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The Qualities and Strengths of Consultative Democracy Practiced Through the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference

By Liu Jiayi Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-01-18

In today's world, democracy is something that all people value, but there are many diverse ways to realize democracy, so we must not be confined to one particular rigid one. Each country is different, and each country's political system has its own qualities, which are determined by the conditions and nature of the country in question and result from long-term development, gradual improvement, and endogenous evolution based on the country's historical heritage, cultural traditions, and economic and social development. Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, and particularly since the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, the CPC has united and led the people in securing great progress in the development of socialist democracy and in pioneering and persisting on the Chinese socialist path of political development. This has charted the right course for achieving the broadest possible people's democracy. 

China's consultative democracy is a unique form and distinct advantage of socialist democracy. It is rooted in long-term trials carried out as the CPC has led the people through revolution, reconstruction, and reform, and is based upon deep cultural, theoretical, practical, and institutional foundations. An important component of socialist consultative democracy is that practiced through the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The First Plenary Session of the CPPCC was convened in 1949, symbolizing the formal establishment of the system of CPC-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation. After the First National People's Congress was held in 1954, the CPPCC continued to play an important role as a mechanism for multiparty cooperation and political consultation and an organization of the united front. After the launch of reform and opening up, the nature and role of the CPPCC was enshrined in the Constitution, and the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC was defined as one of China's basic political systems. Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, the Party has built a deeper understanding of the patterns underlying the development of democracy, and introduced the important concept of whole-process people's democracy. China's whole-process people's democracy boasts not only complete institutional procedures, but also complete mechanisms of participation. It has achieved integration between democracy in process and democracy in outcome, between procedural democracy and substantive democracy, between direct democracy and indirect democracy, and between people's democracy and the will of the state. It is democracy that covers every part of the political process, and the broadest, truest, and most effective form of socialist democracy. We must continue to advance the development of whole-process people's democracy, and see that the position of the people as masters of the country is concretely and practically reflected in the CPC's policies and measures for state governance, in all aspects of the work of Party and state organs at all levels, and in efforts to fulfill the people's desire for a better life. We know that consultative democracy through the CPPCC is an important manifestation of China's socialist democracy, but what qualities and strengths does it have? 

First is its prominent political character. 

The CPPCC is a political organization, which from the very day of its founding has made extensive efforts under the leadership of the CPC to unite all parties, people's organizations, and individuals from all ethnic groups and sectors of society for the purpose of fulfilling the central tasks of the Party and the state. The essence of consultative democracy through the CPPCC is making effective use of the CPPCC as an institution and its democratic procedures with a focus on the two major themes of unity and democracy to turn the CPC's propositions into the consensus of all parties, people's organizations, and individuals from all ethnic groups and sectors of society and to rally more people around the CPC in order to make joint efforts under its leadership toward building a modern socialist country. Especially in the face of heavy tasks in maintaining development and stability and furthering reform and an unprecedented volume of problems, risks, and challenges at present, it is even more important for the CPPCC to exert its strengths in terms of its diverse makeup, broad reach, and strong representativeness. By promoting democracy, carrying out extensive consultation, and ensuring that efforts to inform people about policies, address concerns, form consensus, and bolster unity are performed effectively, we must work hard to make the CPPCC an important pillar for upholding and strengthening the leadership of the CPC over all endeavors, an important platform for uniting, educating, and guiding representatives from all ethnic groups and sectors of society with the CPC's innovative theories, and an important channel for addressing conflicts and building consensus on the basis of common theoretical and political foundations. 


May 24, 2021, the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference convened a forum on consolidating and expanding upon the outcomes of the battle against poverty and implementing the rural revitalization strategy. NATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE CHINESE PEOPLE'S POLITICAL CONSULTATIVE CONFERENCE / PHOTO BY QI BO 

Second is its distinctly people-oriented character. 

Xi Jinping has said, "The very purpose of the CPC's leadership in developing people's democracy is to guarantee and support the position of the people as masters of the country. This is not simply a slogan or a few hollow words; we must ensure its place in the country's political and social activities, and guarantee the people's right to effectively manage state affairs, economic and cultural undertakings, and social affairs in accordance with the law." He has also said, "In both ancient and modern times, in China and abroad, experience has shown that to guarantee and support the people's position as masters of the country, it is paramount that their lawfully elected representatives participate in the management of state affairs and social activities, and it is equally important that they participate in such activities through systems and methods that go farther than simple election. If the people merely have the right to vote but no right of extensive participation, in other words, if they are awakened only at election time but go into hibernation afterwards, this is token democracy." As a major channel for socialist consultative democracy and a specialized consultative body, the CPPCC is focused on meeting the people's needs for a better life and promoting the improvement of public wellbeing. It is committed to carrying out broad consultation on major issues related to reform, development, and stability and matters that relate to the people's vital interests. While respecting the wishes of the majority of the people, the CPPCC also takes into account the reasonable demands of those who are in the minority, and makes extensive efforts to solicit opinions from the people, pool their wisdom, expand consensus, and combine strength. With an overall perspective on the world of today, China has established the CPPCC as a dedicated consultative body underwritten by one of the country's basic political systems. This body enables the broad participation of all political parties, social groups, and individuals, and effectively puts into practice the essence of people's democracy which is to solve problems through consultation, address the concerns of the people through public consultation, and find common ground with regard to the wishes and demands of society as a whole. It has thus become an important means for realizing Chinese-style democracy. Our consultations are a process in which we give full consideration to opinions and suggestions and reach the broadest possible consensus on policy decisions and initiatives under the unified leadership of the CPC. This enables us to avoid factional strife and bitter disagreement between political parties and between interest groups, to prevent decision-making based on presumptuousness or a limited understanding of the circumstances, to guarantee that the people are able to voice their opinions and that they find it easy to take an active part in the country's political activities and social governance, and to ensure that the implementation of decisions and initiatives is not impeded by lack of consensus. These are the advantages of the consultative democracy practiced under Chinese socialism and through the CPPCC. 


CPC representatives and CPPCC members hold a practical discussion with fishermen on a boat at Gaogong Island Fishing Port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, September 14, 2020. The discussion was focused on encouraging the fishermen to bring their garbage back to shore rather than dumping it into the ocean, in the interest of protecting the maritime environment. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY ZHU XIANMING 

Third is its promotion of multiparty cooperation. 

The system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC is one of China's basic political systems, and the CPPCC is an important political and organizational form for practicing this new model of political party system. For over 70 years, the nature and functions of the CPPCC have remained closely correlated with the new model of political party system and the functions of other political parties besides the CPC. The CPPCC plays a distinct role in the new party system model, providing institutional support for translating the unique strengths of this model into effective national governance, and it also serves as an important platform for all non-CPC parties to promote democracy, participate in national affairs, come together and cooperate, and carry out democratic oversight. To advance consultative democracy through the CPPCC under new conditions, we must better exert the strengths of the new party system model. We must uphold and strengthen the CPC's overall leadership, have a good grasp of the nature of the CPPCC, and further improve mechanisms for non-CPC parties and prominent individuals without political party affiliation to take part in the regular activities of the CPPCC. We must ensure that arrangements are made during the plenary session of the National Committee for meetings with CPPCC members from different parties to discuss state affairs. We must ensure that agendas and other aspects of consultation carried out through the CPPCC and with non-CPC parties are properly coordinated and integrated. We must improve mechanisms for CPPCC members from the CPC to communicate, share ideas, and build consensus with members of other political parties. We must make institutional arrangements for these parties to voice opinions and offer suggestions in the name of their respective parties through the CPPCC, and see through the implementation of these arrangements. We must improve mechanisms for all parties to communicate on issues of common concern in CPPCC work. We must refine mechanisms for all non-CPC parties to fulfill their duties within the CPPCC, and create the conditions necessary for these parties and prominent individuals without party affiliation to more effectively play their roles in the CPPCC. 

Fourth is its tremendously inclusive character. 

The CPPCC is an organization that promotes great unity and solidarity between all political parties, people's organizations, ethnic groups, and social sectors. Under the banners of socialism and patriotism, it reinforces theoretical and political guidance, and builds consensus. The CPPCC is inclusive of differences between its members in terms of knowledge background, interests and demands, social experience, and lifestyle to the greatest possible extent. It is devoted to consolidating and expanding the broadest possible patriotic united front, uniting all forces that can be united, mobilizing all positive factors that can be mobilized, and pooling as much strength as possible for collective endeavors. In order to leverage the strengths of the CPPCC in terms of its strong representativeness and broad inclusiveness, we must uphold unity between commonality and diversity. The key to striking the right balance in this regard is a commitment to seeking common ground while putting aside differences. On the one hand, we must consistently consolidate our shared theoretical and political foundations, which include firming up existing consensus and pushing for the development of new consensus. This represents the foundation and the precondition. On the other hand, we must fully promote democracy and remain respectful and inclusive of differences. We must uphold the CPC's leadership, China's socialist governance, our state system, the rule of law, and the fundamental interests of the broadest majority of the people. This is our political bottom line, and we must adhere to it with unwavering commitment. As for other types of "diversity," we must do everything possible to find the greatest common denominator through patient and meticulous effort. As long as we stick to this political bottom line, we will create a wider inclusive circle with a longer radius. This is a dialectical approach to inclusiveness and unity that accords with not only the realities of contemporary China, but also the fine traditions that the Chinese nation has always championed such as working for the common good, being tolerant and open minded, and seeking common ground while putting aside differences, and represents a major contribution to the political advancement of all humanity. 

Fifth is its holistic focus. 

Xi Jinping has said that we are following a path of socialist political development with Chinese characteristics, and our people's democracy is a whole-process democracy. Consultative democracy practiced through the CPPCC is an important manifestation of this, and runs through the whole process from political consultation, to democratic oversight, to the deliberation of state affairs. This system is determined by the essence of socialism and democracy. Socialist democracy is the means through which the CPC will achieve the goals for the journey ahead elaborated by Xi Jinping with these words, "we must rely closely on the people to create history. Upholding our Party's fundamental purpose of wholeheartedly serving the people, we will stand firmly with the people, implement the Party's mass line, respect the people's creativity, and practice a people-centered philosophy of development. We will develop whole-process people's democracy, safeguard social fairness and justice, and resolve the imbalances and inadequacies in development and the most pressing difficulties and problems that are of great concern to the people. In doing so, we will make more notable and substantive progress toward achieving well-rounded human development and common prosperity for all." It is precisely this kind of spirit that is reflected in consultative democracy practiced through the CPPCC. The CPPCC's approach to consultation is to conduct extensive deliberations when raising issues, tackling problems, or taking action under the view that the deeper and more extensive deliberations are the better. The process of extensive deliberation among people from all sectors of society is a process of promoting democracy, pooling wisdom, sharing ideas, building consensus, practicing sound and democratic decision-making, and realizing the role of the people as masters of the country. The CPPCC's consultations cover multiple levels and a wide range of fields, and include ensuring that all endeavors are effectively advanced and developing harmonious relations between political parties, ethnic groups, religious groups, social strata, and compatriots at home and overseas. The goal of these consultations is to use democratic centralism to encourage the free exchange of views, gather advice from all sides, and pool strength, uniting all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation to devote their energy and ingenuity to national rejuvenation. The CPPCC's consultative process is focused on major issues concerning reform, development, and stability and practical issues that affect people's immediate interests. Both before decisions are made and while they are being implemented, the CPPCC plays the consistent role of enabling orderly participation, conducting broad consultations, and building consensus. The CPPCC is a specialized consultative body focused on carrying out whole-process consultations, and its fundamental purpose is to perform the dual functions of generating suggestions on state affairs and building consensus. The CPPCC promotes consultative democracy, and strives to conduct more frequent and flexible consultations on major issues concerning the national economy and people's quality of life. It plays an assisting role in national and social governance, and has contributed greatly to the practice of Chinese-style democracy.


Members of the Yuping Dong Autonomous County Committee of the CPPCC visit a farm stay business in Bijiang District, Tongren, Guizhou Province, December 17, 2020. The organization has arranged for its members from economic, industrial, and commercial circles to tour private companies in the local area and beyond so that they can learn about obstacles to the growth of such businesses and offer more targeted suggestions for policymaking. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY HU PANXUE 

Sixth is the coordinated character of its work. 

Developing consultative democracy through the CPPCC is a systematic project. In terms of workforce, the CPPCC has more than 2,100 National Committee members and more than 600,000 committee members at different levels across the country. The CPPCC has national and local committees, and committees at all levels have working mechanisms including plenary sessions, standing committee meetings, and chairpersons councils as well as special committees and committee bodies, and these ensure that consultations are conducted and duties are performed in an effective and orderly manner. In terms of institutional arrangements, the CPPCC functions on the basis of the Constitution, the CPPCC Charter, and relevant policies. Combining consultation, supervision, participation, and cooperation, the CPPCC implements consultative democracy throughout the process of performing its duties, conducts democratic supervision focused on the implementation of the major policies, decisions, and plans of the Party and the state, and exerts its role as a specialized consultative body and the primary channel for socialist consultative democracy in helping to achieve complementarity between consultative and electoral democracy. The CPPCC is thus an arrangement unique to China's socialist political system. In terms of working mechanisms, since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, and on the basis of long-term efforts since the organization was established, the CPPCC has developed a system of consultation and deliberation in which plenary sessions of the National Committee play the leading role, special meetings of the Standing Committee and special consultative meetings play an important part, and biweekly consultative forums, consultative meetings with CPC and administrative departments, consultative meetings on the handling of proposals, online deliberations, consultations concerning individual sectors, and sharing of pertinent information are all part of regular procedures. In the process, it has established unique consultative platforms, set up robust systems, and refined procedures. CPPCC members are outstanding figures from different fields, industries, and sectors, and most have a professional background and specialized knowledge in their respective fields. With their detached perspective and strong representative capacity, they are able to put forward specialized ideas and suggestions from different angles. Their efforts over the long term have cultivated a wealth of experience and expertise, enabling them to more effectively pool wisdom and strength and contribute their insight for a more unique, higher quality, and higher caliber consultative body. 

Liu Jiayi is Vice Chairman of the Committee on Culture, Historical Data, and Studies of the CPPCC National Committee and Special Research Fellow at the Beijing Center for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 20, 2021)