As a Chinese working on public sector governance and living in India, I'm often asked to compare the two governing systems, the largest democracy in the world and the largest non-democracy in the world. The gap in political and civil participation between the two countries is well known.
India's civil society and media are much more dynamic and vocal. I particularly admire the impact of the Center for Science and Environment on environmental policy, Pratham on education, the Naz Foundation on gay and lesbian rights, and MKSS on Rights to Information. I’m not aware of equally impactful counterparts in China but would be happy to hear about those you have come across. Certainly China can benefit from moving towards a more open society, where minority voices are heard and rights protected, and where abuse of official power and natural resource is restrained.
But when it comes to building infrastructure and reducing poverty, China is doing much better. Why? We often hear "Yes, but China is an authoritarian regime." -- as if authoritarian regimes automatically are more capable of development. Yes an authoritarian regime can be more efficient in making policies -- good or bad -- because the process of consultation and public deliberation can be truncated. But which theory predicts that democracies are less capable of building good infrastructure quickly or taking care of the poor?