Why Brazil has democratized while China has not

Topic: LawGovernment
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Last updated: April 5, 2019

Brazil and China are countries that have so much in common, yet they also have many differences. The similarities lie in the fact that both countries are characterized by both large and middle-income economies, and are ambitious newly industrialized nations.  In contradistinction, the two countries have taken different political paths- Brazil has struggled to become a socialist democracy while China has held largely to communist principles.According to Murilo de Carvalho, Brazil struggled from persistence of inequality that survived long periods of rapid economic growth and military dictatorship to become a democracy later. The native Brazilians, who were slaves to their Portuguese colonial masters, were referred to as Indians and were subjected to harsh treatment. The society was also characterized by latifundium in which majority of the people lived in rural areas and relied on few landowners who had large tracts of land. Additionally, there was patrimonialism in which the Portuguese invaders took all lands in Brazil irrespective of who owned it. Nevertheless, patrimonialism can be identified as a factor that led to quick democratization because when Brazil became an independent state, most of its resources were left with the government, thereby facilitating quick transition (11).

On the other hand, China evolved as a communist dynasty characterized by Marxist and Confucian principles.  Through Confucianism, the leadership stressed the need for order and stability in a hierarchical structure from family through officials to the emperor (Lawrance 1-2). The leadership thus emphasized on communal responsibility in many activities including defense of the country as opposed to democracy.Reasons why Brazil transitioned to democracyThe sign of democracy in Brazil was noted in 1930 when the oligarchic organization was overthrown by a movement comprising young army officers and civilian leaders. The move was meant to halt the power of oligarchies and encourage the formation a central government (Murilo de Carvalho 11). It is at the same time that national politics was infiltrated with ideas borrowed from other leadership styles in the world such as German Nazism, Soviet communism and Italian fascism (Murilo de Carvalho 11).

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 Thus even though the political mobilization was short-lived, it had a major impact on creating democracy.The period between 1964 and 1985 was characterized by a major return to dictatorship. This was featured by political repression, military coups, a decline in economic growth and massive protests from civilians against oppression. The period was characterized by many social groups that fought for creation of democracy (Ames 40).Brazil’s progressive transition to a democratic state can arguably be traced from the fact that the period of authoritarianism experienced in the twentieth century was grueling and uncomfortably long (Legler, Lean and Boniface 119).

Thus, every effort was made to transform the Brazilian society and forget the dark past. Most of the leaders who came to power and the country’s intellectuals had been involved in the various movements to push for democracy and had experienced exiles, harassment, imprisonment, suffering of friends and so forth. They were therefore keen to create a path that would lead to a democratic and stable society. The pains experienced in the past are etched in the minds of the people of Brazil. In addition, the country’s leaders believe in the importance of democracy and protection of human rights and understand the implication of absence of democracy (Legler, Lean and Boniface 119). This explains why Brazil has become a democratic state with an electoral system that focuses on accountability and a link between voters and their representatives (Ames 41).

But even as Brazil seems to enjoy democracy, there are influences in elections other than popularity of leaders that determine the leaders chosen to lead the country. For instance, the election of   Collor de Mello as president in 1989 against Lula da Silva (the current president) was largely affected by the criticism of the media and economic elites against Lula (Legler, Lean and Boniface 119).Reasons why China has not transitioned to democracyChina’s leadership has for a long time been characterized by a clash between liberalism and Marxism. According to He, a major feature of the political situation in China today is that it has a populace who are ready for freedom and political leaders who are not willing or ready to grant the freedom. The culture of China is characterized by an assemblage of old fragmented patterns and a proliferation of new ideas, values, attitudes and behavior which to say the least, clash (169).The progress of pluralism in China has been and is still incomplete in the context of the political sphere. Additionally, the concept of political organizational tolerance has not been accepted largely by leaders and the ruling political party still uses state power to suppress democracy by imposing a single all-inclusive doctrine in the country as a means to achieve political unity. This perceived “political unity” has been a major blow to democracy in China (Zhao 27).

As He notes further, China has adhered to what the leadership calls the “Four Principles” (the principle of upholding the socialist path; upholding people’s democratic dictatorship; upholding the leadership of the Communist Party of China; and upholding the Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought. He refers to the Four Principles as “the limited elements of cultural pluralism” and notes that they are a hindrance to the development of democracy in China (169).China’s leadership legacy has been pegged on Confucian principles that include being ruled by an educated but functionally unspecialized elite that places value on learning and propagation and whose focus on the government and society aims at stressing hierarchy and a traditional form of society (Sullivan and Will 32). But inasmuch as the Confucian legacy can be viewed to be obsolete in the contemporary world, its positive features have led to social mobility, and a sense of belief in equitable treatment of the populace.

Thus, even though not a democracy like other states, China’s leadership has remained popular among the common people. Most arguments for not transitioning to democracy have been based on the point that a fast transition would be troublesome and unhealthy for the country (Gilley and Diamond 57). This is likely to be true since the majority of the Chinese population is content with the system. An abrupt change to full democracy would therefore be chaotic given the adjustments that would need to be made to various structures such as the constitution, structure of government and so on.In highlighting the features of the Chinese leadership, Zhao notes that China’s political culture today shows a good penetration of political institutions into the social system, which have a major impact on government policies. Therefore, politics are slowly becoming salient to the Chinese hoi polloi than they were before. In addition, citizens are now more interested in politics than they were some decades ago (27).

This shows that China’s transition to democracy may be achieved in the near future.ConclusionBrazil has been quick in transitioning to democracy due to the disquiet that was experienced during and after the country’s colonial days. The previous decades were characterized by the formation of many movements that fought for the liberation of the common people and a right to democracy. The long period of authoritarianism was grueling and characterized by unrest that involved some activists who would later be instrumental in leadership. Thus with the experience, the new leaders have been keen on a quick transition to democracy.On the other hand, China’s leadership has been based on Confucian and Marxist legacies that encourage a closed traditional communist society.

It has been argued that a quick transition from such leadership would be detrimental to governance in China since the present leadership is still popular among the populace.


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