In political science aspect, analysis of the political culture of China is defined as the mode of existence of the political system. The concept of political culture comprises the whole experience of existence, operation, and development of the political sphere in the Chinese society. China's political culture appears as an objectified process. It contains the sum of the effects of subjective factors on the operation of the objective power mechanisms and relationships. The latter comprise the content as a result of the political system of the Chinese society, which is characterized by the combination of traditionalism and modernism. The political culture in China is inextricably linked primarily to its anthropological dimension, spiritual aspect of culture, value-semantic and personal political structures that are formed by the traditional system of Chinese thinking. The political culture of China, as well as other countries, is characterized by universal aspects: anthropological, ecological, sociological, and political. The study of a political culture is primarily associated with necessity of its anthropological measurement and reproduction of spiritual aspect of culture. China faces challenges that are caused by its political and social order. Primarily, they include income inequality, party governance, and corruption. Integrity is one of the most important characteristics of the Chinese identity since it concentrates on and reflects a long historical experience. Moreover, it represents the specific set of relatively stable political orientations, beliefs, and behavior patterns of the participants of the political process in the society during the organized activities.
China is the most populous country in the world and one of the oldest civilizations that arose more than 5,000 years ago. The current state, the People’s Republic of China, was proclaimed after the victory of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the Civil War. China was declared as the state of people's democracy. The CPC as the leading force of society established a new system of government, the people's democratic dictatorship which was aimed at building socialism. According to the latest amendments to the Constitution, the country has recognized the right of citizens to private property and proclaimed human rights.
The highest organ of state power in China is the National People's Congress (NPC). This is unicameral representative assembly, whose members are elected by provincial assemblies and units of the armed forces, which, in turn, are elected by lower-rank authorities. The NPC appoints the chairman of the Central Military Council and approves its other members, elects the President of the Supreme People's Court, the Attorney General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, examines and approves plans for economic development and the state budget, decides on war and peace, etc.
The functions of the head of state in the country are performed by the Chinese President, who is elected for a term of 5 years and eligible to be elected for another term, but not more than for 2 terms. The chairman has to sign the laws passed by the National People's Congress, appoint the Prime Minister, deputy prime ministers, members of the Council of State, and ambassadors to foreign countries. The highest executive authority in modern China is the State Council, also called the Central People's Government. It is formed by the NPC.
“Chinese political communication has usually been viewed from a binary, so ahistorical and a-cultural, and universalistic perspective and consequently understood as a product of the Chinese Communist Party and its government”. At the end of the 70s of the last century, the Chinese leadership began to manipulate not socialist slogans but pragmatic categories. The highest priority of the state and the main task of the Communist Party included declaring economic growth and personal well-being of citizens. Pragmatic faction in the CCP that was led by Deng Xiaoping embarked on radical reforms in the economy in order to build market socialism. Lu considered China “the world’s only communist superpower since the collapse of the former Soviet Union”.
In 1978, the December plenum of the CPC Central Committee adopted the strategy of the four modernizations in the field of agriculture, industry, defense, and science and technology in order to make China one of the leading world powers. Accents were made on the gradual release of private initiative, the weakening of state control over the economy, and the raise of the living standards of the population. The government has made significant efforts to attract foreign capital and technology. Consequently, the Chinese economy has been actively integrated into the global economy.
On the path of economic reforms, China has made tremendous progress. In terms of GDP, it took the second place in the world. Economic reforms in China have been able in some way to push the society to rethink its history and existence and accept new economic and political ideas. However, market reforms in China were not accompanied by serious political reforms, democratization of society and the state. By the mid-1990s, a gap between reforming of the political system and the economy has been identified. Moreover, the reforms were accompanied by the increasing political control over society. Although there seems to be a multiparty system, democratic allied parties have not been allowed to real levers of power. Encouraging the market economy, the Chinese leadership rejects the political pluralism. The leading role of the Communist Party of China remains unshakable, even though democratization of public life and promotion of mass participation in the political process are envisaged further. China faces a strong contradiction of “newly adopted market economy straining against a political structure borrowed from Stalin’s Russia”.
Thus, in China, there is a process of searching spiritual and political superstructure, which could simultaneously be combined with economic reforms and the processes of modernization. It means the future restructuring of the political system, and this process is inextricably linked with the political culture of the society. The political culture of any society is largely determined by the national character. National traditions in regard to political behavior form the mechanism of inheritance of the most stable and specific elements of the culture by new generations while preserving the historical continuity of the political process of a particular community.
The distinctive features of the Chinese national character are adherence to traditions and collectivism. The latter is traditional for China. Chinese people are usually linked by group responsibility of those social formations in which they are included. It is primarily the family, school, work, and community, which interests are the priority. In many respects, this ties their initiative and individual aspirations as well as deprives social and territorial mobility. From the point of view of European traditions, this can be considered as a negative aspect, restricting the rights and freedoms of an individual.
The distinctive features of the national psychology, the national character of the Chinese people, are diligence, hard work, discipline, and politeness. They seem to be in harmonious relationship with each other (work well in a team) and are usually polite and compliant. In order to understand why these features of mentality and political culture are typical of the Chinese, it is necessary to consider some of the origins of their world view, religious and philosophical doctrines. The formation of political opinions of the Chinese was influenced by four teachings: Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Legism.
Taoism is based on the principle of Tao, which means the laws of nature, the meaning of life course, and the concept of ‘non-action’. In other words, the main task of a man in life is the observance of the measures of things, or ‘non-action’ that is interpreted not as being passive but as an activity that does not violate the harmony of man and nature. Since this concept aims to minimize political action, Taoism can be considered as a removal from the political realities.
Buddhism as a religious and philosophical doctrine that emerged in India and spread widely in China affected the political culture of the Chinese society. Its main content is the belief in reincarnation and liberation of a man from earthly suffering. Its relevance to the political culture consists in a humanistic orientation.
The complete opposite of Taoism and Buddhism is Legism that is the materialistic and political sect that legitimizes the absolute power of the sovereign as well as the most radical measures to maintain it. Proponents of this theory postulated original evil of human nature, which manifested itself in the pursuit of personal interests that were contrary to the public good. The only way to overcome this is the forcible establishment of total state control over the individuals.
Confucianism is related to such inseparable virtues like patience, peace, the ability to find a compromise, constant reverence for ancestors, older people, and scientists, as well as mature humanism that puts people at the center of the universe. The most important virtue in Confucianism is devotion to duty. The central link of political doctrines of Confucianism is the doctrine of the ideal state. The purpose of the latter consists in achieving harmony in relations between rulers and subjects. Moreover, it is aimed at providing a social order, in which everyone should live in harmony with nature and with themselves and others. The state is seen as a mechanism for maintaining order and communication between people, which regulates the relationship between rulers and the ruled.
Classical Chinese civilization in the original form has long been exhausted. However, being transformed and modernized, Confucian values in moral and political sphere have traditionally been the same. Social harmony and personal well-being are achieved by following the principles of the Confucian social order. Integrity and power of the state authorities are reached through the moral authority and its recognition by the lower strata. In other words, the Confucian traditions have always sought harmony in society and attempted to improve life on earth by political means. Confucian ethics creates a solid foundation of political organization as the fulfillment of social responsibilities takes a higher meaning.
The power of tradition was very tenacious. This is evidenced at least by the fact that, despite the enormous efforts of the Communist Party of China to form a new political culture of the population and a new socialist identity, this task has not been solved, although the country's leaders skillfully used many elements of traditional political culture to consolidate their domination. Particularly, patriarchal family relations and the subordination of junior to senior served as a model of political relations. Patriarchal values in a modified form were used in socialist China, when the Emperor was replaced by the leaders of the Communist Party. At the same time, Confucianism was replaced by Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. They helped legitimize power in the eyes of the people. The same role was played by the idea of Confucianism in the foundation of the moral paternalistic approach of the supreme power. It possessed the only true doctrine, the supreme virtue, and was tirelessly and fatherly concerned with the welfare of the ordinary man.
Most Chinese people still share the traditional Confucian values and build their social behavior in accordance with them. Moreover, globalization has even strengthened the national feelings of the Chinese people and exacerbated their social and cultural identity. The liberal-democratic values are alien to Chinese culture as they are contrary to the principle of individualism. Nevertheless, China demonstrates the features of Confucian-Buddhist political culture under conditions of high dynamism of modern society. The current large-scale reforms in China, economic and political modernization are conducted centrally, being fully controlled by the authorities. This results in spreading of party governance. Moreover, China is characterized by corruption that is closely linked to the problem of income distribution. As a result, income differences raise another problem that consists in migration.
However, Chinese culture is changing in order to resolve these problems that were developed to the level of old traditions. China becomes quite capable of perceiving values of other cultures and adapting them to its national existence. Modernization in China is accompanied by active penetration of foreign capital, the expansion of communication and information exchange, as well as the spread of Western stereotypes of perception and evaluation of reality. In addition, Chinese citizens have the opportunity to obtain huge amount of information, including criticism towards the current government, with the help of multiple media, the Internet, traveling, and contacts with foreigners. In a certain sense, a synthesis of Western values and Confucian-Buddhist tradition largely determines the nature of the current stage of political and cultural development not only in China but the entire Asia-Pacific region. Hence, the most important characteristic of the political culture of the Confucian-Buddhist type is flexibility, ability to re-interpret the traditional values in the spirit of modernity, creative perception, and adaptation of foreign cultural influences with reliance on national tradition.
Many features of traditional political culture do not only support renewal of modern China but contribute to its modernization, democratization, reduction of income inequality, and fighting with corruption. “The Republic of China's progress toward democracy has been steady, without the emergence of absolute political authority or an unreasonable political monopoly”. Liu and Chen argue that economic development in China leads to its democratization. For example, China provided struggle with corruption that consisted in a rotation of personnel in all branches of power. Such an approach contributed to the fact that officials could not use the already existing service, family, friendships, and other relationships that promoted illegal activities. The Chinese government is reforming the income distribution system, promoting common prosperity and reviewing unit budget and tax system. The actions are taken in order to optimize the allocation of resources and contribute to the achievement of social justice.
The emphasis on moral values, activities, and self-regulation contributes to the development of the spirit of patriotism among the Chinese people. Traditional sense of collectivism and family orientation are filled with new content. Previously, there was a need to sacrifice personal interests for the common good; however, after 1978, the emphasis changed to material incentives, the growth of welfare, and preparation for life in a tough market competition. The political culture with the orientation on a group rather than the individualistic consciousness, which is based on a compromise, forms harmonious relationships in civil society as oppose to individualism of the Western culture. The principle of a positive attitude towards others’ ‘jean’ helps create a positive climate in the Chinese social groups.
“Political culture should be particularly relevant in Chinese studies, since the role of Chinese culture has been a major political issue for close to 150 years”. The political culture of modern China, as well as any other society, is not frozen. It evolves, develops, and somewhat modifies. However, there are a lot of elements of moral and ethical values of Confucianism that define the political culture of the country. One of them is the faith in the power of social action of a noble man. It is regarded as an essential factor in the functioning of the society and governance. Reflecting the traditions in state power and policy, political culture integrates the society, provides the usual forms of political stability of China, and increases the country's ability to withstand the adverse effects from the outside. Therefore, being one of the most important characteristics of the culture, Chinese political culture concentrates on and reflects a long historical experience. It also represents the specific set of relatively stable political orientations, beliefs, and behavior patterns that the participants of the political process manifest during the organized activities.