Legitimacy of Peoples Republic of China in the Eyes of Chinese Citizens

Legitimacy of Peoples Republic of China in the Eyes of Chinese Citizens


The People’s Republic of China popularly known as China is an Asian country whose political nature has attracted a plethora of attention. The country is ruled under Confucian type of governance which is a philosophical tradition and religious approach in socio-political aspect of governance (Baogang, 2010). Many scholars have likened Confucian governance to authoritarian regime but China has persistently rejected the assertion and maintained it is for the best interests of her citizen (Sebastia & Elizabeth, 2011). The country has clung to communism under a single party rule influencing a number of East Asian countries into adopting the strategy. The Communist Party of China is the ruling party which operates under a dual leadership system. China, specifically the Communist Party of China, has been in the fore front in undermining democratic policy as a western style which is not fit in steering the country towards its collective objectives (Wang, 2002). This has been in spite various instances of influencing the country in adopting democracy as a leadership style. The country has cited various progresses in the country within its political system. In fact, the economic indices in China have increased tremendously making it one of the economical giants across the globe (Baogang, 2010). The economic development in the country has been used as a reference to the success of Confucian governance in the country despising the efforts to implement democratic leadership.

Analysts have faulted Confucian type of regime by saying that it lacks legitimacy and institutionalization. There are assumptions that the political spectrum of Peoples Republic of China is marred with authoritative and coercive type of power questioning its public approval and legitimacy. Public legitimacy involves the contentment that the citizens have over their governmental and governance. Some have questioned whether the Chinese citizens are oblivious to the system or if they are comfortable with the system. In this context, this essay pursues to establish the legitimacy of Peoples Republic of Chinese in the eyes of her citizens and whether political reform is necessary to maintain the regime.

Confucian theory of governance

History of Confucian ideology in China

As mentioned, Confucianism is crafted through a mixture of traditional, religious, rationalism, and way of governance. Confucianism can be dated back to the year 551-479 BCE as it was coined by Confucius, Kong Qiu, who considered himself as a re-transmitter of older values and traditions. His main aim was to augment a social and political harmony by revitalizing the moral aspects of the technocrats and the ruling class. His theory was based on the factor of cultivating virtues and restoration of ethics. According to Confucius, virtue can be cultivated through three pillars which are humanity/humaneness (ren), ritual propriety (li), and filial respect (xiao) (Sebastia & Elizabeth, 2011). The theorist maintained that the rationalism among humans had to be expressed through a behavioral pattern that conformed to the culturally specific norms; for instance, the respect for the elders. It is quite wrong to argue or go against the elders wish as purported by Confucius.

Later on, Confucianism was adopted as a government ideology in the 4th century after some expansions by Mencius. He reiterated that human life was presented from the heavens and humans had no control over it. They were not supposed to conform to other worldly things but stick to their moral inclination. This classical Confucianism was considered political as it inclined on social conservation based on its teachings such as age and gender based hierarchy. Confucianism was officially made the governments ideology during the Song Dynasty (950-1279) after scholar Zhu Xi systemized a curriculum about it. However, political interests overtook the moral intention of the ideology. In the early 14th century, citizens were required to memorize Zhu Xi teachings if they intended to secure government jobs. The government also majored on conservative agendas such as absolute obedience of elders and subjugation of women to men.  In 19th and 20th centuries, there were myriad of anti-Confucian movements which led to its decline and it abolition in 1905 as the official government ideology. This was after the last dynasty (Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911) fell in 1911 giving rise to the Republic of China (ROC).

Confucian versus democracy

Baogang (2010) finds similarities between Confucianism and democracy ideologies. First, Baogang (2010) asserts that Confucianism is multidimensional just the way democracy is multi-faceted. Confucianism focuses on a realm of aspects such as traditions, religious teachings, elitism, and imperialism. Similarly, democracy has liberalism, socialism, and deliberative ideologies. Baogang feels that most scholars differentiate the two ideologies with bias explanations that suit their positions. He further notes that Confucianism has been misunderstood due to the traditional versus modernity mentality and a West-versus-East outlook. Confucianism in China allows village elections where leaders are elected from the grass root levels. Baogang (2010) says this is a democratic validation only that it is embedded to traditional practices. The Chinese government has also institutionalized five religious groups which Baogang equates to freedom of worship as augmented in democracy.

In fact, Baogang (2010) affirms to the popular compatibility model that asserts that some of Confucian elements are attuned to democratic ideas. According to this model, Sheshi, which is a traditional class of local gentry, can be equated to self-governing local community in democratic countries. Scholarly criticism is generally acceptable in Confucianism just like the opposition in democratic. Xuedang is a form of public forum in Confucian model that allows the intellectual elites to converge and discuss matters concerning social, moral, and political issues and provide checks to the government, Baogang says that Xuedang can be transformed to modern civil society. Therefore, Baogang (2010) feels that Confucian theory is justifiable and equitable to democratic rule where its criticism is individualistic and unjustifiable.

Peiminisone of the scholars who has a direct opposite opinion regarding Confucianism ad compared to Baogangs belief (Brown, 2012). Peimin says that Confucianism and democracy are like water and fire in that they are totally incompatible (Brown, 2012). From Marxist philosophy, Confucianism is viewed as an ideology that seeks to implement ruling by political elite through dictatorship. Confucianism subjects its rulers as righteous and their ideas unquestionable. According to Peimin, Confucianism only seeks to offer government to the rule without considering how the ruled can choose a government for themselves. The major drawback of Confucianism is that it lacks institutions that checks its powers and preventing bad form of governance. Peimin also states that the Confucian theory relies more on cultivating the morality aspects of individuals at the expense of drawing ruling structures and procedures. Therefore, some scholars liken democracy to Confucianism while others indicate that the two ideologies are completely incompatible.

Legitimacy of People Republic of China (PRC)

Background of PRC

After the decline of dynasty rule and establishment of Republic of China, ROC was subjected to advent corruption and weak governance that led to a civil war between the nationalists and communists. Henceforth, communists won over nationalists in 1949 and established the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In 1980s, the Confucius ideology was virtually dead in PRC as a new constitution was implemented in 1982 where some restrictions were relaxed (Sebastia & Elizabeth, 2011). These included allowing five religions, freedom of movement without work permits, and some state-owned industries were released to privatization. However, an incident occurred on June 1989 where pro-democracy demonstrators were shot ruthlessly ending hopes to political reforms. Chinese citizens reiterated by concentrating on economic as opposed to political reforms. The end of 21st century revived the Confucius ideology through many scholars revisiting the ideology. Holbig (2010) says that the PRC communist ideology is largely influenced by the Confucius ideology as a government political agenda.  Actually, there was a Holy Confucian Church that was consecrated in 2015. Confucius fever is felt within the scholarly and academic community as it embedded on leadership by the scholarly and the ruling classes.

Holbig (2010) feels that China is under Confucian rule as its regime retains authority by means of patriotism and performance-based legitimacy. Currently, the ruling party CPC claims that it’s the only party that can ensure economic growth, social stability, and maintain national sovereignty.  The ruling CPC explicitly rejects “Western‐style” democracy as an unsuitable political system for China. Communist Party of China is quite influential especially in the economic realm, industrial, and cultural settings. For example, human resource appraisal depends on the party and state policy guidance where non-party members are suppressed to avoid the vulnerability to challenging CPC rule. All government committees have to include at least one CPC party member. PRC is said to be in the initial stages of socialism where it is transitioning from public ownership to a more privatized country. People are now making choices on education and employment as opposed to the situation in 1980s. However, there are various restrictions that bounds freedom in China such as Cyber blackout where residents have restrictions on the use of internet and information sharing. There are robust systems of monitoring and control over populations.  It is therefore discernable that the Peoples Republic of China is implementing a mixture of ideologies, where Confucian seems to be dominant, in governing the Chinese citizens.

Legitimacy of PRC

Brown (2010) insists that PRC is a pro-communist society which is currently guided by pragmatism. This implies that PRC only implements the system that works for their economic growth. Holbig (2010) says that everything is relative in China beginning with the extension of rights and freedoms. This has made the legitimacy of PRC be questioned in a number of spectrums. To begin with, Holbig (2010) cites the civil war that broke in 1949 where the nationalists and communists were fighting over ruling China. It was paramount that the population was quite divided where millions of fled from China. Holbig (2010) says that this was one of the largest refugee exoduses which imply that the intent of PRC was not justified across board. PRC under its communist party legitimacy was tested again in the Cultural Revolution that was launched in 1966. The party’s popularity was quite low for a decade during this revolutionary period. The situation escalated during the Tiananmen massacre when people were ruthlessly shot and assaulted for staging demonstrations. Scholars agree that Tiananmen Crackdown worked for the government as it instilled fear among the citizens and they abandoned political reforms over economic progress. This gave PRC time to enjoy legitimacy and the economic result was enough consolation to the public.

PRC admitted to be facing inequality problems in 2003 when President Hu Jintao acknowledged the importance of fusing economic developments with social ones (Brown, 2012). It was his ambition to embed on leadership that served and prioritized the interests of the public. Brown (2010) says that Hu was publicly noted declaring his need to have a people centered government. However, there was tension over his intension as some people argued that he was cementing CPC as the only ambitious party in PRC. Hu proved that he was headed for political reform and development projects as he borrowed heavily from western ideologies. He went ahead to visit marginalized regions in the country in move aimed at reducing the inequality experienced in PRC. This collaborated with Maoist legacy which had introduced the Household Responsibility System in early 1980s where farmers were able to sell their surpluses and invest in other economic activities.

The tremendous economic success has also played a paramount role in justifying the legitimacy of PRC. Fang (n.d) says that China managed to rise into an economical giant without adopting western influenced reforms. Fang argues that countries such as Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Singapore are economically strived and rich without being necessarily politically open. According to Fang, China took this dimension and it has managed to sustain its ambition coupled with president Hu Jintao developments. Fang believes that PRC leadership has received a public approval and it is destined for future success without indulging into political reforms.

On the contrary, some scholars feel that PRC authoritarianism has extended from Mao era to the current Chinese leadership. Holbig (2010) says that social factors have been overly neglected; for example, in 1980s people could not live or work where they wanted. Government intervention has continued with regulation on political content from polluting the citizens. For example, a range of TV programs and films which are purported to have political content are banned in PRC (Holbig, 2010). Most social groups see elements of the CPC’s message as protecting their best interests and only opening up in situation that can make it susceptible to political overrun. PRC has failed to empower non-political institutions such as the media and civil societies that are strong in watching over the government excesses. Wang (2002) suggests that state effectiveness relies heavily on the public authority as opposed to power being bestowed to a single unit. In this context, democracy is a type of political regime that gives the public an opportunity to monitor and control their rulers. Wang (2002) feels that state of effectiveness is vital to democratic transition and consideration. Failure to implement a democratic rule subjects the factor of looking into people’s interests lowering the authority legitimacy. This implies that the immense regulations and controls implemented in China without the public regulatory powers are declining PRC legitimacy.

Various scholars have used comparative studies and surveys to test the legitimacy levels in PRC leadership. People’s Daily article published a report on 2007 that indicated that PRC legitimacy was overwhelmingly approved by 80 million people in China. Conversely, 80 million people seem to be quite a lot but they only represent six percent of the entire population. The attitudinal and behavioral measures by Gilley (2006) on Chinese citizens indicated that the legitimacy was declining drastically from the end of the 20th century to the entrance of new millennium. Chinas official bluebook as indicated in 2005 that the political support among rural residents was facing a tremendous decline coming from 50% to 25% (Gilley, 2006).  Chinese analysts have also weighed on this matter by warning against a legitimacy crisis based on the current trends (Gilley, 2006).   There is an overall wave of fear over the legitimacy of PRC among the residents around the country on equal measures.


PRC rule is majorly likened to the Confucian ideology and has immense authoritative policies such as the one child policy. Chinese quest for economic development has been prioritized over the social development. The government is characterized with intervention and controls in the society harboring freedom or extending it partially. This study established whether the residents of China approved this system of governance using legitimacy test.  Legitimacy is an essential factor for the success of the governing leadership of any country. There is mixed results over the legitimacy of PRC by the residents. There are some who are contented with the systems while others are feeling a need for a political reform. However, legitimacy levels are declining consistently and scholars are warning over a legitimacy crisis. This means that the future of PRC remains bleak resulting to a need for political reforms in near future.





Baogang, H. (2010). Four models of the relationship between Confucianism and Democracy. Journal of Chinese philosophy. 37(1): 18-33

Brown, K. (2012). The Communist Party of China and ideology. An International Journal, 10 (2), pp. 52-68

Fang, F (n.d). Taking the China model seriously. Wiley

Gilley, B. (2006). “The Meaning and Measure of State Legitimacy: Results for 72 Countries.” European Journal of Political Research 45 (3): 499-525.

Holbig, H. (2010). Reclaiming legitimacy in China. Politics and Policy. Volume 38, No. 3 (2010): 395-422

Sebastian, H. & Elizabeth J. (2011).  Mao’s Invisible Hand: The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance in China, Harvard University Asia

Wang. S. (2002). Why is state effectiveness essential for democracy. Retrieved from: www.cuhk.edu.hk/gpa/wang_files/DemocracyandState.doc