30 April 2019 By Publikasi IIS

Beyond the Great Wall #2: Misconception of China’s State-Building

Beyond the Great Wall #2: Misconception of China’s State-Building

Friday (26/4) the second edition of academic forum “Beyond the Great Wall” (BTGW) was organized in the theme of “State-Building in China”. The academic forum held by the Institute of International Studies (IIS) brought in two speakers, which are Randy Wirasta Nandyatama, M.Sc., lecturer of Department of International Relations Universitas Gadjah Mada, and Nuruddin Al Akbar, M.A., doctoral student in political science from Universitas Gadjah Mada. The event is held in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences’ Dean Room and attended by participants from UGM or other institutions in Yogyakarta.

Randy Wirasta opened the discussion session by explaining the direct election system in China as one of the components of state building. According to Randy, state-building in China was a very interesting topic to be discussed, partly, because of the numerous amount of misconceptions in the Indonesian society regarding China’s political system. Due to the communism ideology embraced by China, assumptions of China being undemocratic and repressive towards human rights emerged. Although it is not entirely wrong, Randy argued that this is a simplistic view. Apart from various perceptions regarding democracy in China, China has a direct election system held at the village level since 1979 and was formally introduced in 1987.

Direct election was also carried out as a strategy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to remain considered democratic by the international community. Due to the importance of the role of the CCP as an inseparable element of China, it was deemed important to build the legitimacy of the party through direct election. Although problems, such as the imbalance between locally registered population and immigrants; the discrepancy between CCP village officials and village residents; and  electoral mechanism that is not in accordance with the type of community profession; and the existence of clan political practices and cause damage and fraud in elections, were still found during the implementation phase problems, this direct election nevertheless contributes to the realization of accountability of village officials to society, and the tendency of democratic practices in the middle autocratism in China.

Responding Randy’s presentation, Dr. Nur Rachmat Yuliantoro, lecturer at DIHI UGM as well as the founder of BTGW stated that the Chinese population in general have a great respect for Xi Jinping as a President, and at present, the CCP’s legitimacy is seen very strong due to a successful indoctrination.

Still under the theme state-building, Nuruddin Al Akbar, as the second speaker, present his explanation with the title “China (Always) Beyond the Great Wall”. He explained how, although China was often seen as a form of communist failure, China’s communism which was conceptualized by Mao made it not confined in the communism ideology a la Europe. Therefore, it can be said that China is always beyond the ‘Great Wall’ which is analogized as a certain ‘standard’. According to Nuruddin, possibly, the failure is not located in the Chinese communist ideology, but in how  we see China with a ‘Weberian’ perspective and rests the view in an ideal bureaucracy concept, which tends to see small things that are not in accordance with the ‘theory’ ideology as a deviation.

This “beyond standard” character of China can also be seen from the application of one of China’s main philosophy, Taosim. Taoism, which is characterized by syncretism, creates an absence of ‘attachment’ to certain standards so that it stimulates spontaneous ways of thinking and breaking boundaries.

“This characteristics contribute to the appearance of a free market economy during Deng Xiaoping’s period.” added Nuruddin.

Other than that, Nuruddin also explained how the changes in China is a natural thing. For example, during Xi Jinping era, emerged the slogan “the Chinese Dream” which was originally an old idea carried by Mao but was recontextualized by Xi. “Chinese Dream” itself emphasize the achievement of dreams carried out collectively while still maintaining the element of individuality. This slogan is considered important by the majority of China’s young population.

To end the discussion, Nur Rachmat summed up by saying that China indeed has a specific state-building way which is distinct from most countries.

“China has its own way–China doesn’t have to be democratic nor become a ‘Western’ country” conclude Rachmat.


Writer: Sonya Teresa Debora and Heidira Hadayani
Translator: Sonya Teresa Debora