50% Chance of Tribal Politics, 50% Chance of Money Politics: Either Way, the Ordinary People Are Going to Lose Out


The CCP is in fact very interested in the democratic form of governance. Mao himself was a big proponent of it and wrote extensively about it.

Theoretically, there are two big advantages: One, the government gets to know really well the intent of the people, and two, the democratic process itself can be a very strong motivator for the masses to participate in building the nation together.

There are also two big disadvantages, theoretically. One, the masses is vulnerable to demagoguery, and two, the common people lack long-term vision and often opt for short-term gain.

That’s the theory. But how will it work out in reality? The Chinese government has a doctrine of “experiment-based policy-making”.

As much as possible, every public policy is put into local experimentation at multiple locations first, and then based on the experimental result, the policy proposal is adjusted and moved up from county-level to provincial level to national level. The process is very similar to a multi-phased clinical trial. Democratic elections, similarly, was put to trial in the 90’s and gradually expanded to every village and small town in the country.

Well, after 25 years and a couple millions of elections, the Chinese government now has a huge amount of data, and developed a really good understanding of how this “democratic election” thing works in the reality of China. It turns out that these elections in China are dominated by two drivers: One is tribal affinity. The other is money.

Tribal affinity is quite obvious. Since the beginning of China’s “democratic election” experiment, in almost half of the villages, the elected heads of the villages stayed with the same last name. One family dominates the local politics.

This, unfortunately, is the reality of Asian democracy almost every where.

-Do you know who the father of the current South Korea President Park Geun-hye is? Former President of South Korea, Park Chung-hee.

-Do you know who the grandfather of the current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is? Former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

-Do you know who the father of the current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is? Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

-Do you know who the mother of the current Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is? Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino.

-Do you know how long the Nehru–Gandhi family dominated Indian politics? 50 years. And today, every single Indian Assembly member under 35 comes from a political family.


Democratic elections in Asia strongly favor Tribal politics, with political power passing from one member to another member of the same dominant political family.

The other factor in winning the local elections is money. There are constant reports of election candidates outright bribe the voters with cash, and then after the election, screw the local residents and sold off public property to replenish their own coffer.

Again and again, the voters vote in the candidate who gives them the most money, and then when they get screwed afterwards, jump on a train and go to Beijing to meet with the Central Government for redress. These democratically-elected village heads basically can’t be fired for mismanagement, so the most the Central Government can do, is to order a re-election. And then it’s the same shit all over again.

One of the most interesting phenomenon in China is that ever since the beginning of the local democratic election, there was an explosion of Petitioning (China) of villagers going to Beijing, throw themselves down in front of the Central Government, begging them to “please send us a good CCP Party Secretary to be the leader of our village!”

You see, both tribal politics and money politics would be a giant step backward for most Chinese people. Under the current political system, the party secretary for the villages is usually someone with at least university degree, occasionally even masters and PhDs, while maybe the whole village only has high-school education. These guys go in, work hard for 5 years and earn their stripes, then rotate out to another post.

This rotation system significantly cuts down the likelihood of corruption, because these guys come from the outside, they don’t have the local family connection, networks, and trusted co-conspirators to pull shit like that within a relatively short time-frame, and clean up after themselves for the next, unknown new guy to take over the post.

The vast majority of the corruption cases in China involve local people, staying in the same power position for too long.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government is still trying various ways to make it work. English–People’s Daily Online, which is the official CCP party newspaper, makes it a ritual to publish uplifting success stories about democracy – village A used to have a lot of problem getting things done, and now with the new democratic process things work much more smoothly, yada yada yada.

So this is where the democratic election sits right now – it works rarely enough to become the promoted content in the CCP official party newspaper!

So realistically, if China becomes democratic today, 50% chance it’ll go back to “feudal” society, dominated by tribal politics like the other Asian countries, and 50% chance it’ll become a Chinese version of the Russian oligarchy. Both would be something worse than what they have now.

PS: Someone asked about the Bush/Clinton dynasty in the US. So – this phenomenon should not be viewed as normal, and if this is how democracy works, it’s not even close to delivering the optimal outcome for the nation. If someone is truly selected based on abilities and experience, the chance of political dynasties should be infinitesimally small. Why?

We know physical traits are quite inheritable. That being the case, why don’t you see many top soccer stars handing their stardom from father to son? I’m sure the sons of soccer stars will have higher likelihood of inherited talent, above-average exposure to soccer, better training opportunities, etc.

So why aren’t there such a thing as “daddy Messi and junior Messi” soccer stars? Because there is still a somewhat objective test to soccer stardom, which is: you got to be able to play soccer!

China implemented the National Examination system about 1500 years ago. The Prime Ministers and/or the top Cabinet member positions must be from people who passed the top level of the National Exam with excellent ranking, plus 20 years or so of real governing experience with outstanding track record. One had to be the top 0.1% or 0.01% to pass the top level of the National Exams with excellent ranking.

Yes, there was still horrendous level of the uneven distribution of education resources, and one’s father could still chaperon his sons through the bureaucratic promotion path. There were all sorts of tricks and shenanigans a prime minister or a cabinet member could pull to advance his family interest, but even so, in 1500 years of history, the number of father-son handover of prime ministership or cabinet position can be counted in one hand! It’s just not that easy if there is even a semi-objective test.

So yeah, if China goes back to tribal politics, it’s not only a giant step backward from PRC, but a giant step backward to before the Tang dynasty when the National Exam system was implemented, in ~ 600 AD! This is simply not acceptable to the vast majority of the Chinese people.




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