Who would you vote for as president of the world?
In 20 years China has become one of the most powerful countries in the world. It has a huge economy and 1.3 billion people live in the country! It’s not for nothing that everyone keeps an eye on China. But China is not a democracy. In fact China has been ruled by the Communist Party since 1949. And even though most of the world is keen to find out more about China, the inner workings of the Chinese Government are actually largely unknown to the rest of the world. Some believe that the party is paving the way for democracy through economic growth, others point to the Parties tough stance against political dissidents as a sign that it is not relinquishing power to the people. But let’s forget about the facts. Let’s imagine that there was a democracy in China, how would it look? Who would the Chinese people vote into power?
As the world becomes ever more integrated; socially, culturally and economically. Can we ask the same questions for the world? We do not have a global government, and are far from having a global democracy, but we can ask ourselves what would we want a global democracy to look like? Who would you vote for as president of the world?
ABOUT THIS FILM
Wuhan is a city in central China about the size of London, and it is here that director Weijun Chen has conducted an experiment in democracy. A grade 3 class at Evergreen Primary School has their first encounter with democracy by holding an election to select a Class Monitor. Eight-year olds compete against each other for the coveted position, abetted and egged on by teachers and doting parents. Elections in China take place only within the Communist Party, but recently millions of Chinese voted in their version of Pop Idol. The purpose of Weijun Chen’s experiment is to determine how, if democracy came to China, it would be received. Is democracy a universal value that fits human nature? Do elections inevitably lead to manipulation? Please Vote for Me is a portrait of a society and a town through a school, its children and its families.
WEIJUN CHEN is a documentary director and producer living in Wuhan, China. After graduating in Journalism from the Sichuan University in 1992 he joined the documentary production department of the Wuhan regional TV station. His first film My Life Is My Philosophy (30’) was nominated for the best documentary of the year by the Chinese National Association of Broadcasters. In 2003 he completed To Live Is Better Than To Die (88’), which was awarded a Peabody and Grierson award, as well at the Rodlf Vrfba Award from the One World Festival. Please Vote For Me won the Sterling Feature Award at the Silverdocs Documentary Festival (2007).
In 1979 Deng Xiaoping took office in China. Sine then China has opened up its borders and introduced economic changes that have brought unprecedented economic growth. Please Vote for Me goes behind the scenes of three fourth graders’ election campaigns as they run for class monitor in one of Wuhan’s public schools. The movie depicts the lives of the urban middle classes in contemporary China and questions the nature of power in the political system.
The first Republic of China was founded in 1912. However, China was politically internally fragmented until 1949, when Mao Zedong and the People’s Republic of China emerged. During the early years of Communist rule China stagnated economically. However, in the early 1980s China underwent economic reforms. The reforms propelled China into the most rapid and sustained economic growth in the world. In 2006 it is estimated that China’s real GDP growth amounted to an impressive 10.7%.
China has never held general elections. Instead, China is ruled by the Communist Party. You can join the party if you are a working Chinese adult who actively participates in the Chinese Republic. As a party member you can become a member of parliament either by informal appointment or through formal elections. The central committee is the highest governing body in China today. It is elected by the National Party Congress and is in power for five years at a time.
The People’s Daily online calls China’s system of governance “democratic centralism”. The government rules according to four principles: it must follow the socialist road, it must uphold the democratic dictatorship, it must remain in power and it must remember the writings of Marx, Lenin and Mao Zedong.
Due to the democratic dictatorship, China has strict laws about political dissidence, and several human rights organizations have over the years reported human rights abuses. One of the most famous incidents was the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989. The protest was led by students, intellectuals and activists opposed to the Chinese Communist Party. The government responded with force and left between 200 and 3,000 dead, depending on the source.
The Political Scene
China now has a large urban middle class, which according to China Through a Lens compromises 15 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in China today. It is this middle class that is depicted in Please Vote for Me. Although the urban-middle classes are a minority, they are still the most influential financially and politically.
Since 1979 the Chinese government has enforced the One Child Policy. This policy limits Han Chinese in urban areas to a maximum of one child. The policy was originally temporary, intended to limit population growth. However, it has now been enforced for almost 30 years. The law has been successful, and you can see in ‘Please Vote for Me’ that none of the children have siblings.
The urban middle classes and their children have state-of-the-art schools, computers and Internet. However, the Chinese government is known for its tight control on information. Online China is said to be behind a ‘Great Firewall’ that only government-approved sites can get through.
In the past 10 years all eyes have turned to China. The global economy is dependent on China’s growth for trade and aid. Meanwhile, many wonder if the Chinese miracle will continue. Because China has been closed off from the Western world for many years, many wonder whom the movers and shakers of China are. What are their values? How do they think? Please Vote for Me goes behind the culture of Chinese society, giving us a glimpse of modern China.
China has never had national elections. But democratic processes have been tried on the local level, mainly in the countryside. Because the economic changes occurred first in the countryside, many speculate that this is the Chinese governments way of instating gradual political change. However, as China is gearing up for the 2008 Olympics most assume that China’s growth will continue though perhaps at somewhat lower levels than during the past decade and that democracy still has a long way to go.