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How democratic are Chinese grassroots deliberations? An empirical study of 393 deliberation experiments in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2018

Dezhi Tong*
Tianjin Normal University, China
Baogang He
Deakin University, Australia and Tianjin Normal University, China
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Chinese public hearings or consultations have been subject to numerous debates, doubts, and scepticism about the existence of Chinese deliberative democracy. More empirical evidence, however, is required about these debates before we can offer any meaningful account of the nature, characteristics, and direction of Chinese deliberation. In addition, although there have been many case studies on grassroots deliberative democracy, such studies are intellectually isolated from each other in the sense that they do not comprise a statistical unit. To overcome this deficiency, we developed a new research method for studying grassroots deliberation by collecting and validating the existing case studies, thereby making them a statistical unit. This paper aims to offer a big-picture perspective and the national statistical trend behind the uneven development of grassroots deliberative democracy. It develops an intellectual framework to assess whether grassroots deliberation is democratic. By collecting, validating, and coding 393 cases of Chinese grassroots deliberations, we have assessed Chinese grassroots deliberation, confirmed the cases’ democratic attributes, and provided a solid statistical result. Although there is strong evidence to support the claim that these grassroots deliberation experiments are democratic, there remain some variations, nuances, and shortcomings. The full picture is not simple, but instead provides a mixed perspective.

Special Section, Authoritarian Deliberation Revisited (Edited by Baogang He and Hendrik Wagenaar)
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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