As China prepares for a carefully orchestrated transition in its Communist Party leadership, a new survey suggests a growing number of Chinese like the very different way the United States chooses its leaders.
The survey by Pew Research Center
suggests that 52 percent of people in the single-party state have a positive opinion of American ideas about democracy, a figure four percent higher than in 2007. Among high income Chinese, 7 in 10 said they like American democratic ideals.
Interest in US election
The data was released as China is set to begin its once-a-decade leadership transfer, a secretive, behind-the-scenes process that is undertaken without a popular vote. It also comes during the height of a U.S. presidential campaign that Chinese are increasingly enamored with.
That fact was not lost on China's Communist Party-controlled newspaper, the Global Times
, which acknowledged this week that many English-speaking Chinese were watching the U.S. presidential debates with interest. This, it said, showed their "admiration for U.S.-style democracy."
But the paper, which often reflects official views, was careful to point out that more than half the respondents to the Pew survey said they do not like the U.S. And it said that the number of those who think China should adopt U.S. political ideas is shrinking.
The Pew survey did not provide any figures that proved or disproved this theory. But it did say that 82 percent of Chinese reported being "happy with the way things are going" in China, suggesting that most are not upset with Communist Party rule.
Jeremy Goldkorn, the editor of Danwei.com, a website about Chinese media and Internet, explaines it is natural that many Chinese are paying more attention to the U.S. presidential campaign, given the rising influence of the Internet.
"The rise of social media and in particular Weibo, which has made it very easy for people to follow the debates in real time, has certainly generated some excitement of some Chinese who are active on the Internet," says Goldkorn.
Goldkorn says it is mainly young, tech-savvy people who are watching the debates online, since they are not shown on Chinese television.
But as to whether those watching like what they see and want it to come to their country, Goldkorn says it is difficult to tell.
"People don't necessarily say that because China doesn't have an electoral democracy like the United States it's worse, or that China should mimic the United States," says Goldkorn. "There are people who say that. But there are also plenty and plenty of people who may find the United States' democracy attractive but nonetheless don't think it will work in China."
One thing that does seem clear from the survey is that the Chinese public are getting increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of their own system, including economic inequality, food safety scandals, and notably, political corruption.
Richard Wike, the Associate Director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, said that corrupt officials are now one of the top concerns of the Chinese public.
"Back in 2008, when we asked about this, we already had a fairly large number of people telling us it was a major problem. Thirty-nine percent said corrupt officials were a very big problem back then. This year, though, that's up significantly, it's up to 50 percent saying that corrupt officials are a very big problem in the country," says Wike.
The problem of corruption has been highlighted by a series of recent high-profile scandals involving Communist Party leaders, including Bo Xilai, the disgraced ex-Politburo member whose wife has been convicted of murder. Other less well-known scandals are a regular occurrence within party ranks.
China's Communist leaders have said they see widespread corruption as a factor that threatens their rule, and have vowed to correct the problem as the leadership transition begins next month.
But the party seems reluctant to embrace any Western-style changes to its political system. A Global Times
editorial earlier this week said that many are using the issue of corruption to "attack China's political system." But it warned that "fighting corruption isn't all about political reform."