“Rubber Stamp”; A Reader Replies

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I asked for and got some smart, considered replies on the rubber stamp issue (and a fair amount of abuse, too, for the record). The thrust was that I was probably right in being uneasy using the term because of all the baggage it carries: Bottom line is that the NPC does do important work but that it isn’t anything like a representative, law-making body that we’d normally associate with the word “parliament.” So on balance, both ‘rubber stamp” and “parliament” are out.
Replacing “parliament” with a shorthand that summarizes what the NPC does is tough. Any suggestions, again, gratefully received. Anyway, here’s what reader Zhangsan had to say:

No, it isn’t fair to call the Congress a ‘rubber stamp’; it IS, however, fair to call the actual vote itself the ‘rubber stamp’.

As you yourself probably know, it isn’t that the Congress will approve anything which is put before it; rather, it’s the opposite. Anything which is actually brought to a formal vote, it usually has already acquired broad support and is guaranteed passage.

In China, as with the US, a great deal of the actual negotiations, persuasion, deal-cutting, etc. happens backstage, before the actual vote occurs. However, herein lies the difference. In the American system, votes which are expected to fail or have a high chance of failure are often held nonetheless for symbolic purposes, or to score political points against opponents. In China, if it is believed that a bill or a certain legislation will not pass due to insufficient backstage support, it simply isn’t brought up for a vote. What’s the point? All it would do would create acrimony.

This is directly in line with the different political systems that the US and China have. Members of the American Congress, having a two-party system, often will hold votes with no chance of passing in order to either make their political opponents look bad, or to burnish their own credentials. As for the ‘open debate’, how many minds are actually changed in that process? The open debates are directed more towards the public and the media; as in China, the ‘backroom’, so to speak, is where the real decisions are made and minds are swayed.

In a one-party system, promoting an image of harmony rather than that of differences is more important. As you yourself cited as an example, it took several years for the recent property ownership law to be passed. If it had been brought up in the past, it might have failed, or at least attracted enough opposition to expose gaping divisions in the party.