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roundtable: democracy, sooner or later?
As a new generation assumes leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, what are the prospects for meaningful democratic reform, and for a meaningful commitment to human rights?

Feb. 13, 2003

In "China in the Red," FRONTLINE documents the human costs of the vast economic and social transformations sweeping China since the 1990s. For some it has been a time of undreamt opportunity. For others it has been a time of desperation. Hanging in the balance is the social stability of the world's most populous nation as it struggles to redefine itself.

Here, in a Web-exclusive companion to the documentary, we shifted the focus from the economic story to the political one and invited four noted experts -- Orville Schell of the University of California at Berkeley, Anne Thurston of Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Suzanne Ogden of Northeastern University -- to engage in an email roundtable on China's political progress.

We opened the discussion on Jan. 30 with the following set of broad questions, and then asked the panelists to respond to one another.

Are you essentially optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects for democratic reform, and for progress on human rights, in China? What do "democracy" and "human rights" mean in the Chinese context?

What do you see as the greatest obstacle to democracy and human rights in China? What is the greatest force for democracy and human rights in China?

Do you see China continuing to move gradually in the direction of democracy? Or will it require some kind of social upheaval to bring about meaningful, lasting change? What are the prospects, and what would be the costs, of the latter?

round one: opening remarksround two: responsesround three: closing remarks

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photo of orville schell

Orville Schell

Orville Schell is dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of nine books about China, including Virtual Tibet (2000), Mandate of Heaven (1994), and Discos and Democracy (1988). He has written about China and Asia for numerous national magazines and has served as a correspondent and consultant for several FRONTLINE documentaries, including "Red Flag Over Tibet" (1994).

photo of anne thurston

Anne Thurston

Anne Thurston, who served as an adviser to the producers of "China in the Red," is a professor of China Studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a consultant to the National Endowment for Democracy, and host of a radio program for Voice of America that is broadcast to China in Mandarin. Her books include The Private Life of Chairman Mao (1994), A Chinese Odyssey: The Life and Times of a Chinese Dissident (1991), Enemies of the People: The Ordeal of China's Intellectuals during the Great Cultural Revolution (1987), and, most recently, Muddling Toward Democracy: Political Change in Grassroots China (1998).

photo of minxin pei

Minxin Pei

Minxin Pei is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace specializing in China's domestic politics and a former faculty member of the politics department of Princeton University. He is the author of From Reform to Revolution: The Demise of Communism in China and the Soviet Union (1994), and has written extensively on China for such publications as Foreign Affairs, The Financial Times, Newsweek International, and many others.

photo of suzanne ogden

Suzanne Ogden

Suzanne Ogden, a specialist on Chinese politics, is a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and a research associate at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University. As a Fulbright Scholar, she taught courses on Sino-American relations and U.S. China policy at the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing (run by China's Foreign Ministry). She has written numerous books and articles on China, comparative politics, and international relations, most recently Inklings of Democracy in China (2002).


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