Deliberative Democracy in China and its Metamorphosis: Wenling's Example as the Zone of Indistinction

Stream: Panel 42 - Political Theory: Alternatives to Representative Democracy 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


Through the lens of Giorgio Agamben’s ideas on example and exception, this paper uses discourse analysis and argues that China’s political experiment of deliberative practices in Wenling (温岭) is not only an exceptional example but also stays in a liminal condition exhibiting itself as what Agamben calls the ‘zone of indistinction’ in many senses. As an embodiment and the model case of deliberative democracy in China, Wenling’s political experiments on deliberative meetings and participatory budgeting have drawn a lot of attentions from scholars and officials. However, deliberative democracy in an ‘unlikely place’ like China’s Wenling represents China as an example contradicting our conventional understanding. Whereas some theorists praise China’s case as a potential victory of deliberation in fostering better conditions for democratic transition, others sense the danger of deliberation being instrumentally used by the authoritarian regime in manufacturing consensus, promoting governance and strengthening legitimacy. Nevertheless, deliberative democracy in Wenling should not be understood as a simple application of the western theory. It has been a process of struggle between the western theory, the scholarly engagement, and the historic-political tradition in the Communist Party of China, as well as the local context. Drawn from ethnographic experience and discourse analysis, this paper tries to exhibit how Wenling’s example as a testing point has created a series of the zone of indistinction between xieshang minzhu and deliberative democracy, authoritarianism and democracy, institution and non-institution, consultation and deliberation, consensus and dissensus, chaos and order, as well as the central and the local.


Li-chia Lo (Presenter), The University of Melbourne
I am the PhD candidate in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. My doctoral thesis is about deliberative democracy and participatory budgeting in China with a special focus on the formations of related knowledge and local experiments in Chinese cities. My broad areas of interest include political theory, critical theory, China studies, Taiwan studies, and democratisation in East Asia.