Since 1979 China's leaders have introduced economic and political reforms that have lessened the state's hold over the lives of ordinary citizens. By examining the growth in individual rights, the public sphere, democratic processes, and pluralisation, the author seeks to answer questions concerning the relevance of liberal democratic ideas for China and the relationship between a democratic political culture and a democratic political system. The author also looks at the contradictory impulses and negative consequences for democracy generated by economic liberalism. Unresolved issues concerning the relationships among culture, democracy, and socioeconomic development are at the heart of the analysis. Nonideological criteria are used to assess the success of the Chinese approach to building a fair, just, and decent society.