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Emergence of a young urbanised skilled population and democratisation: is there a link? The case of China

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Eugene T.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Emergence of a young urbanized skilled population and democratization
  3. Link
  4. The case of China
  5. Conclusion

The link that is often presumed between the emergence of a young urbanized skilled population and democratization is not new, but the case of China is. More specifically, the central link claimed is that the emergence of these classes causes democratization; however, I will show in my essay why this link is tenuous. ?Young urbanized skilled population? here refers to the new generation of economically powerful middle class and intelligentsia, while ?democratization? is the shift of political power from the CCP to the people brought about by bottom-up pressures. The claim that the rise of these classes must lead to democratization is based on the historical precedent of the West, where the middle classes clamoredaw for more political power after attaining sufficient material comfort. Since their lives were also affected by central governments' decision-making, they wanted more political say instead of having policies imposed on them.

[...] Furthermore, the only signs of spontaneous democracy to have occurred have not been in the cities, but in the countryside, where village elections were initiated by the people themselves in 1980-1. In fact, the majority of bottom-up pressures such as rebellions have come from the rural population rather than the urban one. Regarding the intelligentsia, there are conservative intellectuals who support the idea that democracy is incompatible with Chinese political tradition, and some even consider it a failed system as evidenced by the West. [...]


[...] Most importantly, democracy in China only progresses as far as the CCP allows it to: the CCP allowed economic development because it knew it was capable of adapting its institutions to the new economic and demographic landscape. Thus, as long as the CCP remains the underlying controlling authority, the asserted link cannot be convincing. Finally, a correlation between an emerging young urbanised skilled population and democratisation does not mean causality; Samuel Huntington has shown us that it is only when the social mobility of these classes significantly outpaces existing political institutions that genuine democratisation happens, and thus far, this has not been the case in China. [...]

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