Jay Nordlinger of National Review Online scrutinizes the word “democracy.” He notes interest in the concept in an unexpected place.

Students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts made a sculpture called the “Goddess of Democracy.” She was meant to depict their ideals and aspirations. In a declaration, the students said, “A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people!” They knew that their sculpture, made of plaster, would not last long. But “on the day that real democracy and freedom come to China,” they said, “we must erect another Goddess of Democracy here in the square: monumental, towering, and permanent.” They ended, “Long live democracy!”

The Goddess of Democracy stood for five days. Then the Chinese military moved in. The sculpture was a mere plaster casualty amid human ones.

In 2008, Liu Xiaobo and his colleagues issued a manifesto: Charter 08. It had been inspired by Charter 77, the manifesto of Václav Havel and his colleagues in Czechoslovakia. In a preamble, the Chinese democrats said,

“We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre of pro-democracy student protesters. The Chinese people, who have endured human-rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of mankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.”

Under the heading “Our Fundamental Principles,” the democrats said,

“Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens.” …

… The Charter 08 signers knew their Lincoln.

They called for a new constitution, and constitutional order. The separation of powers, including an independent judiciary. Freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion, property rights — all of it. They called for it in some specificity, too. Democracy has flesh and bones.