Mainstream Chinese discussions of “democracy” have long betrayed a decidedly populist understanding of the concept. Xi Jinping draws freely on this tradition in formulating his China Dream. Xi's efforts are part of the Chinese Communist Party's “re-Orientation” of official propaganda to showcase the glories of the ancient civilization that it claims to represent and rejuvenate. The idea of “democracy” (minzhu 民主)—understood in populist rather than institutional terms—plays an important role in the process. This populist interpretation of “democracy” seeks to elide the fundamental contradiction between Enlightenment values and illiberal politics. Whether it will prove persuasive to contemporary Chinese intellectuals remains to be seen.

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