how to be a Chinese democrat


How to Be a Chinese Democrat:
An Interview with Liu Yu

Ian Johnson
Carl De Keyzer/Magnum Photos
The Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 2007

Liu Yu is one of China’s best-known America-watchers. A professor of political science at Tsinghua University, she lived in the US from 2000 to 2007 and now researches democratization in developing countries, including her own. The thirty-eight-year-old became famous in China in 2009 with the publication (in Chinese) of Details of Democracy, a collection of her blogs that described how politics works in America. The book earned her the moniker among online fans as “China’s de Toqueville” (she’s quick to reject that as too flattering). She is a popular public speaker, although she has received fewer invitations to speak in recent months, which she attributes to growing pressure in China to silence critical voices. I spoke to her recently in Beijing.

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2 thoughts on “how to be a Chinese democrat

  1. Now I’ve read the whole interview, she really does make some good points. For instance this part:

    “Yes, more and more people really pay attention to what’s happening in, say, Burma, or Russia, or Egypt. But a lot of people also think China is really great—so great that “we don’t need to understand the outside world.” In school I can sense it. Many students’ English isn’t better than when I went to college. I went to university more than twenty years ago. I came from a small town and our English was terrible. A lot of these children grew up watching US shows like Friends or House of Cards. But you’ll notice that they don’t really have much curiosity about the world.

    I think this is just a symptom of a general problem, which is suffocation of public thinking. It is not just the “outside” world people are uncurious about. Many Chinese are indifferent to the “inside” world as well. I mean, the domestic affairs in China. Thanks to the systematic de-politicizing efforts of the government, most people are only interested in personal development. You may pay a big price if you step out of that line of private life.”

    I totally agree. I think it’s striking how Chinese students in the eighties felt much more invested in changing their system than the current generation, in spite of the even greater price you could pay. I guess it’s because currently young people have real opportunities for private development and making money, coupled with a lack of opportunities for speaking out publicly.

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