On the Human Rights Implications of the Whole-process People’s Democracy
September 22,2022   By:CSHRS
On the Human Rights Implications of the Whole-process People’s Democracy
YIN Kuijie*
Abstract: The whole-process people’s democracy is a prerequisite for the people’s democracy. It is the organic unity of process and outcome democracy, procedural and substantive democracy, direct and indirect democracy, as well as the people’s democracy and the will of the state. The whole-process people’s democracy is the latest theoretical expression of the concept of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics, a new achievement in the practice of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics, a new development of the system of the socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics, and a new contribution to the development path of human rights in the world.
Keywords: whole-process people’s democracy · concept of human rights · practice of human rights · system of human rights · path of human rights
In November 2019, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out during his exchange with the community representatives from Hongqiao neighborhood, Changning District, Shanghai, who were taking part in a legislative consultation: “We are taking a socialist path of political development with Chinese characteristics and people’s democracy is whole-process democracy,”1 raising the contention of “whole-process people’s democracy.”
During the convention observing the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China on July 1, 2021, Xi Jinping, with the recognition that history is created by the people, once against emphasized that “we should practice the people-centered development thought to foster the whole-process people’s democracy.” In the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, the Central Committee recognized “whole-process democracy” as an important element of Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era by identifying whole-process democracy as the precondition for the people’s democracy, the Party leadership as the political guarantee to uphold whole-process democracy, the system of people’s congresses as the pivotal vehicle for whole-process democracy, and people’s participation as the power source for developing China’s whole-process people’s democracy. 
Whole-process people’s democracy is not only the latest theoretical interpretation and expression of the practice of democratic politics by the Chinese people, but also represents the up-to-date human rights achievement of the Chinese people in realizing their political rights and becoming masers of the country. The whole-process people’s democracy has far-reaching implications of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics and enriching theoretical connotations. 
I. Whole-process People’s Democracy Represents the Latest Theoretical Expression of the Socialist Concept of Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics 
Whole-process people’s democracy proposed by President Xi Jinping is a new summarization of the socialist democracy theory, and an updated achievement of the adaptation of the Marxist theory of democracy in China. It is also the current theoretical expression and interpretation of the socialist concept of human rights with Chinese characteristics in the aspects of both political and democratic rights, emitting the brilliance of the thought on the Marxist theory of human rights as a high-level unity and junction of the democratic theory and practice of human rights.
Marx believed that “democracy” is a historical product. For a start, whole-process people’s democracy inherits and develops on the Marxist theory of democracy. Karl Marx adopted a materialist view of history to conduct an incisive analysis of the democratic issues in real life. Such analysis can be found in the Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, and the Civil War in France among other classics. Marx believed that “democracy” is a historical category generated in a historical sense, which has evolved and changed over history. Marx spoke against exploring “democracy” as a phenomenon without taking account of class and history and stressed that one could only appreciate the pattern and nature of democracy when “democracy” issues are considered in conjunction with particular social and economic structures and historical conditions. Whole-process people’s democracy is built and improved in China during democratic development in the new era. It is the theoretical summarization and generalization resulting from practicing democracy and acquiring a deep-going apprehension of the pattern and historical condition of the economic and social development in the new era. The existence of whole-process people’s democracy not only leads to the organic unity of process and outcome democracy, procedural and substantive democracy, direct and indirect democracy, people’s democracy and will of the state, but also represents an all-round socialist democracy with the utmost coverage, authenticity, and effectiveness by fully integrating human rights into various areas of democracy, illustrating the new requirements for the political protection of human rights.
Second, whole-process people’s democracy reflects the historical views and people’s standing on the Marxist theory of human rights. Karl Marx once indicated that: “Rights shall never rise beyond the economic structure of a society and the cultural development of a society which is constrained by its economic structure.”2 Taking the example of the democracy represented by the bourgeoisie, Marx argued that the democracy proclaimed by the bourgeoisie to represent the “will of the people” failed to accomplish that in nature, and only represented the “will of the bourgeoisie” as the minority. Lenin stated that: “there cannot be ‘pure democracy’ but hierarchical democracy as long as classes remain… ‘pure democracy’ is a lie liberalist use to deceive workers. There has been bourgeoisie democracy that replaced feudalism and proletarian democracy that replaced bourgeoisie democracy.”3 The Marxist theory of democracy proposes that it is the proletarian democracy, which is fundamentally different from the bourgeoisie democracy, that truly represents the underlying interests and reflects the needs of the broad masses. The democratic movement launched by the proletarian class is in nature, a movement to promote the rights and interests of the proletarian class and the majority, which causes it to differ fundamentally from any other political movements in history because the latter were sponsored merely for the sake of the interests of the minority group of people. Whole-process people’s democracy is the most suitable approach to embody the interests of the broad masses and their democratic rights, and it is the carrier of the materialistic view in the same course with the historical development and people’s standing. Whole-process people’s democracy is essentially underpinned by the people’s congress system, propped up by principle systems including multiparty collaboration and the political consultation system, the autonomy system for ethnic minorities, and autonomy system of the grass-roots, interpreted and implemented in the subject systems in various fields of national governance. It is an institutional framework establishing institutional protection of the rights of the entire people and fulfilling the fundamental purpose with people at the center.
Last, whole-process people’s democracy expresses the keynote of human rights inside the Marxist democratic theory, which is the theory of human liberation. Under such a theory, it is the ultimate goal of communism to free and liberate the entirety of human beings and the gist of human rights of the proletarian democratic theory. Marx believed that a whole new social system — communism — will inevitably arise on the condition of high development productivity. Communism will veritably erase classes and class confrontations once and for all to help the majority of people attain rights and have wishes come true and realize the unconstrained development of human beings. As envisioned by Marx, it will be the “association of free individuals” that will replace the outdated bourgeoisociety ridden with class confrontations where the free development of each person will make possible the free development of all people.”4 From the view of Marx, the main functions of a state include maintaining class rule and managing public affairs. After its function in the class rule is gone, the state will assume most of its functions in public management, which will also disappear over time. In the end, the public rights of the state will become one with society to enable each individual the right to administer the state, thus human rights will be integrated into social processes. The emergence of the “association of free individuals” indicates the arrival of a real “democratic era of human rights.” Hence, the political and state institutions with the people as masters of the country established under the dictatorship of the proletariat is essentially an institutional attempt made during a transitional period to land in an ideal democracy of human rights. Such political and state institutions are inherently consistent with proletarian democracy and human rights. It is argued herein that whole-process people’s democracy is conducive to achieving the unity between democratic processes and democratic protection, a deep-going integration of the right to vote, right to be heard, right to decide, right to manage, right to execute, and right to supervise, and the true realization of democracy and freedom of human beings. Therefore, whole-process people’s democracy not only reflects how human rights are exercised over different processes but also indicates the value implications of enabling the rights and freedom of the entire people.
II. Whole-process People’s Democracy is a New Achievement of the Practice of Socialist Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics 
By reflecting on the practice of democracy in China, the practice of democracy has always kept abreast with the practice of human rights. Before the new China was founded, the New Democracy Revolution of the Chinese people headed by the Communist Party of China aimed at not only national liberation and state independence but also at economic liberation, political freedom, and securing democratic rights for the people. The fight for democracy and human rights, the democratic and human rights revolution, and the practice of democracy and human rights were tightly interwoven. The representative conference of striking workers, the association of peasants, and representative conference of Soviets, and the consultative council were established.
During the New Democracy Revolution, the Communist Party of China led people of all ethnic groups in the rebellion against imperialism, feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism, and the fight for human rights and succeeded in establishing the representative assembly of striking workers, and the peasant association, and general assembly of soviet representatives. The Party also succeeded in establishing the revolutionary regime of democracy during the People’s Liberation War based on the consultative council (created during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, based on the principle that CPC Party members, non-Party member left-wing progressives, and the bourgeoisie each had one-third of the seats). These efforts served nothing but to provide the political and democratic protection of human rights whilst guaranteeing democracy for the people. The system of the People’s Congress was built up upon the founding of the new China and a constellation of systems including the systems of political consultation and democratic supervision, a system of ethnic regional autonomy, and systems of urban and rural autonomy at the grassroots ushered in by the Communist Party of China have further consolidated the fact from the perspectives of democracy and human rights that people have become masters of the state, resulting in precious historical experience from the practice of democracy and human rights. 
Whole-process people’s democracy is the new summarization of the experience of the practice of democracy in modern China which should be viewed as the latest achievement of the practice of socialist democracy and human rights with Chinese characteristics. On the one hand, whole-process people’s democracy demonstrates the fundamental spirit and principle of the system of democracy. The fundamental principle of the Marxist democratic system means “centralism based on democracy and democracy guided by centralism,”5 i.e. democratic centralism. “to implement such a system, efforts should be made to create a comfortable and vivid political landscape that incorporates centralism, democracy, discipline, liberty, unified will, and individual opinion.”6 This principle was proposed by Lenin when he was mentoring the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party on building the organization around the time of the October Revolution by taking account of both the Marxist theory of democracy and the practice of fighting for rights and interests. It was later adopted as the founding principle of communist parties in many countries and rose to an important principle steering the building of democratic systems in many socialist countries. Whole-process people’s democracy manifests the basic requirements of democratic centralism and new connotations and requirements of the socialist democracy. It also reflects the will and aspiration of the many and succeeds in aggregating these common will and aspirations with Party leadership and legislative procedures and transforming them into the will of the state and will of the legislation, thus unifying the democracy and centralism and showcasing the superiority of socialist democracy.
On the other hand, whole-process people’s democracy has creatively improved the form of human rights protection of the socialist democracy. In effect, where there is no democracy, there is no socialism, and consequentially, no access to realize socialist human rights. Democracy is an essential attribute of socialism, which would not qualify in the absence of the former. Democracy can only be achieved within a socialist system or communist system, whereas human rights can enjoy practical protection only when supported by the system and form of socialist democracy.
Lenin stated that “the current Soviet democracy, i.e. proletarian democracy bears a ‘socialist nature’ and is a ‘transitional’ process where ‘many trials and errors” are to happen’. But there cannot be any remarkable progress without these processes.”7 Whole-process people’s democracy is an expression of people’s political right to run the country and also a crucial way to realize human rights. The Communist Party of China has established, upheld, and improved its institutional framework for China’s socialist democracy — consisting of the system of the people’s congress, multiparty collaboration and system of political consultation, system of regional ethnic autonomy, the system of autonomy by grassroots, and other subject and concrete systems of state governance in many areas. Such an institutional framework serves to protect the human rights of the people to partake in state affairs governance, economic and social management, and administration of social affairs through various channels and forms according to law. Therefore, it is of huge practical importance to fully ensure the political right, civic rights, economic, social, and cultural rights of the people in an allround way and continue to meet their increasing need for a better life.
Whole-process people’s democracy fuels the institutionalization and rule of law of the protection of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics and is respected as a major accomplishment of the socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. It is dominantly expressed in the system of the People’s Congress that upholds the general idea that people are masters of the country, highlighting the institutional superiority of the socialist protection of human rights. Suffice to say, the people’s congress system is not only able to hold the supremacy of the people in the constitution and law, but also able to shed light on the will and requirements of the people throughout the rule of law via legislation, which has fulfilled the goal to respect and protect human rights in every aspect of the socialist system. The people’s congress system innately incorporates electoral democracy, deliberative democracy, decision-making democracy, consultative democracy, managerial democracy, and supervisory democracy. The institutional stipulation and course of the practice of these types of democracy not only bond the process and outcome of democracy, but also unify the formal and substantive democracy, bringing out the organic integration between decision-making democracy, procedural democracy, and supervisory democracy, which furthermore lead to a systematic, thorough, and comprehensive democracy landscape. Such results fully reveal the advantages of the socialist system and socialist democracy where the people's right to informed consent, right to participate, right to express, and right to supervise are protected on all sides. For example, in the Fourth Plenary Session of the 13th National People’s Congress held in March 2021, the National People’s Congress Organization Law of the People’s Republic of China and Rules of Procedure for the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China were amended where the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee insisted on legislating the whole-process people’s democracy to maintain the close contact between the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee with the people via the establishment of the system and real practice so that the National People’s Congress can fully fulfill its function to protect human rights. Another example is that, during the compilation of the Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China, the Standing Committee solicited public opinions ten times and received over 1.02 million comments from 425,000 respondents, many of which were accepted.8 For another example, whenever the National People’s Congress deliberates on legislation, makes decisions over crucial topics of economic and social development and agendas that are attached to people’s fundamental interests, and put forward any resolutions, it will extensively seek and listen to the opinions from all parties through research, argument, consultation, hearing, symposium, assimilating the popular will and people’s wisdom for a scientific process of decision-making. The above practice genuinely demonstrates how whole-process people’s democracy is practiced in human rights protection.
III. Whole-Process People’s Democracy Represents the Development of the Socialist System of Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics
Human history has undergone various democratic systems that showed different requirements for human rights protection. When direct democracy, represented by ecclesia in Athens of ancient Greece, was practiced, the political, economic, social, and cultural interests and rights of the freemen and aristocrats were protected and realized to some extent though there was no such concept as modern human rights. Since the advent of modern times, the democratic revolution and human rights revolution of the Western bourgeoisie became intertwined while propagating the human rights concept of “Liberté, égalité, Fraternité” supported by Western enlightenment thinkers. After the victory of the capitalism in the revolution, diverse democratic systems were set up by the bourgeoisie, e.g. parliamentary democracy in Great Britain, Federal democracy in the United States, and democratic republicanism in France, which to a certain degree represent the historical features of the struggle of capitalist democracy and human rights, albeit with a tinge of representative democracy more or less.
When Lenin commented on the operation of the democratic system in capitalist societies, he laid bare its nature and defect that it only served the minority: “democracy in a capitalist society is incomplete, shallow, and deceptive because it only serves the wealthy and minority.”9 Money manipulation, winner-takes-all, gratuitous democracy and other phenomena witnessed in the practice of Western democracy are the indirect manifestations of the capital logic controlling politics. These phenomena derive from conceptual emptiness and incomplete institutions. Suffice to say, because there is no guarantee of the extensive participation of the broad masses, the right to vote treasured by the Western capitalist democracy is only invoked when people vote, followed by a dormant period of rights and democracy. Undoubtedly, democracy in such a form is formulaic and incomplete. Hence, only by rising beyond bourgeois democracy and consistently practicing democratic institutions and procedures and ensuring people’s participation that people can become masters of the country.
Whole-process people’s democracy proposed by General Secretary Xi Jinping symbolizes the transcendence and new development of the existing democratic system and human rights system. Judging from history, whole-process people’s democracy is a whole new form of the democratic system which manifests the historical progress of people’s democracy and institutional innovation of human rights protection in China. From the outset of the founding of the new China, with the People’s congress system as the pillar of the political system, China has practically provisioned the institutional protection for the people to become masters of the country to consolidate people’s access to their political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Successively China has established the system of regional autonomy of ethnic minorities, a system of multiparty political consultation led by the CPC, grassroots autonomy, and other fundamental political systems which extend the institutional protection of human rights, broaden the systematic protection of human rights, enrich the method and approach to realize human rights. While promoting ethnic and political equity and the right to autonomy, these systems emanate the features of the human rights system of China and contribute to enriching the practice of human rights worldwide. In particular, since the 18th National People’s Congress of the CPC, the CPC Central Committee with comrade Xi Jinping at the core has promoted and expanded people’s democracy and fulfilled its requirements in various areas, domains, and aspects, enriching the context, practice, and assurance of China’s human rights protection. These systems of democracy and human rights protection not only give expression to the institutional advantage that people are masters of the country but also abide by the political concept and requirements of the rule of law that people are the priority and focus. These systems reflect the political objective and direction of socialist human rights protection. They offer great institutional significance for making the people masters of the country and for practicing human rights protection in political, economic, social, cultural, and eco-protection aspects by putting people first. Therefore, whole-process democracy in China is not simply a process of realizing human rights in the political and institutional aspects but includes the process of realization of democracy and human rights in the process of creating economic and material civilization, social, cultural, and ecological civilizations. These realizations represent the organic integration of human rights in political, economic, cultural, and social democracy and many areas of the politics, economy, culture, and society, demonstrating the depth and rich context of national systems of human rights. 
Even though the institutional framework of whole-process people’s democracy is a new creation compared to Western democratic and human rights systems that have undergone hundreds of years of development, whole-process people’s democracy has been formed upon the fundamental principle of Marxism and the reality of China. It is the most advanced and most suitable democratic system for China, an organic element of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics and a new development of the socialist human rights system with Chinese characteristics. President Xi Jinping said, “it is not merely a slogan or a blank check to ensure and support people being masters of the country. The notion must be followed in national politics and social life”, “democracy is not an embellishment or for display, but used to solve the pending issues of the people.”10 The institutional framework featuring whole-process people’s democracy is the precondition to meet people’s ever-increasing need for a better life and addresses the issues of the people, and a crucial institutional guarantee for this purpose.
IV. Whole-Process People’s Democracy is a New Contribution to the Development Path of Human Rights Worldwide
Whole-process people’s democracy, a product of the Chinese method, Chinese wisdom, and Chinese model is the new contribution made by General Secretary Xi Jinping to the world democratic politics and democratic values as well as to the development path of human rights. The whole-process people’s democracy of China is embedded with a human rights concept with a distinctive core that people are masters of the country and also coupled with the abundant practice of human rights, representing the practical experience gained from the development path of human rights in China; The whole-process people’s democracy of China is supported by institutional procedures including democratized elections, decision-making, management, and supervision and also complete with the substantial practice of democratic rights in reality in which political, economic, cultural, and social democracy is implemented. Therefore, China’s whole-process people’s democracy not only promotes the development of China’s democratic politics but also catalyzes its progress in human rights practice. It emits the characteristics of the development of human rights in China and is viewed as a vital contribution to the political civilization and human rights development of human beings, organic unity of the historical, theoretical, and practice logic of democratic human rights development.
On the one hand, whole-process people’s democracy reflects the democratic concept that people are masters of the country and the pursuit of the people-centered human rights cause. The nature and essence of the model of democracy and human rights development in China lie in the concept that people are masters of the country. Since the 18th National People’s Congress of the CPC, the CPC leadership has been proactively engaged in developing the country’s whole-process people’s democracy, introducing a new era for democracy and human rights development in China, and further solidifying Chinese people’s confidence in China’s democracy and the path of human rights development. Bright prospects await the direction of democracy and human rights development in China. Ceneral Secretary Xi Jinping has stressed that: “China adheres to integrate common principles of human rights with the nation’s reality to prioritize the right to survival and right to development as the foremost human rights. Over the years, China has persisted in the people-centered development thinking and set the development goal of promoting people’s benefit, ensuring that people are masters of the country, and facilitating individuals’ comprehensive development. This has ensured people’s rights and interests to develop and paved a development path for human rights with Chinese characteristics.”11 Additionally, he has said that: “The CPC and the Chinese government have stuck to people-centered development by attaching the utmost importance to people’s interests and fighting for people’s aspiration for a better life to increasingly respect and ensure various basic rights of the Chinese people. The 19th National People’s Congress of the CPC held recently, which depicted the magnificent blueprint of China’s development is bound to propel the development of the human rights cause of China and make yet another great contribution to the advancement of all human beings.”12 The people-centered human rights concept observed by China which is in accordance with the way human rights exist and develop offers China’s wisdom and approach to clear the obstacles faced by people.13
On the other hand, the whole-process people’s democracy constructs the lawbased image of human rights in China. While promoting state governance according to law, the CPC Central Committee explicitly proposed to “achieve scientific legislation, rigorous law enforcement, impartial justice, and observance of law by all to promote the modernization of state governance framework and the capacity to rule.”14 In advancing China;s whole-process people’s democracy, the law-based characteristic of human rights continues to be manifest: first, legislation continues to take greater consideration of the people and define the boundary between power and human rights protection. It protects human rights according to law by establishing and improving relevant laws and regulations; second, it protects people’s right to impartial judgment through the equitable practice of justice; third, it protects and prevents infringements on citizens’ rights through rigorous law enforcement; fourth, it disallows any privilege from encroaching on the principle of equal rights and interests by upholding observance of law by all.15 The legislation, law enforcement, judicial practice, and law observance not only manifest democracy in legislation, law enforcement, and justice, but also include social democracy and social autonomy, reflecting the presence of complete and law-based procedures. These procedures must continue to be “carried forward according to law to incorporate the human rights cause into rule of law; advanced harmoniously to enable comprehensive development of different rights; propelled practically to take a holistic consideration of common principles of human rights and China’s reality; driven forward with equity to ensure every individual’s access to various human rights; pushed ahead with concerted efforts where governments, enterprises, and social organizations shall aim together for the development of human rights cause.”16
Therefore, whole-process people’s democracy, a fruit of China’s practice and model of human rights among others in the world, manifests a broader coverage of democracy and human rights. It is democracy and human rights development that is practical, workable, and tailored to China’s conditions. Whole-process people’s democracy, with its concept and practice rooted in China and distinctive Chinese characteristics, is a representation of the way Chinese people act and live. Furthermore, it provides the democratic politics in the world with the approach, wisdom, and model derived from China. Such a democratic model will be further improved and developed constantly in practice.
(Translated by HU Genfu)
* YIN Kuijie ( 尹奎杰 ), Professor at the school of Political Science and Law, Party Committee Secretary of Northeast Normal University and this thesis is a phased work of “Research on the Theoretical Framework of Xi Jinping’s Thought on the Rule of Law (Project No. 21AFX001), a major project under the National Social Science Fund of China.
1. Xi Jinping, “Democracy in China is Whole-process People’s Democracy”, Gangming website, November 3, 2019.
2. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 3 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 305.
3. Lenin, Lenin Selected Works Vol. 3, (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 600-601.
4. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 294.
5. Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong Selected Works, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1991), 2.
6. Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Classic Literature from the 14th National People’s Congress, vol. 2 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2011), 6.
7. Lenin, Lenin Selected Works Vol. 3, (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 505.
8. Zhang Tianpei, “Vivid Interpretation of Whole-process People’s Democracy (uphold and improve the system of the National People’s Congress”, People’s Daily, October 10, 2021.
9. Lenin, Lenin Selected Works Vol. 3, (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2012), 191.
10. Xi Jinping, “Speech at the 60th Anniversary of the Establishment of the National People’s Congress”, Qiushi 18 (2019).
11. Xi Jinping, “Letter of Congratulation for the “International Seminar of the 30th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development” (December 4, 2016), People’s Daily, December 5, 2016.
12. Xi Jinping, “Letter of Congratulation for the First “South-South Forum” (December 7, 2017), People’s Daily, December 8, 2017.
13. Yang Qingwang, “The New Development of Human Rights “Jurisprudence” in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects”, Human Rights 5 (2020): 12.
14. Decisions of the CPC Central Committee on Several Major Issues of Comprehensive Promotion of the Rule of Law, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, adopted on October 23, 2014.
15. Chang Jian, “Forty Years of the Constructing the Rule of Law and the Legal Protection of Human Rights in China”, Human Rights 2 (2018): 87-96.
16. The State Council Information Office, National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020) (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2016), 3.
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