Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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"The World’s Greatest Democracy" – The ‘United States’ of China

In 1922, Roy Anderson, the man who knew “more about China than the Chinese,” envisioned a nation purported to be the greatest and most peaceful of democratic countries; the United States of China (
华合众国; 中華合衆國). First devised in the early 1920s by Chen Jiongming, this new United States of China could be modeled on the United States of America itself. By taking a federalist approach, Jiongming believed that a united China could rise, bringing about economic and political stability. Anderson took this notion further, prophesising that “[t]he Chinese have a fine spirit of democracy, and the possibilities of the incorporation of that spirit into human institutions are almost beyond comprehension.”

With the gift of hindsight, it is quite ridiculous to view China as a nation “modelled on our lines.” With the advent of aggressive and isolationist communist policies to the economic powerhouse of later years, the People’s Republic of China has come to define itself in stark contrast to the predictions of Anderson. There are some commentators that have stipulated China as being divided into separate distinct federations, developing economies that even surpass some entire countries. The introduction of Special Economic Zones during the 1980s has led to the development of certain regional economies, including the Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta and the Bohai Circle. They argue that during this process of economic reform, the People's Republic has evolved into a de-facto federal state with certain privileges afforded to those economic regions, allowing for greater autonomy and economic competition and advancement. These arguments notwithstanding, it is still evident that far from being the “World’s greatest democracy,” the People’s Republic of China will remain a one party state. According to Number Two, Wu Bangguo, far from ensuring economic prosperity, “[i]t is possible that the state could sink into the abyss of internal disorder” if democracy is adopted. In the People’s Republic of China, calls for reform are silenced, internal dissidence is neutralised and threats to its assumed authority are quashed. Anderson cannot be faulted entirely, the prospect of a “strong man” has indeed transpired, to what end, however, is plain to see.
“United States of China Predicted As World’s Greatest Democracy,” New York Times, 3 December 1922. Copyright © The New York Times.
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