Whole-Process People’s Democracy Is the Defining Feature of Socialist Democracy
In his report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that whole-process people’s democracy is the defining feature of socialist democracy and represents democracy in its broadest, most genuine, and most effective form. This is an incisive summary of China’s socialist democracy. At its essence and core, socialist democracy asserts that the people must run the country. China’s whole-process people’s democracy gives full expression to the socialist nature of the state and the principal position of the people. It serves to better ensure the people’s position as masters of the country in social and political life and better represents their will, protects their rights, ensures their interests are realized, and unleashes their creativity. As a result, the principle of the people running the country is truly realized in practice.
Sound and effective institutions for whole-process people’s democracy
Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, China has, through the practice of whole-process people’s democracy, given shape to a comprehensive, extensive, and well-coordinated framework of institutions for guaranteeing the people run the country. This includes diverse, open, and orderly democratic channels to effectively align the CPC’s propositions and the will of the state with the people’s wishes. This ensures that it is the people who run the country. The institutions for whole-process people’s democracy include the state system of people’s democratic governance, the people’s congress system as the system of state power, the system of CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation, the most extensive patriotic united front, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and the system of primary-level self-governance.
In his report to the 20th CPC National Congress held in October 2022, General Secretary Xi reaffirmed the basic provisions of China’s Constitution regarding the nature of the state, declaring that “China is a socialist country of people’s democratic dictatorship under the leadership of the working class based on an alliance of workers and farmers; all power of the state in China belongs to the people.”
The system of the people’s congresses ensures unity between CPC leadership, the running of the country by the people, and law-based governance. It is a sound system that accords with China’s national conditions and realities. It represents the socialist nature of our state, ensures that the people run the country, and provides safeguards for national rejuvenation. As an entirely new political system, it is of major importance in the history of China’s political development and even that of the world.
The system of CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation is grown out of Chinese soil. It embodies Chinese wisdom, while also drawing on and absorbing the outstanding political achievements of other countries. It is a new type of political party system developed in China. This system facilitates integration between governance and participation, leadership and cooperation, and consultation and oversight. It is an important way of ensuring that the people run the country and a vital institutional vehicle for socialist consultative democracy.
The united front is an important instrument for the CPC in rallying the people’s support and pooling their strength. The CPC has always placed great importance on the united front. It is committed to achieving great unity and solidarity, balancing commonality and diversity, uniting all forces that can be united, and mobilizing all positive factors available in order to pool as much strength as possible for collective endeavors.
The system of regional ethnic autonomy is one in which, under unified state leadership, regional autonomy is exercised and offices for this purpose are set up in areas with large ethnic minority populations. This has greatly enhanced the sense of pride and responsibility among people of ethnic groups in running their own affairs. It has stimulated the initiative, enthusiasm, and creativity of people from all ethnicities, enabling them to collectively work toward creating a bright future for our nation and to share in the pride of the Chinese nation.
The system of primary-level self-governance mainly consists of the systems of village self-governance, resident self-governance, and employee congresses. With the leadership and support of primary-level CPC organizations, people can exercise their democratic rights directly and lawfully and manage, serve, educate, and oversee themselves. This system effectively prevents a situation where people hold nominal but not real power.
Whole-process democracy is integral to all facets of people’s democracy.
China’s whole-process people’s democracy is supported by a complete set of institutions and procedures and has full-fledged participation in practice. It combines electoral democracy and consultative democracy, and it is implemented through a combination of elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and supervision across economic, political, cultural, social, environmental, and other fields. This consistent, comprehensive, and coordinated system involves regular and extensive participation, ensuring that the people’s voices are heard and their wishes are represented in every aspect of China’s political and social life.
Members of the CPPCC county committee, officials from the township government, village officials, and resident representatives participate in a discussion on land governance in Xinhuazhai Village, Jinping County, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province, October 27, 2022. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY LI BIXIANG
China holds extensive elections, covering various aspects of national political and social life, including elections for state organs, village and neighborhood committees, and employee representatives in enterprises and public institutions. Elections in China are equal, with people’s right to vote and to be elected fully guaranteed, and each vote having the same value. Elections in China are genuine, not manipulated by money, and voters choose the candidate they trust according to their own will. Elections in China are also evolving, with new and diverse forms and means of voting continuously being developed as economic and social progress is achieved. In the report to the 20th CPC National Congress, it is emphasized that our Party will “strengthen the institutions through which the people run the country” and “support and ensure the people’s exercise of state power through people’s congresses, and it will ensure that people’s congresses at all levels are formed through democratic elections, responsible to the people, and subject to their oversight.”
Consultative democracy is an important way of implementing whole-process people’s democracy. The report to the 20th CPC National Congress emphasizes the need to “fully develop consultative democracy.” For many years, China has been refining the channels for developing consultative democracy and exploring various avenues of consultation, including consultation by political parties, people’s congresses, governments, people’s political consultative conferences, people’s groups, community-level entities, and social organizations. This has promoted extensive and institutionalized development of consultative democracy across multiple levels. In various fields and at all levels, the people participate in extensive consultations before and during decision-making through various means and methods, including proposals, conferences, symposiums, deliberations, hearings, evaluations, discussions, online activities, and public opinion surveys. Consultations relate to major issues concerning reform, development, stability, and the people’s own interests.
Democratic decision-making is a key facet of whole-process people’s democracy. It is primarily realized through “open-door lawmaking” by people’s congresses, “open-door policy consultation” by governments, and public participation in decision-making at the primary level. People’s congresses and their standing committees at all levels are dedicated to democratic lawmaking in the public interest. They ensure public participation in legislative activities through various channels and make every effort to see that every piece of legislation reflects the people’s will and wins their support. People’s governments at all levels listen to opinions from all stakeholders on major decisions to be implemented and major decision-making proposals put forward by various parties, ensuring the people’s participation in decision-making through various channels and in various forms. At the primary level, people can put forward opinions and suggestions on major governance issues such as economic and social development, infrastructure construction, comprehensive social governance, cultural services, environmental protection, and the formulation of autonomous regulations through resident meetings, resident congresses, and resident group meetings in urban and rural areas. Thus, people can participate in the processes of making and implementing decisions.
As citizens, people exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities and obligations as defined by the Constitution, thereby participating in the management of national political and social life at all levels and in all fields. The report to the 20th CPC National Congress highlights the need to “actively develop democracy at the primary level” and emphasizes that “primary-level democracy is an important manifestation of whole-process people’s democracy.” Based on local conditions, rural and urban community residents discuss and decide on charters for self-governance, codes of conduct, and resident conventions to define the rights and obligations of residents as well as the requirements for exercising autonomy in economic management, local security, fire safety, community sanitation, marriage, neighborhood relations, family planning, and activities for cultural advancement. This ensures that all urban and rural residents have the opportunity to manage, serve, educate, and oversee their own communities in terms of public affairs and public welfare initiatives.
Based on its specific realities, China has carried out explorations to establish an integrated and well-coordinated system of oversight and given shape to a well-defined, efficient supervisory network with clear functions and responsibilities. Oversight of power extends across every area and into every corner. The forms of oversight under whole-process people’s democracy are many and diverse. They include oversight by people’s congresses, democratic oversight, administrative oversight, oversight by supervisory bodies, judicial oversight, audit-based oversight, financial and accounting oversight, statistical oversight, public supervision, and oversight through public opinion.
Whole-process democracy has improved the efficacy of people’s democracy.
General Secretary Xi has said, “Democracy is not an ornament to be put on display, but an instrument for addressing the issues that concern the people.” Whether a country is democratic or not depends on whether its people truly run the country. It depends on whether the people have the right to vote, and more importantly, the right to participate; what promises they are given during elections, and more importantly, how many of these promises are honored after elections; what kind of political procedures and rules are set through state systems and laws, and more importantly, whether these systems and laws are truly enforced; and whether the rules and procedures for the exercise of power are democratic, and more importantly, whether the exercise of power is genuinely subject to public oversight and checks. Through a complete set of institutions and procedures and full-fledged participation, we have turned whole-process people’s democracy from a value concept into an institutional form, governance mechanism, and way of life that is rooted in Chinese soil. The principle of the people running the country is manifested explicitly and practically in our Party’s governance measures and policies, in all aspects of the work of the Party and state organs at various levels, and in the efforts to meet people’s aspirations for a better life.
Whole-process people’s democracy has ensured the full protection of Chinese people’s rights and brought significant improvements in their lives. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the Party Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has led the people in pursuing the path of socialist political advancement with Chinese characteristics and fully developing whole-process democracy. As a result, we have made all-around progress in improving the institutions, standards, and procedures of our socialist democracy and advanced our socialist consultative democracy by way of extensive participation. We have reinforced the foundations that underpin the people’s running of the country, injected fresh vitality into democracy at the community level, and consolidated and expanded the patriotic united front. We have made new accomplishments in promoting ethnic unity and progress, fully implemented our Party’s basic policy on religious affairs, and provided better protections for human rights. Through persistent hard work, we have achieved moderate prosperity, the millennia-old dream of the Chinese nation, and won the largest battle against poverty in human history. We have thus resolved the problem of absolute poverty in China once and for all, while also making significant contributions to global poverty reduction. Implementing a people-centered philosophy of development, we have made continuous efforts to ensure people’s access to childcare, education, employment, medical services, elderly care, housing, and social assistance, thus bringing about an all-around improvement in people’s lives. China has also built the largest education, social security, and healthcare systems in the world, ensuring a more complete and lasting sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security for its people and making further progress in achieving common prosperity for all.
Through whole-process people’s democracy, citizens have the opportunity to manage state and social affairs, as well as economic and cultural undertakings. This includes providing opinions and suggestions for the top-level design of national development, participating in local governance of public affairs, engaging in democratic elections and consultations, as well as democratic decision-making, management, and oversight. The people can express their desires and demands through channels such as people’s congresses and people’s political consultative conferences, as well as through social organizations and online platforms. People must be able to freely express their demands, but they also must be able to see those demands realized. From national policies to social governance and issues concerning daily life, people have channels to express their expectations, wishes, and requests, to have their voices heard, and to receive feedback. The people’s wishes and expectations are turned into Party and state policies through democratic decision-making procedures. These policies are then implemented and become concrete practices through close cooperation and effective efforts at all levels of government based on a sound division of labor, cooperation, and coordination among various functional departments, and thanks to collaboration and synergy across all stages of work, from decision-making to implementation, inspection, oversight, and accountability.
Whole-process people’s democracy has promoted efficiency in national governance and helped modernize our country’s governance system and capacity. Effective democracy must result in good governance and promote national development. China’s whole-process people’s democracy effectively regulates political relations and fosters vibrant relationships among political parties, ethnic groups, religions, social groups, and compatriots at home and abroad. It bolsters national cohesion by minimizing internal friction, ensuring state organs neither hold each other back nor waste valuable time quibbling with each other. This creates political solidarity and stability and a strong united force for our endeavors. In the more than 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, our Party has brought the people together and led them in overcoming all manner of unprecedented difficulties on the road to progress. We have successfully embarked on a path of Chinese modernization and achieved impressive advances in development, significantly improving China’s economic strength, composite national power, and standard of living.
Whole-process people’s democracy is both a propellant and lubricant for social progress in China. The country’s national conditions are complex, posing a unique set of challenges for national governance. Through whole-process people’s democracy, China coordinates and aligns the aspirations and interests of all sides, ensuring overall unity and solidarity based on common thinking, interests, and goals. This allows for a stable and harmonious society where people can live and work in peace and contentment. In the space of mere decades, China has achieved industrialization, a process that took developed countries several centuries. Moreover, despite the intense social change, it has not experienced the kind of social turmoil that often arises in some developing countries during the process of modernization. As a result, China has achieved a miracle of enduring social stability as well as of rapid economic growth.
Through whole-process people’s democracy, we have truly ensured that development is for and by the people and that its fruits are also shared by the people. We have fully guaranteed that it is the people who run the country. As we embark on a new journey, we must resolutely implement the strategic plans outlined at the 20th CPC National Congress for “promoting whole-process people’s democracy and ensuring that the people run the country.” We must firmly stay on the path of socialist political advancement with Chinese characteristics, uphold the unity between Party leadership, the running of the country by the people, and law-based governance, improve the institutions through which the people run the country, and encourage the people’s orderly participation in political affairs. With this, the path of Chinese democracy will undoubtedly continue to grow broader.
Cheng Tongshun is a professor at the Zhou Enlai School of Government at Nankai University and a research fellow at the Nankai University Base of the Research Center for the Theoretical System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in Tianjin.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 5, 2023)