Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 1995
Volume 6
Issue 3
Page Numbers 183-85
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Forty-five prominent Chinese intellectuals issued a May 15 petition to China’s leaders calling for increased political tolerance. The petitioners urged that the “counterrevolutionary” verdict on the 1989 prodemocracy movement be reversed and highlighted the need for democratic accountability as a weapon against rampant corruption. The appeal was sent to President Jiang Zemin and Qiao Shi, chairman of the National People’s Congress. Among the signatories were Wang Ganchang, an inventor of China’s atomic bomb, and Wang Dan, a student leader of the 1989 prodemocracy movement. Excerpts from the petition appear below:

To welcome the UN Year of Tolerance, we should do our utmost to spread the spirit of tolerance, which is indispensable in modern civilization, and to promote the genuine implementation in China of the UN Charter-specified goal of “enhancing and encouraging the respect for the human rights and basic freedoms of the entire human race.”

Toward this end, we hope that the authorities:

  1. Will treat all views, including ideologies, political ideas, and religions, with the spirit of tolerance and will no longer consider them “hostile elements” because they have independent ideas and independent views nor oppress them, deal blows to them, keep them under surveillance or house arrest, or even arrest them.
  2. Will reassess the “June 4” incident with a realistic spirit and release those who are still in jail for their involvement in it.
  3. Will release all those being jailed for their ideas, views, remarks, and religions and will resolutely put a stop to the inglorious tradition of imprisoning authors for writing something considered offensive by the authorities, a tradition that has existed in China since ancient times. . . .

Encouraging tolerance, of course, never means keeping on good terms with everyone at the expense of the principle of distinguishing between right and wrong and good and bad. Still less does it mean indulging in or permitting vicious acts which corrupt morals and endanger society. [End Page 183] Tolerance is closely bound up with such modern concepts as democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law, and they supplement one another. Tolerance should be a part of democratic politics. It is also a condition for political democratization. Tolerance is embodied in respect for human rights and freedom and is limited by moral norms and the law.

At present, decadent tendencies, the exchange between money and power, the embezzlement of public property, and corruption are found everywhere in China. All lawbreakers who bring disaster upon the country and the people must be eliminated and sternly punished without leniency. But it must be understood that without democratic supervision, particularly the supervision of independent public opinion, it is impossible to eradicate corruption. As early as 108 years ago, the British historian Lord Acton said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” of 1789 is more plain when it says: “The ignorance, neglect, or disdain of the rights of man is the sole reason for public misfortune and dishonest government.” This eternal truth should become the consensus of opinion throughout China. Tolerance will certainly effectively push forward the anti-corruption drive, which is currently a concern of people across the country.


On 27 November 1994, Julio María Sanguinetti was elected president of Uruguay for a second five-year term. (He first served from 1985 to 1990.) Following are excerpts from his inaugural speech, delivered on March 1 in Montevideo to an audience that included eight South American presidents and delegations from 50 other countries:

We all know that we have entered into a new era of civilization; we are clearly in a new era for Latin America. We have entered into a new era for our region and for our country. We know that we have before us a world full of certainties, but at the same time a world full of uncertainties and mysteries. It is clear that we have left behind two centuries of grand political revolutions that began in 1789 in France and ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. We know that all of the attempts to displace political democracy ultimately came to a bad end. We also know that all the efforts to replace the market economy with other arrangements or other systems ended in failure. . . .

All of this we know. But we also face uncertainties and mysteries. On old maps, in order to denote territory still unknown, our ancestors stamped hic sunt leonis, or “here are the lions”; and we too have our “lions.” Political democracy has triumphed, and nobody dares to dispute its principles; yet, at the very moment of its greatest victory, democracy began to question itself. All over the world, we began to perceive that political parties were weakening, that the concept of representation appeared diluted [End Page 184] by the combined effects of the information explosion and the intermediary role of television. . . .

We might see a time of servitude or a time of liberty. I am sure that it will be a time of liberty by virtue of this force that carries mankind forward by anchoring it in those guiding principles that no one now dares to contradict.


On January 25, a seminar on Taiwan’s political and economic development was held at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York. At the meeting, cosponsored with the Taiwan International Alliance, several members of the Taiwan delegation spoke about the importance of democracy for all developing nations. You Ching, county magistrate of Taipei, made the following remarks:

Some Asian leaders, including the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and the leaders of the People’s Republic of China, have argued that democracy is not suitable to the particular context of Asian culture. In response to criticism of Singapore’s human rights practices, Lee Kuan Yew spearheaded the notion that democratic ideals developed in Western capitalist societies are not applicable to Asia. Dictators like Lee reject the promotion of so-called Western values such as democracy and human rights, claiming that they bring only chaos and disorder.

But Taiwanese democratization proves that Western ideas and Asian cultural values are compatible. The development of democracy in Taiwan has brought not just freedom but peace and stability as well. In fact, it has been my experience, as a scholar, lawyer, and elected official, that ideas of democracy and human rights are not only applicable but absolutely necessary for the development of societies in Asia and elsewhere.

Democratization has been institutionalized through open and competitive elections, and the values that support democracy have been promoted through the right of Taiwanese to free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the press. These developments, and the rise of the Democratic People’s Party as a viable second political party, have not brought political and economic instability to Taiwan. Rather, they have strengthened social coherence by creating shared cultural assumptions that are rooted in a common desire for a democratic future. While the various segments of society pursue their diverse interests, politics in Taiwan continues to uphold the principles of freedom, human dignity, and majority rule.

Social diversity has actually fostered consensus-building through increased dialogue between the state and society. This consensus equips the state with the legitimacy to manage economic and political crises in a credible manner. Asian ideals of strong states and large, effective bureaucracies do not necessarily contradict principles of democracy.