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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

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

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

Democracy has acquired its meanings (and transformedthem in the process) from these contexts.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 421 concept represented the word democracy-in its Greekorigins. with the recent importationof Westerndiscourse on human together various rights.In spite of the impactof Westernideas since the turnof the century (Western ideas have served to popularize minzhu tremendously in China).its modem metamorphosis the formof representative governmentas envisioned by Mill andMadison. and in Montesquieu. in its "internalframeworkof significance" (Womack. Minben is very much a come the landandgrain.the princes"(Ci hai. The ancient teachings of Confucius and Mencius regardingthe importance of people's welfareto the healthof the princedom.the thousandsof years of traditionof remonstratingby intellectuals-cum-officials. its by in early modem transformation the hands of Locke. It ultimately envisions a unity of interestbetween the governor and the governed.The rangeof meaningis huge. however. presupposesa distinction between the ruler and the ruled.springsfroma different traditionand acquiresits meaning in a differentcontext. The same is trueof Chinese minzhu. 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. minzhu still has to be understood. of the Communistrepresentation a class-based democracy-all this.5 Such a conception. The traditional Chinese conception (see Table 1.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. makes minzhuan amalgamof meaningsincorporating strandsof thought.entangled and hardly amenableto a single interpretation. 1991: 54).andlast.the unof even interjection Western democraticideas atthe turnof the century.The latter. 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. 1979: 4130). It seeks to . and exhorts the ruler to put the common people's interestabove everything else to securethe kingdom.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. Rousseau.however.if understoodat all.

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

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. But his writings are firmly in the genre of cautionary advice to princes aboutthe properway of governingtheir subjectsthat is. Xiao Gongquan. likely to are draw the wrath of the people and so would be deemed as not in conformitywith the doctrineof minben. 1942: 29-59. which practicedradicalegalitarianismand working-classself-management. In this latter sense. the ruled ahead of everything else.1982). section 4). such as corruptionand bureaucratism. in the case of Mencius. minben does allow common people to hold governmentofficials accountablefor their actions. 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. Zhu here indicates the people's desire to become the masterof theirown destiny by directlyparticipating the in andcontrolof the state. practicingwang dao (the kingly way) and ren zheng (humane rule) (Lin Mousheng. Government actions endangering the welfare of the common people.7 Besides the traditional Chinese discourseof minben. .As we will see in examining the rhetoricof the Chinese democracy activists. not to extend to the people autonomyand power of participation in government. and supplantingit with proletarian dictatorship-has captured the imaginationof Chinese youths since early in this century. 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.anotherinfluential strandof thoughtaffectingthe Chineseunderstanding minzhu of comes from Marxism (see Table 1. the idea of minben has apparentlybeen incorporatedinto their conceptions of minzhu.The dominantimage of a minzhu management system is that of the Paris Commune.It is true that. he also advocatedoverthrowof immoralrulerswho fail to securethe welfare of the people.DEMOCRACY Guang/ ELUSIVE 423 ensure the welfare of the common people in orderto keep the rulers in power. Marx's vision of democracy-exploited people rising up.Here. smashing the old state machine. 1986: 25-33).

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

I first dwell on the continuitiesthathave markedthe democracymovementsfrom 1978-79 to 1989. I then analyze the importantchanges that ultimately set the two movements apart. Ten years later. 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. Some activists of the 1978-79 movementstayed on and were prominent leaders again in 1989.10 Some issues. 1984: 151-165). In the following two sections. as the world knows. however.This movementlasted barelya monthand a half and. like freedom of the press and direct election of national leaders.and smallparticular. Beijing studentsled anotherpopularmovementthatcalled for minzhu and otherpolitical reforms. At the same time. 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. This short-lived mass-based protest has since become popularly knownin the Westas the 1989 Pro-Democracy movement. The ideological hegemony of the Mao era was then gradually yielding to a call for the "emancipationof the mind.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 425 this article is an exercise in examiningthe democracyactivists'usages of the term minzhuand in drawing out the conceptual assumptions behind them. Whatsprangfromthis act has since become known to minzhuactivists as the XidanDemocracy Wall movement. CHINESEDEMOCRACY: CONCEPTUAL FROM1978-79 TO 1989 CONTINUITIES The 1978-79 DemocracyWallmovementcame in the aftermath of the CulturalRevolution. were common to both movements. There were also continuities in the ." Consideredby Deng Xiaoping as an importantprecondition for "emancipatingthe mind. was violently suppressed by the government in June 1989." minzhu was put on the official Communist Partyagenda for the remainingdecades of the century(Deng Xiaoping.9 Importantcontinuities in areas other than concepts exist between the two movements.

no powerandprosperityfor the nation..of course. 1985: 24-26. belief was that.The relationship can be highly problematic. In a paragraph was typical of the opening statements minzhujournals. At the conceptual level. 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. "From the standpointof modem history. 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 ( would rights be impossible for any country to build itself into a thriving and prosperousstate. 1989)." In 1978-79..withoutprotecting people's and buildingthe countrythroughdemocracy[minzhu]. Chinesedemocracyactivists. "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.Minzhuwas desirable.however. that 1980: 63). in historythe two have often actedas opposingforces. activistswere convincedthatthe realizationof minzhu was a necessary condition for the four modernizations enshrinedby the Deng regime. First.Such recognitionwas based on one key observation and a resultantbelief.Minzhu shidai (Minzhuand the of all independent yu Times)proclaimed: the Withoutfosteringdemocracy[minzhu]. The observationwas that the economic powers of the world all operatedundera democraticpolitical system. indeed.Chineseactivistsseemed the to believe..shouldChinaas a nationwantto become The resultant and powerful. it must first of all become politically demowealthy betweendemocracyandnationalism cratic(minzhu)." Wei Jingsheng confidently wrote. A citizen's purpose in demandingdemocracy [min- . 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. because it represented best developmentalstrategyfor the Chinese nation.

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

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

1989: 553).Minzhuactivists wanted to believe that once minzhu was achieved.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 429 government "feel ashamed" in face of the moral force of minzhu activists (Hunger strikers'declaration. 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. in the wake of the CulturalRevolution.quotedin Wu Mourenet al.therewereimportant decade conceptual changesduring thatseparated DemocracyWallmovementof 1978-79fromthe 1989 the protest movement. Conceptualdiscontinuitypoints toward largerdifferences in the nature of the two democracymovements.the pressingconcernthen was how . 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. andpoliticalcontextswithinwhich these two movements took place could not have been more different. in Chinese politics.. ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY: CONCEPTUAL CHANGESFROM 1978-79 TO 1989 continuitiesin the concept of minzhu Despite the two fundamental discussedabove.quoted in Wu Mouren et al. 1980: 65).China was still in the grip of a tightly controlledcommandeconomy and an interventionistadministrativestate.they seemed to adopta very benign view andenvision a harmoniousrelationship amongthem. As a Westernjournalist observed. When minzhu activists did acknowledgethe importanceof partial and individualisticinterests. 1989: 550-551). The social. minzhu was "as much a moral issue as a political one" (WuDunn. people would naturally cooperate for the common good. Minzhu became a symbol of harmony of interests instead of a means for reconciling differences. economic. 1989). In 1978..To minzhuactivists. in 1989. Again. minzhuactivists wanted to adopt "a spirit of toleranceand cooperation"andthus defined democraticpolitics as "politicswithoutenemies andwithoutthe mentalityof hatred" (Hunger strikers'declaration. No fundamentalconflict of interest was recognized. the midstof economic liberalization a gradual and retreatfrom a commandeconomy.430 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 to pare down the colossal state machine and to make economic and political decision making an accountableprocess. 1983a: 51-85. A decade later. 1983b: 66-85. as one commentatorput it. humanrightsdiscourse. because no new political vision had exerted a hegemonic influence in the nation. rangingfromMarxistanalysisto the Western Most of the postersandjournalarticleson minzhuof this time were writtenin line with the dominantpolitical discourse-Marxism of the late 1970s. Socialist minzhu should "not only affirm people's rightto speak out should allow the people to [on public affairs]. it opened up the politicalfrontfor contestationandattackby disaffected citizens.Almost simultaneously. Readingthe postersthat covered the DemocracyWall. People like WangXizhe and Chen Erjintried to distill a practice theoryof minzhufromMarx'swritingsor fromcontemporary in the Communist countries (Wang Xizhe. began to trickle into the public consciousness of certainsegments of the Chinese population.but more importantly.Contemporary non-MarxistWesternideas. such as the idea of human rights. It was a time of reopeningto the outside world afterdecades of isolation. affairs" by electing representativesand supervising manage state was also a time of opened possibilities in politics. was "peoplebecomingmastersof theirown lives" (ZhouXun. As we will see. the Chinese governmentseemed to have convinced its people of the virtueof the marketin regulating economic activity. as much as they were constitutiveof purelypolitical criticism. however. 1984). TO FROMDIVERSITY UNIFORMITY The winterof 1978-79was certainlya time of ideologicalcontention in China. one cannotbutbe struckby the diversityof the views expressedon minzhu. in this environment intellectualsandordinary an important changeoccurredin the minzhudiscourse:it shiftedfrom both political and economic criticism of the governmentto almost Thus. 1983:241). Chen keepingto the old rigid political system (or one perceived as such by students).debateson minzhuin these two periodswere of shapedby the changingnature the Chinesestateandthenew politics of marketreform.12 these historicalcontexts.

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. Wandingof the HumanRights League. in public enterprises.People's sociality is formed of the common character and common interests of many different individuals. 1979: 309)..Theirmostcommonreferences bureaucratism were to Marx'sdiscussion of the ParisCommuneandthe Yugoslavian worker-management system. proletarian-democratic these people to the ParisCommune. In their vision. Lu Min.. public While most of the writings during this period were couched in a one of them put What attracted it. Chen Erjin identified the principles of the Paris Commune as one of the three sources of "the [minzhu] system" (Chen Erjin. 1983: 249). and Ren Jingsheng.also with its workers' self-governmentsystem attracted the attention of many minzhu activists. WangXizhe called on the partyto regulate its relations with people according to "the principles of Paris Commune"(WangXizhe. but minzhu meantnot only citizens' participation a degree of positive control over state affairs.Guang/ ELUSIVEDEMOCRACY 431 leaders at various levels (Zhou Xun.Well-knownrepresentatives this approachwere Wei the former publisher of Tansuo (Exploration). accordingto natural instincts. 1983a:53). 1979: 304). in an articlein Beijing zhi chun (Beijing Spring). each individual exists independently.Thecontemporary exampleof Yugoslavia. In their calls for minzhu..therealso appeared distinctstrand of thought focusing on human rights and the protection of human of individuality. 1980: 72). He wrote: Society is composed of differentindividualsand. 1984: 15). 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.1983:124-127). People's sociality depends on individuality just as humansocieties necessarilydependon the existence of individu- . talked about abolishing "the system of appointingcadres"and establishinga minzhusystem "modeledafter the Paris Commune"(Lu Min. 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. those who adopted a Marxist perspective were most concerned with the alienationof the CCPfromthe people andthe growing withinthe government.

and If all three conceptions of minzhu-Marxist... this idea assumesthe existence of a collective entitycalled min (people) whose interestsare in the custodyof the government. People's individualityenjoys priorityover theirsociality [Wei Jingsheng.not individualistic. that did not seem to be the case in 1989. talents and creative spiritof all membersof society" in the people's interest (Gong Min. is one that strives to maximize the welfaristconcepcollective welfareof the people.InWeiJingsheng's and Ren Wanding's conception.432 1996 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / als. traditionalwelfarist-were significantly present in the Democracy Wall period. Thus a minzhusystem. had built up an organization centeringsolely on concern with humanrights.)A unity of interestis posited between the min and their rulers.promotesharmonyand enhancesthe collective welfare minzhu system also of the people. Ren Wanding. minzhu was predicated upon the political primacy of rights. tion of minzhufound expression even in Wei Jingsheng'sostensibly individualistlanguage.individualinterestswould to naturallyconvergeonce they were allowedthe opportunity develop individualsand society would be in harmony(Wei freely. min is understoodin corporate. Jingsheng.(Here. Such individualism Mixed with the Marxistdiscourse of minzhuand the language of "rights"was the traditionalChinese idea of minben..For Wei Jingsheng.terms. Eventually.As I have suggested. society. 1980: 233). For otheractivists.for example. 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. 1980: 57]. a governmentthat upholds the principle of minben and thus deserves the name of minzhu. by allowing individual development. Such a corporatist.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. It seems that . a participatory enhances people's welfare because it mobilizes "thewisdom. rights-centered.1983:288-292).A good government. 1980: 58). 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

minzhucontinuesto elude the Chinese.Thus minzhu is something that is closest to what democracy refers to in the West and yet is never identical with it. But without firm groundingin an individualistculture and in concrete in "democratic practice. both the conceptual change and the continuity duringthe last decade do not bode well for Chinesepolitics. Here.minzhumay only bear a superficialresemblanceto democit racy as we have come to understand in the West. democracy. NOTES 1.Onthe other hand. it becomes a moral cause to champion. I also argue that the word minzhuand its closest Westerncounterpart. highly charged. I attachminzhuin bracketsright after using the word democracy.Pye. Chinese minzhu is still encumbered by the notion that it should facilitate nationaldevelopment and that.forthe purposeof presentation. precisely for that reason. Throughoutthis article." for example.however it is conceptualized. In the lattercase. studentsclaimed that they wanted to carryforwardthe May 4th spiritof minzhuand science.Furthermore."I also use democracyinsteadof minzhuwhen I cite English-languagesources. As China strugglesto achieve minzhu. the question is whether minzhu. In spite of the recenttendencyto emphasizeindividualrightsandparticularistic interests.1985.Minzhuhas become less substantive. even if they are translationsfrom Chinese. Eachconceptcarrieswith it uniquehistoricalandculturalbaggagethatpreventsits being I with the other.minzhuactivists still held dearthe hope that individualism would eventually confer on China wealth and power and that interestswould eventuallyharmonize. like the "Democracy Wall movement"of 1978-79.are not coterminousin meaningand reference.Nathan. Priorto the realizationof minzhuin the .moresinisterideologies like neoauthoritarianism neoconservatism. when I referto a recognizedpoliticalevent. particularistic Taken together.While I am moreconcernedwith the conceptualchange in China pertainingto the idea of minzhu. 1990:331-347). 2.442 MODERNCHINA OCTOBER / 1996 interests(Schwartz.moralistictone of the debate the around minzhu means that any compromise between antagonistic forces in futureminzhumovementswill be hardto secure. frequently completely interchangeable resortto democracyor democraticinsteadof the slightly awkwardminzhu. minzhu in China seems to continue gravitatingtowarda more liberalnotionof democracy.I substitutedemocracy for minzhu. In the "New May 4th Manifesto.for example. or when I need to use the conceptas a modifier.less and participatory populisticover the periodfrom 1978-79to 1989. I retain the original Chinese word minzhuwhenever possible over the populartranslation democracy.However.can compete successfully with or other.1964.

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

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

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