Talked to a few coworkers at lunch today, and they asked me, among other things, about American views of the Iraq War, the structure of American Government, and American Elections (they were more surprised than I'd think they would be that Americans are "angry" about Iraq). In case anyone's curious, I didn't say most of this in Chinese, it was a bit beyond me.
When I got to talking about elections, they got pretty excited. These three, at least, follow the US elections pretty closely, and are rooting for the Democratic party because they think the Democrats will be "nicer to China." I am not quite sure how true that would be, given the Democrats' postition on imports/tariffs/"jobs," etc, but it's up in the air which party would try to beat on China harder.
The interesting part of this all, of course, was we started talking about Chinese village-level elections, and how my three unnamed friends secretly hoped that someday, democracy would come to China. They said "there's nothing we can do," and predicted that it would take decades--probably after they died.
I provided a devil's advocacy of the position, mentioning the village-level, city, and experimental provincial-governor-level elections. If these do become widespread (and the trend is upward, and the Party supports it), there may be some unintended consequences for the Party. While every candidate must be approved by the Party, there is a potential for divergence. If every provincial-and-lower election has two candidates, they are likely to polarize to some degree (by Duverger's Law). For example: in a Shanghai election, there may be a candidate supported by Labor, and one by Business... this may happen in Chengdu, Beijing... and if this becomes persistent, if there emerges a common thread that divides two candidates in each city, province, village, then they may begin to try to support each other. A Pro-Business Mayor may support a Pro-Business village-head, etc. Then you've got organization, and then you've got quasi-Parties. And as long as they keep pretending to be the Communist Party, there's not much that can be done (in the sortof passive-aggressive tradition of Chinese politics).
Then, China would be one bold stroke, one schism, one terrible argument away from a two-party system. Then, like Taiwan, like Korea, the whole dictatorial system would come crashing down.
But that's the optimistic perspective... there are others. And even this would take decades. But the trend is good, and there is hope. As long as people keep secretly wanting democracy, as long as they quietly and cleverly express their desires and their criticisms, as long as the proxies past the Great Firewall keep working, as long as the Sino-US travel keeps increasing, ideas will flow, and spread. The CCP can stop people from talking, but they can't stop people from thinking, even if it is just an inkling of Democratic thought.