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Japan and China: Political Systems

As a subfield within the larger discipline that is political science, comparative politics may be defined as “a combination of a substantive focus on the study of countries’ political systems and a method of identifying and explaining similarities and differences between these countries using common concepts” (Mair, 1996). There are a lot of issues at play as far as comparative politics is concerned, yet the one issue that appears to be of great concern is why some countries are democratic, while others are governed by an autocratic system. In light of this, this research paper has sought to assess Japan and its democratic system on the one hand, and China with its authoritarian system, on the other hand. In this case, emphasis shall be laid on the average wealth (per person) in each one of the two countries, and try to associate this with democracy, or a lack of it.

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It is worth of note here that the political system in a given country shall often play a significant role in as far as the social, political and economic conditions of such a country are concerned. In this case, democratic nations have also been seen to be inclined towards capitalism. In the spirit of cultivating entrepreneurship, industries are built, jobs created, and the social status of the people improves, because they have access to employment. This may be said to have been the scenarios in the case of Japan. On the other hand a communist regime attempts to have wealth distributed to all. However, the one handicap to this system of the government is that it does not encourage a sense of thrift (Sodaro, 2004), on the part of individuals. In addition, there emerges a political class of aristocrats that eventually ends up having an impact on the political decision of a country and in essence, tend to influence the wealth distribution in such a country. This may be said to have been the case in China.

The economic difficulties faced by a country have been seen to greatly impact on an authoritarian regime, albeit to a reduced degree. On the hand, democratic regimes could also be said to be more sensitive in as far as a country’s overall income inequality is concerned. It is worth of note here that both the authoritarian as well as the democracy regimes shall often get impacted on, should the social class that is rich amass more wealth. On the other whole, should the poor be afflicted further by poverty, it is only the democratic regimes that shall often feel threatened. Furthermore, the type of political system that governs a given country shall also play part in the observed disparities in terms of wealth between say, the urban community on the one hand, and the rural community, on the other hand. For example, at the moment the average annual income for an urban Chinese stands at approximately $ 600. On the other hand, those Chinese that resides in the rural areas an average amount of $ 230 pre annum. In the case of Japan however, the observed disparity is significantly less (CIA Factbook, 2008).

It might as well be hypothesised that there exists a correlation between, on the one hand, democracy and on the other hand, development. This argument may very much be backed up by the fact hat virtually all the countries that are ranked as the most developed, also tend to have a democratic form of government. Perhaps the question that we ought to be asking ourselves here is whether or not wealth results in a state of democracy, or should it be the other way round? Indeed, this is an argument that has been explored to greater heights by many political analysts the world over. One general conclusion that seems to have emerged out of this debate is that in a country that is enjoying sustained economic development, such a country also experiences the emergence of social, political and economic institutions that are more or less democratic (Peerenboom, 2007). The eventual result is that a state of democracy is experienced in such a nation.

To start with, it is worth appreciating the fact that a transformation of the social structures of a nations often starts when such a nation is enjoying economic development. In effect, what emerges then is a middle class that is quiet significant, to the extent of constituting a “the social basis for democracy” (CIA Factbook, 2008). This may be argued to be the case in Japan, whereby the average household is made up of a middle-class. On the other hand, a majority of the families in China are ranked in the low economic class. In addition, an economic development could as well see new political values being implemented within a given political system. Some of these values includes among others, personal autonomy, a boost in sense of individuality, choice, and also a value for individual freedom.

During the 2008 summer Olympic Games held in Beijing, China, it was evident that an autocratic system of government is in operation. For example, the government tried to infringe on the freedom of the media (both local and international), as it sought to uncover the level of inequalities that exists amongst the various social classes in China. At the 1998 World Cup games that were jointly hosted by Japan and Korea, we saw no such incidences in Japan. At the moment, the Chinese government appears to be locked in a dilemma. On the one hand, there is pressure from both within and without the country to institute a political system that is quite liberalized (Peerenboom, 2007). On the other hand, we have the elite class in the country, which is strongly opposed to the idea, perhaps because such a move would act as a threat to the wealthy that they have amassed in the prevailing political, atmosphere, as well as to their social status.

The per capita income of the two countries is yet another pointer to the large disparity that exists between Japan and China. For example, some 2005 statistics indicates that whereas Japan was estimated to have a net worth (per capita) of $ 91, 856, China on the other hand, could only manage partly $ 11, 267. In the case of China, the country’s per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated in 2007 to have been $ 33, 500. This is a measure of a country’s purchasing power, in terms of parity, against its population. On the other hand, the 2004 Gini index for income distribution of family in China was estimated to have been 47. In the case of Japan, its per capita GDP in 2008 stood at $ 34, 200, while the 2002 Gini index for income distribution of families was estimated to have been 38.1(CIA Factbook, 2008).

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Economic freedom, wealth and democracy have also been shown to bear a positive correlation to a democratic system of government (Sodaro, 2004). Bearing in mind that Japan has over the years been ranked higher than China with respect to these elements, it is not hard therefore to opine that indeed, the political system characterising a given country not only impacts on the wealth distribution amongst its populace, but also determines the disparities between on the one hand, the rich members of the society and on the other hand, those with lower economic means.


CIA Factbook (2008). China GDP – per capita (PPP). Web.

CIA Factbook (2008). Japan GDP – per capita (PPP). Web.

Mair, P. (1996). Comparative politics: an overview. In Goodin, Robert E.; Klingemann, Hans-Dieter. A New Handbook of Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sodaro, M. J. (2004). Comparative politics: a global introduction. (2nd Ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Peerenboom, R. P. (2007). China modernizes: threat to the West or model for the rest? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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