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Developing Whole-Process People’s Democracy to Advance Chinese Modernization

By Lin Shangli Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2024-07-08

The laws underlying modern devel­opment reveal that democracy and modernization are inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing. Democracy is both a precondition for modernization and one of its essential missions; it serves as both an instrument for progress as well as an objective in the modernization drive. In the process of leading and advancing China’s modernization, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has always champi­oned people’s democracy, firm in the belief that without democracy, there can be no socialism, no socialist modernization, and no national rejuvenation. In practice, the CPC has steadily deepened its understand­ing of the laws that underlie governance by a communist party, the development of socialism, and the evolution of human society. By actively exploring approaches for advancing socialist modernization and people’s democracy in China, it has success­fully forged a path of Chinese moderniza­tion and pioneered whole-process people’s democracy. In doing so, the CPC has opened up new frontiers for the development of humanity.

I. Whole-process people’s democracy is a tremendous innovation of the Chinese people

For the CPC, the development of socialist democracy has always been underpinned by the idea that the people should run the country. It has thus devoted itself whole­heartedly to exploring ways to develop a new form of socialist democracy that can structurally meet the development and governance needs of a country with a huge population like China and functionally create benefits for the people, foster social harmony, and promote national vitality and prosperity. This democratic form, which is democracy in the truest sense, is not only authentic but also effective. It both empow­ers the people to run the country and effec­tively drives the country’s development forward.

In the endeavor to develop democracy in the true sense, the CPC has fully harnessed the strengths of the socialist system. It has vigorously enhanced the institutions, stand­ards, and procedures for socialist democ­racy, putting in place diverse, open, and orderly democratic channels and pioneer­ing democratic forms that are efficient and effective.

After years of sustained effort, people’s democracy in China is now underpinned by a value system that prizes people above all else, as well as the protection of human rights, fairness and justice, well-rounded human development, and shared prosper­ity for all. It is supported by a compre­hensive set of well-integrated institutions that ensure the people run the country. To guarantee that people can exercise their rights, it operates on the basis of systems for democratic election, consultation, decision-making, management, and oversight. It is also characterized by a set of regulatory arrangements, including those for rigor­ous CPC self-governance, comprehensive law-based governance, and robust Party and state oversight, all of which ensure that power is exercised in the open and used for the benefit of the people.

In practice, it has been shown that under the system of people’s democracy, the people are entirely capable of manag­ing state, economic, cultural, and social affairs in accordance with the law thanks to a variety of avenues and methods. At the same time, leading Party and state bodies and their personnel are required to exercise their powers in strict accordance with statu­tory mandates and procedures and whole­heartedly serve the people. Authentic in a theoretical, practical, and institutional sense, this form of democracy guarantees people’s ability to exercise their democratic rights throughout the national govern­ance process. It ensures that every stage of national governance unfolds in a democratic way and in line with democratic procedures.

Whole-process people’s democracy is a great innovation that has resulted from the CPC’s efforts to unite and lead the people in pursuing, developing, and realizing democ­racy. It is a truly unique form of democracy. Embedded in China’s historical, social, and cultural fabric, it has evolved out of the great endeavors of the CPC and the people to develop socialism with Chinese characteris­tics and promote socialist political advance­ment. It is a tremendous achievement in our efforts to integrate Marxist democratic theory with the practical development of socialist democracy in China, as well as a significant political accomplishment for humanity as a whole. When comparing the democratic practices of nations worldwide, it is clear that the CPC and the Chinese people have been able to develop whole-process people’s democracy thanks to two fundamental experiences:

First, in steadfastly pursuing a Chinese path of democratic development, we have created a systematic set of concepts and ideas for guiding and advancing socialist democracy

The CPC has drawn on an in-depth understanding of human political advance­ment and its underlying laws, innovative developments in Marxist democratic theory, and a review and distillation of the Chinese people’s experiences and explorations in running the country. On this basis, it has put forward sound answers to the fundamental questions of what defines true democracy and how the authenticity of people’s democ­racy can be determined.

President Xi has creatively put forward a four-point framework with four criti­cal considerations for judging whether a country is democratic. He has stated, “The key factor in deciding if a country is democratic or not is whether the people truly run the country. We must evaluate whether the people have the right to vote, and, critically, whether they have the right to participate; what promises they are given during elections, and critically, how many of these promises are delivered after elections; what kind of political procedures and rules are set through state systems and laws, and critically, whether these systems and laws are truly enforced; and whether the rules and procedures for the exercise of power are democratic, and critically, whether the exercise of power is genuinely subject to public oversight and checks.”


Deputies leave the Great Hall of the People after the closing of the Second Session of the 14th National People’s Congress, March 11, 2024, Beijing. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WANG JIANHUA

In leading the people’s endeavors to run the country, the CPC uses these criteria to ensure that people’s democracy in China is democracy in the true sense and to make sure that whole-process democracy is intrinsically authentic, extensive, and effective.

Second, while continuing to learn from and absorb ideas from other countries, we have made our own explorations and innovations to avoid blindly copying the system or democratic model of any other country

While leading the people through the periods of revolution, construction, and reform, the CPC always held fast to the belief that no two political systems in the world are the same and that no universal political model exists. The strength of a country’s democracy is defined not only by its form, but more importantly, by its roots. Democracy can grow and thrive when it is rooted in the local context and flourishes best when its roots run deep. China’s funda­mental and basic political systems—includ­ing the system of people’s congresses, the system of CPC-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation, the system of regional ethnic autonomy, and the system of community-level self-governance—were developed and implemented through the efforts of our Party and the people during the great endeavors of revolution, construc­tion, and reform, and have been continu­ously refined in practice. In action, these unique political systems have demonstrated tremendous vitality and have proven to be important institutional and political advan­tages for China in creating its development miracle and pursuing national governance.

II. Developing whole-process people’s democracy is an essential requirement of Chinese modernization

In theory and practice, it has been shown that the development of whole-process people’s democracy is of fundamental, long-term, and overall significance for realizing national rejuvenation through Chinese modernization. The development of whole-process people’s democracy helps ensure the following.

The CPC’s leadership always remains strong

As Chinese modernization is a CPC-led drive, it is imperative to uphold its overall leadership. The CPC’s leadership determines the essential nature of Chinese moderniza­tion and bears directly on its fundamental orientation, trajectory, and ultimate success.

Whole-process people’s democracy ensures unity between the leadership of the CPC, the running of the country by the people, and law-based governance. On the one hand, the CPC’s leadership ensures the people’s role of running the country is fully realized and guarantees that the country’s political life is vibrant while also being stable and orderly. On the other hand, the people, in running the country, participate in political life in a law-based, orderly, and extensive manner and embed democratic practices into the entire process of the CPC’s leadership and governance. This helps deepen the popular foundation for its leadership and ensures that the CPC’s guidelines, principles, and policies truly reflect the people’s concerns, embody their aspirations, promote their wellbeing, and meet their desire for a better life.

It has been proven in practice that the CPC must uphold its mass line and imple­ment whole-process people’s democracy. Only then can its theories resonate with the public and become a powerful force for guiding work and propelling devel­opment. Only then can the CPC’s guide­lines, principles, and policies garner wholehearted support from the people and deliver sustained, stable, and sound national development. And only then can the CPC accurately gauge the public’s pulse in governance and reflect the public will, address the people’s concerns, and enhance the people’s wellbeing when it is address­ing problems, making decisions, and taking action. This ensures the CPC and the people are always of the same mind and working as one, with the bond between them remain­ing forever strong.

It is clear that the people are the greatest source of confidence and strength for the CPC in exercising governance. By develop­ing whole-process people’s democracy, we can help realize effective CPC leadership and vigorously advance Chinese modernization.

Wisdom and strength are pooled for the undertakings of the CPC and the country

The people are the true driving force behind history. As a process that desig­nates the people as its mainstay, Chinese modernization must firmly rely on the people, respect their creativity, and harness their collective wisdom and strength. China’s tremendous and rarely seen success in economic and social development can be attributed to the strong CPC leadership, which has galvanized a powerful force by inspiring the people to work together. And the most effective means of rallying the people and harnessing their strength has been to support and guarantee their efforts to run the country.

Whole-process people’s democracy enables the integration of democratic practices into people’s everyday work and life, ensur­ing that people’s affairs are decided by the people themselves. At the same time, it ensures that the CPC’s various policies for benefiting the people are transparent, publicly accessible, and democratic, in such a way that they turn into living, breathing policies that people can understand, experi­ence, use, and improve upon.

In practice, whole-process people’s democ­racy has demonstrated formidable politi­cal strengths and institutional effects by reflecting popular sentiment, uniting hearts and minds, and forging strong consensus. By continuing to advance whole-process people’s democracy and ensure the people run the country, we will undoubtedly be able to weave the aspirations and expectations of our more than over 1.4 billion people into the drive for Chinese modernization. This will generate a mighty force for inspir­ing our people to work together and create even greater miracles in the endeavors to build a modern socialist country and realize national rejuvenation.

The system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is capable of self-improvement

Chinese modernization is taking place in a socialist context, which defines its funda­mental nature and trajectory. Chinese modernization is socialist modernization and not modernization in any other form. As such, it is vital that we uphold and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Under the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we have always been committed to developing the produc­tive forces and unleashing social vitality by ceaselessly pursuing self-reform and improvement in the course of economic and social development. At the same time, under the socialist system, we have also followed a people-centered approach, regarding it as our mission to safeguard social fairness and justice, promote people’s well-rounded development, and realize shared prosper­ity for all. On this basis, China’s system has developed certain capacities that other types of state systems find difficult to match, such as a capacity for overall coordination, a capacity to provide strong institu­tional guarantees, and a strong governance capacity, all of which have enabled us to balance diverse interests, build a society based on participation and shared benefit, and safeguard national security and stabil­ity. Only by upholding and improving the system of Chinese socialism and moderniz­ing China’s system and capacity for govern­ance can we provide strong institutional guarantees for steady progress in Chinese modernization.

People’s democracy is the lifeblood of socialism. One important aspect of uphold­ing and improving the system of Chinese socialism is upholding and improving the institutions through which the people run the country and fostering social­ist democracy. At the same time, whole-process people’s democracy also offers a vital avenue for the self-improvement and development of the system of Chinese socialism. In other words, by relying on whole-process people’s democracy, we can fully unleash the creativity of the people and the vitality of society, thereby generat­ing intrinsic momentum for the self-reform and refinement of the socialist system and creating greater space for modernizing China’s system and capacity for govern­ance. By developing whole-process people’s democracy, we can ensure our various systems and national governance better reflect the will of the people, safeguard their rights and interests, and ignite their creativity. This will allow us to fully harness the strengths of Chinese socialism and ensure that Chinese modernization steadily forges ahead along the right path.

III. A people-centered approach to developing whole-process people’s democracy

The people’s endeavors in running the country, their awareness that they are the country’s masters, and their creative practices and tremendous creativity all provide a firm foundation and strong guarantee for the advancement of Chinese modernization. To promote national rejuve­nation through Chinese modernization and ensure the people are fully invested in modernization, it is imperative that solid steps be taken to utilize, develop, and realize whole-process people’s democracy. At the same time, Chinese modernization is an unprecedented endeavor that will inevita­bly give rise to new demands and expecta­tions for whole-process people’s democracy. Remaining firmly committed to a socialist path of political advancement with Chinese characteristics, we must pursue theoreti­cal, practical, and institutional innovation to move in step with the times and keep working to enrich the theoretical, institu­tional, operational, and regulatory systems for whole-process people’s democracy.

Always regarding the people as the decisive force, we will develop whole-process people’s democracy in the drive for Chinese modernization and harness it as a means for progress

The notion of the people running the country goes to the essence and core of social­ist democracy; the people are the masters of the country, and all state power resides with them. Chinese modernization is a people-centered journey driven by the mission of realizing people’s well-rounded development and common prosperity for all.

Therefore, we must remain firmly committed to the worldview that the people are the creators of history and hold fast to the values of placing the people above all else and regarding their position as paramount. When taking action, we must ensure that in everything we do, we work for the people, rely on the people, and whole­heartedly serve the people. In terms of our development approach, we must adhere to a people-centered development philosophy. To fulfill our mission and responsibilities, we must regard the people’s aspirations for a better life as our goal and promote people’s well-rounded development and shared prosperity for all. In the practical work of governance, we must regard the fundamen­tal interests of the majority as the immuta­ble objective of all our efforts. All initiatives should be judged by whether or not they earn the support, approval, satisfaction, and consent of the people. In this way, we can ensure we respond to public sentiment, respect the will of the people, stay attuned to their feelings, and improve their wellbeing.

If we follow these value orientations and practical requirements, we will be able to create a seamless unity between whole-process people’s democracy and Chinese modernization, ensuring each progresses in step with the other.

Adhering to a people-centered approach throughout every facet and phase of the democratic process, we will promote the development and refinement of whole-process people’s democracy and facilitate the mutual empowerment and reinforcement of whole-process people’s democracy and Chinese modernization

In China, the development of whole-process people’s democracy is guaranteed not only by strong leadership but also a comprehensive set of institutions. Under the CPC’s leadership, whole-process democracy advances along the right path, grounded in a respect for practice and driven by strong momentum. Thanks to the political power of the people, the development of whole-process people’s democracy is proactive and purposeful, moving forward in a law-based and orderly manner and delivering substan­tive and solid results.

By adhering to a people-centered ethos in every dimension and stage of democracy—from elections to consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight—and by truly respecting the people’s principal position and their groundbreaking practices, we can ensure the systems, procedures, and operations of whole-process people’s democracy are continuously improved and perfected in a holistic way. Based on a relationship of mutual empowerment and advancement with Chinese moderniza­tion, whole-process people’s democracy will continue to develop in step with the rhythm of the times.

Furthermore, whole-process people’s democracy integrates process-oriented democracy with results-oriented democ­racy, procedural democracy with substan­tive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people’s democracy with the will of the state. Only when it is put fully into practice can whole-process people’s democracy be truly effective, and only when it is continuously refined can its strengths be fully unleashed. Based on a people-centered approach, we must take steps to develop whole-process people’s democracy in practice and refine it through development. By continuing to reinforce its qualities of encompassing all links in the chain, spanning all sectors, and achiev­ing full coverage, we can further highlight the political and institutional strengths of whole-process people’s democracy, which is democracy in its broadest, most genuine and effective form.


Lin Shangli is President of Renmin Uni­versity of China.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 9, 2024)