If free and fair national elections are considered the hallmark of a democratic state, Taiwan has much to boast about. In January, the self-ruled island held its eighth presidential election concurrently with a parliamentary vote. Just 160km (100 miles) away on the other side of the narrow Taiwan Strait, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has ruled China since 1949, and though the party often claims that it governs a democratic state, there is no electoral process comparable with Taiwan’s. China’s President Xi Jinping has referred to “whole-process people’s democracy” to describe the Chinese political system where the “people are the masters” but the party-state apparatus runs the people’s affairs on their behalf. Ken Cai*, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Shanghai, does not subscribe to Xi’s definition of democracy. “The truth is that [mainland] Chinese people have never been allowed to choose their own leaders,” Ken told Al Jazeera. “That is just propaganda.” Ken’s critical assessment stands in sharp contrast to an assertion often presented by the CPC that their one-party rule is considered satisfactory by Chinese people. President Xi has long said that China is following a unique development path under the guidance of its distinctive system of governance. Chinese officials have also presented criticism of Beijing’s record on human rights and democracy as being based on a lack of understanding of China and the Chinese people.