China at the Tipping Point? Goodbye to Gradualism

Issue Date January 2013
Volume 24
Issue 1
Page Numbers 49-56
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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.