China at the Tipping Point? Goodbye to Gradualism

Issue Date January 2013
Volume 24
Issue 1
Page Numbers 49-56
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Read the full essay here.

China is heading toward a tipping point, with two scenarios standing out as the most likely “scripts” for how a political opening will come about. Whichever scenario occurs, most Chinese intellectuals think they know the best course for the nation to follow. That course can be summed up in one word: gradualism. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s 1989 crackdown on the democracy movement, intellectuals have embraced the notion that only “slow and steady,” step-by-step reform can offer China a safe and feasible path toward liberal democracy. But the intellectuals are wrong about that. Once a political opening starts, risks (including the threat of national disintegration) will continue to grow in number and severity the longer the transition process drags on. Instead of “taking it slow,” China should shun gradualism and opt instead for a quick transition powered by early nationwide elections.

About the Author

Tiancheng Wang is CEO of the National Committee of the Democratic Party of China. He has been a law lecturer at Peking University and spent five years in prison because of dissident activities. This essay draws from his book The Grand Transition: A Research Framework for the Strategy to Democratize China (2012, in Chinese), written at Columbia, Northwestern, and New York universities with support from the Scholar Rescue Fund between 2008 and 2010.

View all work by Tiancheng Wang