In 2013, the Chinese government published “Opinions on Cultivating and Practicing Socialist Core Values.” It was of little importance to me, who was only ten at the time. But the teachers made every Chinese student memorize “The 24 virtues”, which was a big no-no for me. When entering the school gates each morning, a teacher would randomly pick students and listen to them recite “The 24 virtues.”
If translated into English, it would sound something like this:“Prosperity, democracy, civil, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, lawful, patriotism, dedication, integrity, and friendliness.” I was an ignorant rebel who never memorized it and suffered quite a lot from detention.
But do notice that the Chinese government wants us to be democratic good citizens. It never occurred to us that being democratic in an almost (really, almost) totalitarian country was a problem. I remember learning about the types of governments, and when I first knew that China is a Communist China, I was surprised. Funny enough, I thought I lived in the “democratic centralism”.
To me, democracy means capability. You can only be democratic when you are capable. How can you respect someone else’s rights if you yourself are discriminated upon? How can you believe in individual freedom if your life depends on someone else? How can you be so sure of your words if you’ve never had a chance to speak? Democratic values can exist almost anywhere in the world. Pick any society and you might find traces of democracy, even if it is only among a few people. But to have a democratic government requires strict conditions. It only functions best in an elite country of few citizens, where the people are willing to take responsibility for their logical decisions. You can’t just put your opinion out there, and not take any responsibility for your words. Citizens need to realize that they are the government, they are the country, they are also the people. They need to collectively reflect and adjust the society’s values on the scale between the “common good” and the individual’s rights. If failed to find such balance, democracy will be an empty terminology serving a corrupt and dysfunctional government.
Democracy means much more than just freedom and justice. The term Freedom, like democracy, is highly controversial. Freedom does not exist without chains, and Democracy doesn’t exist without exclusion. Freedom is a result of sacrifice, a seemingly worthy exchange from either yours or someone else’s misfortunes, and oftentimes, other people suffer for your happy freedom. Then why don’t we apply some justice to the system? Justice doesn’t apply to everyone. It only serves for either the majority or the minority. It risks the possibility of being seriously abused in any government.
But Democracy is irreplaceable. It is desirable. It is also a privilege. However, It can be no more than an illusion. The term Democracy has no faults in itself, but every government can become a pile of lies; lies building upon lies. That’s why I love democracy, but I have no hopes and no trust in any democratic government.