1993: 379). The 1989 activists expressedonly horrorat the prospect of a minzhu system that would give peasants equal voting rights. CONCLUSION It is almost a misnomer to call minzhu movements in China Chinese minzhu and Westerndemocmovements for "democracy.440 / 1996 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER membersare as ready for democracy[minzhu]as any of the citizens who already live in democratic[minzhu]societies. the aim of reformas seen by minzhu activists like Fang Lizhi is "to achieve greatervoice for people like themselves-educators. Thus. minzhuis not reducible to the equivalentof democracyin the West. we should at least implementcompletedemocracy[minzhu]withinthe Communist Partyand within the urbanareas"(posterat People's University. Giovanni Sartoriadvisedus to climb up or down "theladder of generality"in our attemptsto locate a stable concept that is both meaningful in reference (along the dimension of "intention")and . One of the greatestironies of the minzhumovementin 1989. quoted in Han Minzhu. therefore. In his seminal work on concept formationin comparative politics.reworkedothers. This points to the age-old dilemmaplaguing studentsof comparative politics-the problem of "concept stretching"in comparative analysis.

the conceptualcontinuitypointstowarddistinctiveChinese characteristicsassociated with the notion of minzhu. To obtain a truly contextual analysis of traveling theories or concepts.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 441 applicable to all the cases understudy (along the dimension of "extension") (Sartori. Not only is minzhu differentfrom democracy. It neglects the interpretivedimension of concept formation in specific contexts.In his "TravelingTheory. But Sartori'sattemptstill discounts the historical and culturalembeddednessof meaning associated with a certain concept. By 1989. Said a advises us to look not only at the initial circumstancessurrounding concept'semergencein a discoursebutalso atthe conditions particular of of receptivityto andadaptation this conceptin otherhistorio-cultural Partof As theories or concepts travel. we fail to appreciatethe crucialdifferencesbetween them. 1982: 41)." they could have hadin minda Marxist. while assuming fixed transculturalboundariesand propertiesfor a certainconcept. to markthe changes as well as to note the continuities.We may well do and an injusticeto both movementsif. a rights-centered.17 Finally.or a welfarist conception. they are transformed.as a concept it has been remarkablymalleable."Said asked "whether by virtue of having moved from one place and time to anotheran idea or a theory gains or loses in strength. When activists in the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movementmouthed"minzhu.Althoughthe activists of 1978-79 and of 1989 used the same word-minzhu-they were not speakingentirely the same language.if not more so. It is importantto understandthe historical and cultural embeddedness of minzhu and the unique features of the Chinese democracy movements.16 Edward Said's approachto a comparative analysis of ideas and concepts is more provocative. 1970: 1033-1053).and whethera theoryin one historicalperiodandnationalculturebecomes altogether different for anotherperiod or situation"(Said. in this article is to demonstratethe conceptual distincmy purpose tion between democracy and minzhu as a result of such traveling. Scholars have long noted the nationalisticorientationand the moralistic stance of Chinese minzhu activists as well as their inattentivenessto concrete . in invoking minzhuto characterize them. the discursive terrainhad narrowedconsiderablyto a version of minzhuthatemphasized proceduralarrangements individualrights. It is equally important. settings.

moralistictone of the debate the around minzhu means that any compromise between antagonistic forces in futureminzhumovementswill be hardto secure. I attachminzhuin bracketsright after using the word democracy.While I am moreconcernedwith the conceptualchange in China pertainingto the idea of minzhu.minzhumay only bear a superficialresemblanceto democit racy as we have come to understand in the West. even if they are translationsfrom Chinese. precisely for that reason.Onthe other hand.forthe purposeof presentation. In the "New May 4th Manifesto. I also argue that the word minzhuand its closest Westerncounterpart.Pye. 1990:331-347). Chinese minzhu is still encumbered by the notion that it should facilitate nationaldevelopment and that.for example. highly charged.moresinisterideologies like neoauthoritarianism neoconservatism. Priorto the realizationof minzhuin the . But without firm groundingin an individualistculture and in concrete interests. or when I need to use the conceptas a modifier.as in "democratic practice. Eachconceptcarrieswith it uniquehistoricalandculturalbaggagethatpreventsits being I with the other. like the "Democracy Wall movement"of 1978-79. when I referto a recognizedpoliticalevent. In the lattercase."I also use democracyinsteadof minzhuwhen I cite English-languagesources.1985.Minzhuhas become less substantive.can compete successfully with or other. 2. frequently completely interchangeable resortto democracyor democraticinsteadof the slightly awkwardminzhu. Throughoutthis article.Nathan. the question is whether minzhu. both the conceptual change and the continuity duringthe last decade do not bode well for Chinesepolitics. In spite of the recenttendencyto emphasizeindividualrightsandparticularistic interests.minzhuactivists still held dearthe hope that individualism would eventually confer on China wealth and power and that interestswould eventuallyharmonize. it becomes a moral cause to champion.I substitutedemocracy for minzhu. Here.less and participatory populisticover the periodfrom 1978-79to 1989. particularistic Taken together.however it is conceptualized. I retain the original Chinese word minzhuwhenever possible over the populartranslation democracy.minzhucontinuesto elude the Chinese.However.are not coterminousin meaningand reference. minzhu in China seems to continue gravitatingtowarda more liberalnotionof democracy. studentsclaimed that they wanted to carryforwardthe May 4th spiritof minzhuand science. As China strugglesto achieve minzhu. NOTES 1.Furthermore.Thus minzhu is something that is closest to what democracy refers to in the West and yet is never identical with it.442 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 interests(Schwartz.1964. democracy." for example.

Dahl.among themselves (Wu Mourenet al. 3. therefore. has labeled the latter as "counterrevolutionary .it is weak because individuals are only regardedas holding importantwelfare claims against the collective or the state but not bearing absolute rights against the latter as in the strong Kantiansense. It is libertarian because it privileges individualwelfare andinterests. I want to thankRichardGundeand StephenWang for drawingmy attentionto this point.Differentunderstandings the elements affect the meaning of the compound as well. 7.it suffices to pointout thatdemocracy (demos-kratia). Held.signified most of all in practiceby the Americanpolitical and system and the rise of Thatcherism Reaganomics.The two morphemesin this case are also words of bearing independentmeanings. Justas the waters can support the boat. 4. The namingof these two movementsas. the ancient Chinese sage philosopher:"thepeople are like the waters[in a river]. Sun Yat-senalludedto Mencius' position in his lectureson Sanminzhuyi (Sun Yat-sen. see Xiao Gongquan(1982) and Lin Mousheng (1942: 29-59).the boat. In the following. Feng Tianyu. 6. 1979: 4130). they can also cause it to capsize" (Ci hai.. 8. MacPherson. In English.It is also fairto say.is predicatedupon (1) individualcitizens trying to (2) rule or exercise effective controlover theirown lives. I will first look at the meaningsof the two Chinese charactersmin and zhu separatelybefore takingup the compoundword minzhu. and frequentlycontested semantic range. the meaningof the compoundcan be syntheticallyderivedfromthe two morphemesmin (people. 1991). respectively. It is as rich.primary).especially its liberalvariant. the liberalvariant of the Westerndemocraticdiscourse. and consistent protectionof the common people's interests. The Western notion of democracy also has a broad. thattowardthe 1980s.see Raymond Williams (1976). This is unlike other compounds such as mingbai (understand) which in the two morphemesming (clear) and bai (white) bear meaningsnot syntheticallyrelatedto the compound.for example.if not to theirempowermentin the process of governing(ZhangQiyun.DEMOCRACY Guang/ ELUSIVE 443 whole society. studentsfelt it necessarythatthey practiceminzhuon campus.Mencius.not amenableto the same kind of analysisas I have attempted here. and Xunzi on the primacyof people's interests. 9. The river-boat analogy emphasizes the importance of people's consent that alone can keep the boat of governancefloating. I did not detect any strong currentof thinkingalong this line in the contexts I am studying. Bao is a legendary figure in China today.and complex as minzhuis in China. 1981).Bao was known for his selfless devotion to the imperialcourt. strictenforcement of legal codes againstcorruptofficials. 1970. It drawson the individualisttradition in the West and contains the elementarymeaning of "ruleby citizens themselves" (Pateman. I believe. For the thinkingof Confucius. 1989). fuzzy. varied.The Chinese turmoil"(fan geming government. the rulerhas to give utmostattentionto the welfare of the ruled. 1989: 131-132).Mingbaiis. individuals)and zhu (master.the "DemocracyWall movement" andthe "Pro-Democracy movementof 1989" is not of courseuniversallyaccepted. For a short historical account of the conceptual evolution of democracy. To securethatconsent.and the ruler. A sixth logical combinationof min and zhu would yield a weak libertarian conception of minzhu.But for the purposeof this article. 1981.not democracy. 1987. It is importantto keep in mind that minzhu and democracy are two equally complex concepts that are importantlynot coterminousin meaning.The essence or of minben is captured by the famous analogy drawn by Xunzi. 1976. minbencan be translatedas "foundation" "basis"of a polity. It is not surprisingto see that the dominant understandingsof Westerndemocracyby the Chinese minzhuactivists also gravitatedtowardsuch a liberal view.hadconsolidatedits grip on the imagination of much of the Westernpopulation. 5. As the prime minister(zai xiang) of a Song dynasty emperor.Minzhuis a syntheticcompoundthat is.which triesto examine minzhu.

G.Afterall. Press of Kansas.Like Sartori. TERENCE and J.in otherwords. they have not takeninto accountthe contextuallyembeddednatureof political concepts. REFERENCES BALL. Many Westernersrefer to it as the "Tiananmen Squarestudentmovement"or the "1989 protestmovement. .A. 1993). By stressingthe commonalityof the diverseconceptionsof minzhuin the late 1970s. For a historicalperspectiveon this." 10.David CollierandJamesMahon(1993) tryto salvage Sartori'soriginal formulationof the problemby identifyingtwo additionalcategoriesof concepts and proposing ways of adapting them in comparativeresearch.The two additional categories of concepts include a categoryof concepts that beara family resemblanceto one anotherand a categoryof radialconcepts thatsharesome centralcore elements. In a recentarticle.444 MODERNCHINA/ OCTOBER 1996 baoluan).Collier and Mahon or still tryto identifycertaininvariableproperties elementsdefinitiveof a certainconceptacross cultures. In 1989. 17. For example. notion of minzhu came about for a 14. inflation was one of the subthemesrunningthroughthe movement. of the minzhudiscourseas such. are inclined to see a continuityin the minzhu projectrunningfrom the May 4th movementto 1978-79 and on to 1989. 16. government in as its primary objective.however. democracy. 15. Both were imprisoned after the latter movement." 12. minzhuremaineda contestedconcept with multiplemeaningsthatneverthelesssharedcommon characteristics. I as am not arguingfor the singularity. The discursive hegemony of the "rights-centered" numberof reasons. In the 1970s. KansasCity: Univ.See. Presumably.the rift withinthe movementbetween workersand students(Walderand Gong Xiaoxia. couldclaim to look afterthe people's welfare even an autocratic 13.People in mainland China nowadays refer to the 1989 movement as liu si (June 4) or 89 minyun(89 popularor democracy movement) or 89 dongluan (89 turmoil). see Nathan's(1985) chapter"LiangQichao and the Chinese DemocraticTradition. 11. Euphemismslike shijian (incident)in Chinesecarrya negativeconnotation. the idea of minbenoriginated feudalChinain whichrelations between the emperorand his subjectswere far fromdemocraticin any othersense of the word. were again very active in 1989. not economic. I would arguethat Nathan'sexcellent historicalanalysis of Chinese democracyalso runs the dangerof to imaginingthe same continuityby dating the democratic"tradition" as far back as 1895 and by emphasizingthe continuityratherthan the changes thattraditionhas undergonesince then. Many Chinese. It was especially of concern to the ordinaryworkers(Walderand Gong Xiaoxia. including many democracyactivists. two organizersof the 1978-79 DemocracyWall movement. not the least of which is the economic and political liberalizationin China that has delinked politics from economics (hence the almost exclusive emphasis of "rights" for individual discourseonpolitical rights)andhas substituted entrepreneurship class hegemony (hence the emphasison individualsratherthanclass identities). 1993). POCOCK (1988) Conceptual Change and the Constitution. But the issue was marginalin influencingthe conceptualdebateson minzhuthatlargelycenteredon political. however.WangJuntao and Ren Wanding. in the 1980s. Their modificationdoes not touch on the lack of an interpretivedimension in Sartori'soriginalframework. while calling the former the "DemocracyWall Incident"(minzhu qiang shijian).

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