Political Theory 42 (1):58-81 (2014)

The very thought of deliberative politics in contemporary China may seem surprising. Indeed, there are questions over its veracity. Analyses of scholarship on deliberative democracy in China to date might be said to fall into two camps: one sees the emergence of deliberative democracy in China as a real prospect for democracy; the other dismisses it outright. This essay offers an alternative evaluation to these two camps. It proposes a theoretical reconstruction of deliberative culture that accounts for a proliferation of contemporary deliberative practices in China and the CCP’s sponsorship of deliberative experiments and institutions. The theoretical reconstruction of contemporary deliberative practices bears traces of the Confucian moral code of deliberation and the institutionalization of deliberation throughout the history of the Chinese imperial states. The upshot in taking this theoretical approach is that we can confirm that the practice of deliberation in contemporary China is well and truly alive, but it does not readily map with Western theoretical models of deliberative democracy. This essay sets up a contrast between an authoritarian deliberation—the use of actual deliberative practices by the authoritarian state to improve governance and enhance its authority— and the “western” idealized version of democratic deliberation. It considers the limitations of the Chinese model of authoritarian deliberation and explains why and how it may constitute, at least partially, a defensible normative account of the contributions of deliberation to political legitimacy, and in doing so hopes to illustrate some important historical lessons for Western deliberative democracy.
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DOI 10.1177/0090591713509251
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