Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Asian Studies


Communication and the Arts


Deborah A. Brown

Committee Member

Edwin Leung

Committee Member

Michael Linderman


China, Democratization, Power Sharing, Western-style democratization


Although China is rapidly developing economically, militarily, and socially, it remains an authoritarian country. Since the diplomatic breakthrough by Richard Nixon with China in 1972, successive administrations in Washington have held out the hope to American citizens that China inevitably would democratize. Because of China's economic and growing military power in the international arena, the United States government and other free nations believe that it is important to urge the Chinese government to be responsible in terms of its protection of human rights and support of other democratic tenets, domestically and internationally, as well as to be a role model for other developing-nation governments in its friendly coexistence with the West and adherence to international norms. However, the central government and most citizens of China do not see the need for their country to democratize along the lines of Western democracy. This thesis explores why China is unlikely to democratize in the foreseeable future, even if there is continued modernization and further growth of China's middle class. It provides a definition of democracy against which the political realities of China are measured. Lack of religious freedom, a poor track record on human rights, and ineffective pro-democracy movements are closely analyzed. There have been various projections that the rising middle class eventually will demand political participation and, therefore, that China will move assuredly toward Western-style democratization. The thesis argues that this scenario is not likely, in part because the rising middle class lacks a basic understanding and appreciation of the fundamentals of democracy, as revealed by "pro-democracy" movements such as the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, that in fact did not seek Western-style liberal democracy. Particularly in the case of 1989, the movement was an opportunity for participating students to challenge the government to meet their needs, rather than a demand for a fundamental change in China's authoritarian political system. Since 1989, the "pro-democracy" movement has all but vanished, and members of the middle class seemingly have become advocates of preservation of the authoritarian status quo. This could change if current economic realities in China become harsher, but indications for now point to the continuation of China as an authoritarian one-party state.