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The 10th Issue of RUC Perspectives, NADS

This issue published How to Measure Democracy-Discussing Democracy and Political Happiness by Tang Wenfang, Professor with the Department of Political Science at the University of Iowa. This article is compiled based on Prof. Tang’s lecture at NADS in December, 2016.

Before probing into the issue of measuring democracy, Prof. Tang briefly introduced and reviewed the current mainstream definition and classification of democracy established by the Western academic circle. As Tang believes, both theoretically and practically, measuring of democracy is as of now a relatively “mature” research area in the Western academic circle. As to the specific practice of democracy measuring, “Freedom in the World” report launched by the US-headquartered “Freedom House” has undoubtedly become one of the most influential indicator systems in the United States and even the rest of the world.

By starting with an observation and analysis of democracy measuring by "Freedom House", Prof. Tang put forth a key issue that’s long been ignored in the area of democracy measuring in the West, that is, argument on subjectivity and objectivity of democracy measuring. As Prof. Tang pointed out, in the democracy research traditions of the West and particularly of the US since the end of WWII, democracy degree and people’s subjective feelings-political happiness have always been believed to be closely linked. However, a series of Western definitions and measuring of democracy represented by Freedom House have been showing the serious defect of overly seeking “objectivity” while neglecting subjective indicator. If we incorporate people’s subjective feelings towards democracy-political happiness into the democracy measuring indicator system, we will easily see major deviation between the democracy measuring data of “Freedom House” and data from global and Asian value investigations that include the above indicator. This is to say, objective freedom degree and political happiness of a country or a region’s people may not necessarily have positive correlation.

Then, with regards to political happiness, how come there’s such a huge difference between the subjective freedom degree of people in China and most countries and the definition and measuring results of “Freedom House”? Prof. Tang believes that it is closely related to the imperfection of the current democracy measuring indicator system. Moreover, against the international background where Western democracy measuring indicator system represented by data of “Freedom House” has the absolute say, the phenomenon of subjective and objective difference in the case of democracy measuring will exist for a long time. In the future, Chinese scholars should make a breakthrough by strengthening research on subjective freedom degree during democracy measuring and actively construct a comprehensive democracy measuring indicator system inclusive of such factors as subjective feelings towards democracy-political happiness.