Long-Standing Mistakes in Understanding “A Century of Constitutional Governance”

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Guo Shiyou, Yanhuang Chunqiu

If we say that the last 12 years of the Qing Dynasty were one of the most complex periods in Chinese history, then 1905 is one of the most important years of that time. It was in that year that the result was declared in the Russian-Japanese War, in which the constitutional monarchy Japan defeated the absolute monarchy Russia, the United League of China, which swore to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, was established in Tokyo, the Empress Dowager Cixi, who suppressed the Hundred Days of Reform with her own hands gave the idea to Emperor Guangxu, to, on the one hand, declare the abolition of the imperial examination system that had lasted for 1300 years in China, and on the other hand, to send Zaize and five other ministers on an unprecedented trip to both the Easter and Western seas, in order to observe and study foreign countries’ constitutional governance, and announced the next year that “constitutional governance patterned after [these countries] is being prepared”, in August 1908, a commitment was made to institute constitutional monarchy within nine years, the “Imperial Constitutional Outline” that attracted worldwide attention appeared soon after. In another three years, the gunfire of the Wuchang Uprising spurred the tide of the Xinhai Revolution, and the constitutional monarchy plans of the Qing Dynasty “for all ages” vanished like a bubble. Until the foundation of the Republic, there was frequent change of masters, the text of the Constitution was incessantly renewed, the result of constitutional governance remained slow in coming time and time again, it never attained the desired goal up to the present, the calls for constitutional governance from the knowledge elite are sometimes hidden, and sometimes emerge, it is a ceaseless path. More than a hundred years have passed since the late Qing constitutional governance observation mission visited foreign countries, the rivers and mountains are unrecognizable, the dream of constitutional governance, however, lingers in the Divine Land, without ever being forgotten. Looking back at the figures of the sages of the modern era who endured great hardships in pioneering work and fought bloody battles, it is hard to avoid that all sorts of feelings well up in one’s mind.

In recent years, from the media to academic circles, the topic of “a century of constitutional governance” has continuously been present, it assumes different meanings, and it is difficult to avoid that opinions differ.

I, Saying “a century of constitutional governance” is, in fact, not exact

Not talking about online writers, there is relatively vibrant discussion in historian circles about the late Qing ministers’ constitutional governance observation trip and the “Imperial Constitutional Outline”, but in legal circles and thinkers’ circles, this is discussed often.

Strictly speaking, the wordings “a century of constitutional governance” or “constitutional governance for a century” are overly sketchy, they easily injure their meaning and fail in exactitude. They easily lead readers to engender misunderstanding, and it seems as if, as early as the late Qing period, our country became a constitutional governance country “under the rule of the Constitution”, this easily embellishes history and beautifies the late Qing, and adds fuel to the grumbles of anti-Qing revolutionary men. If we start from the level of historical facts, at best, it can be said that there are “a century of constitutional governance thinking”, “a century of constitutional governance planning” and “a century of preparing constitutional legislation”. The late Qing Constitutional Outline in which “The great power lies with the Imperial Court and the myriad matters of politics are opened up to public opinion”, and the Constitution under the great flag of democracy both finished with their texts, a Constitution is not the same as constitutionalism, it is easy to have matters on paper, the final judge is action. When discussing the truth of history, the last years of the Qing only “prepared for constitutional legislation” and did not “establish a constitution”. Therefore, let us not talk about which connections in time and space there are between the Qing Dynasty’s preparation of constitutional legislation, the Provisional Constitution of the Republican era, “Hongxian” [Note: this is a reference to the regnal name of the short-lived imperial rule of Yuan Shikai, who adopted the reign name of Hongxian, or Constitutional Abundance], the “Party Constitution” and other historical versions, let us not talk about how the scene for actually constitutional governance was after the republic, in terms of talking about the original meaning of constitutional governance, “a century of constitutional governance” and so on, has nothing to start from, but the preparatory work of a hundred years ago has grounds for reference.

There are also scholars who like to call the preparations for constitutionalism of the Qing Dynasty the “Late Qing Constitutional Governance Reform”, this is also insufficiently rigorous. Not only because the Late Qing’s preparation for constitutionalism did not equate to constitutional governance, but also because we might as well pay attention to the fact that the preparation for constitutionalism means to create something where nothing exists, the issue of reforming it or not did not yet exist. Rather than calling it “constitutional governance reform”, we would do better to call it ” autocratic reform”, which is more accurate. When concepts are blurred and indistinct, it is easy for errors in value judgment to emerge, which deeply impede scholarly consideration.

Furthermore, there are a number of scholars and researchers who trace the period of “a century of constitutional governance” to 1901, mistakenly considering that the imperial edict on “New Government” published during the helpless flight of Empress Dowager Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor is the beginning moment of the preparation for constitutionalism, this is especially inaccurate, that year, after all, did not see the shadow of the preparation of constitutionalism. Nevertheless, if we look at it from determining the source of the preparation for constitutionalism, making 1901 into an important starting point is not necessarily impossible, only the grounds of the argument are somewhat different. The famous text “On Constitutionalism”, that war written by Liang Qichao, who was named a criminal by imperial order in 1981, was published in Japan in that year, and immediately spread into the country. In this text, Mr. Liang looked around the three sorts of political systems in various countries world wide, analysing the pros and cons of each, and using commonly understood language to explain the necessity for constitutionalism and the rights of the people. He said: even if there are sovereigns who are capable and virtuous, such as Yu in the Xia Dynasty and Tang in the Shang Dynasty, in every generation, the country is large, and we require officials to carry out the work; there are, in fact, many officials, but “geniuses are few in the Realm while people of mediocre ability are many; therefore, striving for improvement is difficult and following evil is easy, the reason that they do not dare to make mistakes, is because they are constrained by the law; the reason that they do not dare to disobey the law, is because people supervise them.” As for who supervises the situations of officials abiding by the law, the conclusion of Liang Qichao is that it only can be the people: the behaviour of officials relates to the personal interests of the people, the people will shield avaricious officials; the people will also not be in the minority, they have good ears and eyes, and officials will not be ale to dupe them. “Therefore, in order to ensure that monarchical power is limited, we cannot but use the power of the people; to ensure that officials’ power is limited, we can certainly not but use the power of the people. Both the constitution and the power of the people cannot be separated, this truly is not an easy doctrine, but many nations have gained it through experience.”

In this article, the young Liang Qichao also earnestly suggests, on the basis of the constitutional governance experience of Japan:

1, to have the emperor proclaim to his subjects that China will become a constitutional monarchy;

2, to dispatch three high-ranking officials to travel to all countries in Europe, as well as the United States and Japan, to observe the similarities, differences, successes and failures of their constitutional governance;

3, to set up a legislative bureau, draft a Constitution, translate the original texts of various countries’ constitutions and famous works interpreting these constitutions, and announce these to all under Heaven;

4, to determine a time for implementation of the Constitution.

What is interesting is that even Liang Qichao himself had not expected that, shortly after, the Qing Dynasty’s pace of preparation of the constitutional legislation would not be much different from this design that he made when he was pursued by the Empire in 1898. The difference only lay in the fact that Mr. Liang said three people would be sent, Cixi sent five, however; Mr. Liang suggested to “take twenty years time to implement a Constitution”, afterwards, this was greatly shortened, and the court first did not affirm a period, but by 1908,because of the calls of Liang Qichao, Yang Du and other people for “a rapid convention of the national parliament”, it was announced to be just nine years of time, and constitutional politics would established in the “42nd Year of Guangxu”. Two years later again, because of the pressure from the petitioning movement of the National Parliament and the active entreatment from the Advisory Council, it was reduced again by three years, and it was announced that a legislature would be set up in the “5th Year of Xuantong”.

Before and after the publication of “On Establishing a Constitution”, the dynamic thinker Liang Qichao consulted and cooperated with Sun Yat-sen for a while, approved of violence to save the country, implement democratic constitutionalism, and suggested to make the Guangxu Emperor president. For all sorts of reasons, the collaboration with Sun was fruitless, and apart from continuing to strive for awareness and propaganda for constitutional governance theories, Liang Qichao’s, main energies were devoted to the organization of constitutional organizations, he became the first standard-bearer and promoter of the constitutional movement at the end of the Qing. His influence is large, his prestige eminent, exceeding that of his teacher Kang Youwei by far. Mr. Liang’s thinking on civil rights principles was deep and his writing rich, he also was clearly higher than Sun Yat-sen, who was very diligent in armed criticism, and other anti-Qing personalities.

II, The expression “political change ruined the Qing” easily gives rise to misunderstanding

In all fairness, although Empress Dowager Cixi was not greatly literate, she was clever and audacious, she was a woman born as a concubine, and was successful; but as the person in charge, dominating China’s fate for nearly half a century at the beginning of its modernization, matters were messed up, her mind could not contain a China of such a size. This only one of the aspects for the tragedy of the Qing Dynasty. Under her leadership, the Aisin Gioro Imperial House declined into the last phase of the Qing Dynasty, and some person of stronger ability than Cixi could not be found. After she died, both the Prince Regent Zaifeng and Empress Dowager Longyu were even more rotten than her.

In that year, the Japanese Emperor took a tenth of the expenses of the Imperial Court to support the Navy, all military and civil officials imitated this in succession, the Japanese Army intensified its preparations for war against the imagined foe of China, Cixi used the naval funding provided by the biological father of the Guangxu Emperor, Yixuan, to enjoy the scenery at the Summer Palace, and even when the Japanese Army swept across Liaodong, she enjoyed three days of theatre to celebrate her sixtieth birthday, this is the difference. The defeat in the War of 1894 and the “Treaty of Shimonoseki” were a great humiliation that aroused an enthusiasm for political reform all across the entire country, Cixi was no exception either, but good times don’t last long, and Cixi changed the good opportunities for this political reform into a sacrifice in the power struggle between Emperor and Dowager. The Hundred Days Reform was suppressed, and that day was the day that conservative forces became more rampant every day. When the Boxer Movement that had opposition to foreign teachings, driving out foreigners and doing away with foreign things as objective, rapidly unfolded in Shandong and Zhili, Empress Dowager Cixi, who was nigh on seventy years old by that time, learnt that Kang, Liang and similar people were given shelter by foreigners and could not be brought to justice, and when she got wind of the fact that foreign legations in Beijing wanted her to “return government”, she tacitly consented that the Boxers poured into the capital and assaulted the Dongjiaomin legation quarter. The Eight-Nation Army then brought on a bloodbath in the capital for the sake of protecting the legations and the security of foreigners.

The history of China in the 20th Century opens up with characters written in blood and fire. Cixi’s incitement of the Boxers’ blind anti-foreign sentiments, created an excuse for the Eight Nation Army to severely punish China, the imperial power monopolized by the Manchu aristocracy began to lose its sacred glory, and it was unavoidable that the people longed for change in their hearts and minds. As Liu Kunyi, Zhang Zhitong and other Southern governance disregarded the decrees from the court, and refused to send soldiers to relieve the North, and as they negotiated the “South-East Mutual Protection” with Western consuls, the Qing Dynasty’s envoy in the US, Wu Tingfang, went to look for the Acting Secretary of State Hill, and anted him to distinguish punishing the “culprits of 1900, Cixi and Zaiyi with punishing the Chinese people. The professional revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, devoted to armed criticism, at that time could sense that, after 1901, those sympathizing with and supporting his revolution increased in number markedly, those scolding him for being a “minister who collaborates with the enemy” were very few. it was under such circumstances that Empress Dowager Cixi was frank towards her retinue: “I always was the responsible person in the household, now, the trouble has come to this, which is my mistake, I have not been able to face up to the ancestors, and I cannot face up to the people?, the could not but resolutely make a fresh start. Not waiting to return to Beijing, she  started “New Government”, with the aid of the mouth of Guangxu, which was to start first from rejuvenating industry, training a new army and opening schools. Following the spread of “New Government”, the obstacles originating in the political structure became clearer every day, and to this, the irritation of the wars with Russia and Japan and the pressure of anti-Qing revolutionary movements were added. Only then did Cixi resolutely abolish the civil service exam system and put constitutional legislation onto the agenda.

The strength of the late Qing’s “New Government” was greater than that of the Hundred Days of Reform, it undoubtedly embodied the determination of the rulers, but, the Qing court at that instant in time was beset with difficulties, not reforming was not possible, reform was not necessarily effective, it may well be said that too much time had been lost. This was mainly reflected in the following aspects:

First, the people’s livelihood became destitute, the Treasury was empty, financial resources could not bear the task of reform. Local officials incessantly aggravated old takes in order to renovate the government, and added new taxes, bringing about popular discontent and social conflicts, and increasing barriers for “New Government”.

Second, “New Government” not only didn’t rectify the issue of corruption, it caused it to further intensify, corrupt officials took advantage of the situation to rake in more, again adding to the difficulties for “New Government” and undermining the image of “New Government”.

Third, it was difficult for the politically declining rumours to control and digest some results of “New Government”, it could be said to amount to planting melons and harvesting beans, the Court faced a hidden danger of losing control over the new armies organized and trained under the responsibility of local governors.

What was even more grave was that Zaifeng and others, after the death of Cixi, not only forcibly suppressed the parliamentary petitioning movement that engulfed the entire country, but also, in an act of folly, threw out the “Imperial Cabinet”, humiliating those honest but aggrieved petitioners, and pushing them into the anti-Qing camp.

in recent years, intellectual circles and academic circles have revolved around an argument, believing that the revolutionary strength of leaders such as Sun Yat-sen and others was not strong, that the Qing dynasty capsized in the process of political reform, and that it was buried in the risks of preparing for constitutional legislation. This implies that if the Qing government would not have initiated political reform, and would not have prepared for a constitution, it would not have collapsed so speedily. In June, two years ago, the international surge to remember the Xinhai revolution began, and the Macau Foundation and the Sun Yat-sen foundation organized n international conference on “Sun Yat-sen and the Xinhai Revolution” in Macau. here was a Taiwanese senior keynote speech that also stressed a similar argument, at that time, I did not mince my words: the process of history is far more complex that its results, historical research must avoid by all means using results to deduce processes, this is acting too much like a post facto Zhuge Liang, under the brilliant outward appearance of the Forbidden City, the imperial power of the Qing Dynasty was in imminent danger, this was an unalterable fact. As for the question, under which pressures and against which backgrounds did the preparation of constitutional legislation begin? If the Qing Dynasty would not have engaged in political structural reform, who could guarantee that it could continue its existence? Furthermore, after the death of Cixi, why would Zaifeng and others absolutely want to forcibly suppress the parliamentary petitioning movement that swept across the country, and stupidly through out the “Imperial Cabinet”, humiliate those honest but aggrieved reformers and push them into the anti-Qing camp? These questions require that answers are pursued. Through all time, there hasn’t been any ruler who did not take into account the life or death of their own house and rashly plucked the strings of political structural reform, even the present King of Bhutan is no exception. The argument that “political reform destroyed the Qing” easily misleads us, and throws up barriers for political reform in the present.

In recent years, complaining grumbles about how the Xinhai Revolution should not have happened, and how the revolution brought trouble often occurred in academic circles, these all impute the social unrest of the early years of the Republic and all sorts of disastrous results of fierce warlord warfare to the violent revolution of Sun Yat-sen and other people, they indulge the Qing Dynasty’s commitments about preparation for constitutionalism and historical imagination, they promote the real emotion of “farewell to revolution” into a view of history, all of this are subjective ideas and excessive deductions that deviate from the historical scene during the late Qing. As the Qing Dynasty rulers used their power  to humiliate the nation and forfeit its sovereignty and suppress the people, the people naturally had the right to rise up and resist. Du Yaquan and other people saw very clearly in that year that the reason why Empress Dowager Cixi, who had once stained her hands with the blood of the Six Gentlemen of the Hundred Days Reform, laid down her arrogant airs and agreed to send people abroad to observe foreign countries’ constitution, and started making preparations for the establishment of a constitution. This was because, apart from the public opinion brought by the results in the wars with Japan and Russia, there was also the United League of China and other rebellious anti-Qing political pressures. If Sun Yat-sen and his like had not unwaveringly maintained a bloody spirit, would the Qing Dynasty have started constitutional preparations? If there had been no Xinhai Revolution, could we guarantee that the Qing Dynasty would have survived intact, and guarantee that China was not in chaos, constitutional legislation in the year “Guangxu 42” could have satisfied you, I’m afraid that these issues are unknown quantities. As long as we look a bit at the opinions published by Liang Qichao during the last three years of the Qing Dynasty, it is not hard to know that it is not very likely that the abovementioned guesses, removed from the reality of the late Qing, were aimed at persuading Sun Yat-sen’s opponent Liang Qichao. Looking around the past, the present, China and the outside world, no organized armed rebellion is generated on a whim, the process of history cannot be decided by the choice of any single force. This is so for the Huang Chao rebellion in the last years of the Tang Dynasty, and this is equally so for the Xinhai Revolution.

III, The bumpy advance of constitutional governance

The special environment of domestic turmoil and foreign invasion of Modern China has, to a large extent, continued into the democratic era after the collapse of the imperial system, the instrumental appeal of democratic rights politics, and the zero-sum relationship between democratic power and state power, added to the influence of the Soviet model of “using the Party to build the country” and “using the Party to govern the country” on Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary practice, there was also the political tutelage of Chiang Kai-shek’s “borrowing the name of Party rule to implement a dictatorship”. On the path of restraining constitutional governance since the days of the Republic, Chiang Kai-shek also lost the golden opportunity to build the country with constitutional governance after the complete victory in the War of Resistance of Japan, even so, the concept that “sovereignty lies in the people” present in the “Provisional Constitution” of the first days of the Republic and the framework for the new legal system of democratic constitutionalism was firmly established, and was not overthrown even though it often was buffeted by wind and rain.

Both political and academic circles, as well as textbooks, on both sides of the Taiwan Straits make it seem as if Sun Yat-sen, who pioneer of the modern democratic revolution and the builder of the Three Principles of the People was the only great historical person who is completely undisputed, but the essence of the Three Principles of the People is not something else, it is the Principle of the People’s Rights. The Principle of the People’s Rights of Sun Yat-sen was based on the reality of China, and benefited the nourishing of global political civilization heritage and the inspiration of global democratic trends. Even after Sun Yat-sen passed away, this world heritage remained solid as a rock as it was challenged by German and Italian Fascism and totalitarianism. On 12 October 1940, U.S. President Roosevelt pointed out in his famous Dayton speech that: “We are determined to use our energies and our resources to counteract and repel the foreign plots and propaganda—the whole technique of underground warfare originating in Europe and now clearly directed against all the Republics on this side of the ocean. That propaganda repeats and repeats that democracy is a decadent form of Government. They tell us that our old democratic ideal, our old traditions of civil liberties, are things of the past. We reject that thought. We say that we are the future. We say that the direction in which they would lead us is backward, not forward—backward to the bondage of the Pharaohs, backward to the slavery of the Middle Ages.”

Sun Yat-sen’s Principle of the People’s Rights is valuable as well because it has not remained only an ism, but because, when setting to building institutions, it clearly pot forward that there would be three phases that could be brought into practice, being “military governance, political tutelage and constitutional governance”. Also, it made “constitutional governance” into the governing objective and value plane for the struggle of Guomindang members, in comparison with the sweeping statement of Kang Youwei on the three phases of “a world of chaos, a world of rising peace and a world of great peace”, was much more concrete, and more dependable. Precisely because of this, regardless of the rebellion of Chen Sheng and Wu Guang and the “Heavenly Punishment of the Barbarians” of Hong Xiuquan and Yang Xiuqing, the Xinhai Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen was better than the “revolutions of Tang and Wu” of the past, which only changed one tyranny into another. The only reason that Chiang Ching-kuo, who originally was overshadowed by the authority and halo of his father Chiang Kai-shek, gained a high opinion on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, was because he was the most faithful disciple of Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People, and was a broad-minded politician. It was Chiang Ching-kuo who, at that time, tacitly approved of the other parties’ secret “Grand Hotel Meeting”, which became a critical juncture for the conclusion of Guomindang single Party rule in the Taiwan region, only then was the ban against parties opened up and the democratic practice of alternation of political parties instituted. The value of Taiwan’s constitutional governance does not lie in Taiwan itself, it is sufficient to prove that Chinese people are completely capable of implementing democratic politics through their own efforts, and do not need to “borrow a belly to bear children” like Hong Kong. Furthermore, China’s traditional culture is not completely unaccommodating to Western democratic concepts.

The Chinese mainland has undergone more than thirty years of reform and opening up, social and economic development successes are clear, the people’s material lives have greatly improved, the position of the country has risen, and these are all achievements broadly recognized by the world. In comparison, reform of political structures is excessively slow, many civil rights provided for in the Constitution are not protected, the public power that the Constitution should restrain expands day by day, many Party and government officials use all sorts of methods to misappropriate State-owned assets, they buy titles and take bribes, amass wealth by any unfair means, and monopolize industrial resources, they seek gain at the people’s expense, and form an number of interest groups who manipulate market competition, they even use names such as land development., etc., to grab the housing resources of grass-roots masses, the conflict between officials and citizens continues to intensify. In order to maintain order, interference should be eliminated, and the Constitution implemented with force.

The system of stability through brute force should be brought back to the track of the Constitution, only by giving government power back to the people and using election systems as an appointment and dismissal system, will it be possible to reverse the phenomenon that the people have to ask for things from officials and officials do not ask the people for things, and to lock power into an institutional cage.

IV, The “Bo-Wang Incident” contains rich research resources for constitutional governance

Still in May 1922, “Our Political Standpoints”, drafted by Hu Shi and signed by 16 people, including Cai Yuanpei and Li Dazhao, put forward three basic demands for the political reform of the country:

First, we demand a “constitutional government”, because this is the first step to bring politics on the tracks.

Second, we demand an “open government”, including financial openness and open examinations for appointments, etc., because we firmly believe that publicity is the only weapon to break through all black curtains.

Third, we demand a sort of “planned politics”, because we firmly believe that the great illness of China lies in its aimless drifting without plans, because we firmly believe that planning is the source of productivity, and because we deeply believe that a mediocre plan is better than blind groping without plans.

These three demands simply and clearly expressed the expectations of the intellectual elite and the broad popular masses.

The 2012 Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun incident shook China and the entire world, it exposed that unrestrained power can create formidable local kingdoms. In my humble opinion, the value for constitutional governance research of the “Bo-Wang Incident” is not second to the research value of Party style, Party discipline and criminal law. How could Bo and Wang have risen step by step, exactly? Why did they do as they pleased? Was there anyone managing them, and who? There are numerous similar cases, and I’m afraid these all merit close examination and rethinking. Only through the bitter water of refining wisdom gained by paying expensive tuition, and taking the Constitution and the law seriously, will it be possible to do right by the labour of taxpayers and the harm of the innocent, and to the painstaking efforts of the drafters and revisers of all previous Constitutions.

The fairy-tale of the “Chongqing Model”, from its coming out of the basket to its collapse, can let us think of Max Eastman in modern U.S. history. This person stood trial twice because he opposed the U.S. government’s participation in the First World War, but during the period of the Second World War, he clearly advocated that the United States should prepare to fight shoulder to shoulder with England, if England would only be helped through economic means, it would not be different from “fighting a war with substitutes”, this was still not enough, in his view, the Second World War was the only match between democracy and totalitarian dictatorships in human history. he also went through research, and concluded that totalitarianism represented by the two countries Germany and Italy had 20 characteristics:

1. narrow nationalist emotions, raising it to the level of religious mania;

2. a military-style, narrowly restricted political party, to wield State power;

3. strict ban of all opinions opposing the government;

4. reducing transcendent religious belief into a national religion;

5. the “leader” is the general centre of belief, in fact, he is equal to a god;

6. advocating anti-intellectualism and anti-knowledge, flattering the ignorant and the masses; severely punishing honest thinking;

7. destroying books, distorting history and scientific truth;

8. abolishing science and scholarship that purely seeks for truth;

9. replacing argument with arbitrary decisions, letting the governing party control the news;

10. bringing the people into cultural isolation, making them unable to be aware of the true situation in the outside world;

11. having the governing party control all art;

12. destroying political faith, using fabricated and hypocritical methods;

13. government-planned crimes;

14. encouraging the people to frame and abuse so-called “public enemies”;

15. resuming uncivilized household guilt methods, in dealing with these “public enemies”;

16. preparing eternal war, militarizing the people;

17. encouraging population increase by hook or by crook;

18. abusing the slogan “the revolution of the working class over capitalism” everywhere;

19. prohibiting workers’ strikes and opposition, destroying all labour movements;

20. industry, agriculture and commerce are controlled by the governing party and their leaders.

We only need to compare the “Chongqing model” played up by Bo and Wang with these conclusions about totalitarianism made by this American writer 70 years ago, to know how precious freedom and democracy, and how urgent implementing constitutional governance is.

There is no doubt that, from the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Cultural Revolution to other unjust cases and miscarriages of justice, from the struggle between Mao and Liu, and the struggle between Mao and Lin to the farce of Bo and Wang, the important thing is not who manages who or who implicates who, but it is how to ensure that the civil rights that the Constitution endows are implemented as rapidly as possible, to let the people use ballots to progressively manage those in power at all levels, ensure equality before the rules, etc.

 V, The objective conditions for constitutional governance and their basic maturity.

Constitutional governance is the method to govern the country at lower cost, and it is the face of a country and its citizens. Different countries admittedly have different histories, cultures and national circumstances, and different constitutional governance models and democratic standards must be adopted. Nevertheless, safeguarding human rights and restraining public power are implacable basic principles in any constitutional governance country and region. Democracy and rule of law are the heritage of global civilization shared by humankind, some human laziness can only be restrained through rule of law, there are no other ways to do this.

Often, there are people who say that the democratic level of the people is not yet high, if a democratic system would be suddenly rolled out, it could only lead to social unrest. This theory looks to be plausible on first sight, but in fact, it will not bear closer deliberation, at least, the following points of doubt still need to be answered:

I, How should the democratic quality of the people be raised? Is it to be raised by relying on endless political study, or is it progressively realized through democratic practice?

II, In 64 years, what have political party organs at all levels actually done to raise the people’s democratic quality? How much has it been raised? The masses are often encouraged to sing odes to themselves, but this is really not only something that Bo Xilai did individually, does this actually raise the people’s, democratic quality, or is it the opposite?

III, Is the fact that the people’s democratic quality is not high absolute or relative? If villagers in many places can participate in village committee elections, then, why can the majors of large cities and the heads of focus schools not be produced through elections?

In comparison with the late Qing era, today’s national circumstances are vastly different, the risk of political structural reform is far from as big as it was during the last years of the Qing Dynasty.

First and foremost, the Qing Dynasty was an ethnic minority dynasty that had entered the Central Plains from outside, it had made guarding against the Han ethnicity that comprised the majority of the population nationwide into a basic national policy, Manchu-Han contradictions did not only exist throughout, but following the decline of the Late Qing and the intensification of the humiliation of the nation and the loss of its sovereignty, they became increasingly more prominent. There was mutual suspicion and jealousy between Manchu and Han, and a lack of mutual trust, the Manchus were worried that reform would bring power to the Han, and the Han considered the Manchu as “foreigners” (said by Sun Yat-sen), always believing that the Qing had no sincerity in reform, and did not cherish good intention, overthrow was the only possibility. This problem does not exist in the China of today.

Second, since the Hunan Army was formed, Central control over the military begun to weaken, his was especially the case during the New Army period, in the China of today, the Army and the Party are one body, and this sort of fear of backstabbery does not exist.

Third, during the late Qing period, the national treasury was empty, the country was heavily indebted, the financial input for new government was limited, and problems where often overwhelming, the China of today is the second largest economy in the world, people’s living standards have clearly improved, the people’s hearts and minds are stable, it is not the case that the people’s hearts and minds are opposed.

Fourth the process of spreading education and developed communication has greatly exceeded the late Qing era, and it is not easy to change the rule of the Constitution into mob rule. Even the She people living in the precipitous mountains in the north of Fujian and the south of Zhejiang have their villages linked with roads, with postal services, there also are telecommunications and network connections, it may be said that there are no longer any information dead spots on a nationwide level. This has provided convenience for the implementation of constitutional governance.

Not only in comparison with the later years of the Qing dynasty, do such great political risks for the implementation of constitutional governance been subject not exist, even in comparison with the times when Sun Yat-sen, Yuan Shikai and Chiang Kai-shek led the government, there are no great powers humiliating us with foreign aggression, there also are no domestic troubles, warlords and fierce battle, all efforts can be exerted to the full to make the country prosperous, and to advance in a stable manner. If we compare it to the Mao Zedong era after 1949, confidence in constitutional governance should be greatly strengthened as well. For example, information during the Mao Zedong era was quite closed off, the Cold War environment also did not permit for calm thinking, the victors’ self-confidence easily engendered mistaken judgement on the basis of inaccurate information and warfare thinking, political movements became ever more chaotic. The political mistakes of the mast may be a mature warning for posterity, the material wealth of 30 years of reform and opening up has also become a foundation for national strength that was originally weak, university education has been shifted from being elitist to being popularized, the creation of a knowledge society and the dissemination of global information, are effective resources to raise the citizens’ quality, there is no comparison between past and present.

The English playwright George Bernard Shaw said: “Successful people in this world are those who get up and look for circumstances they want. If they can’t find them, they make them.” A generation of people has the opportunities and challenges of a generation, a generation of people has the burdens and successes of a generation.

(The author is a visiting professor at the Tongji University, and a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law.)









“重庆模式”的神话从出笼到破灭,都能让我联想起美国近代史上的那个伊斯曼(Max Eestman)。此人曾因为反对美国政府参加第一次世界大战而两度受审,但在第二次世界大战期间,他明确主张美国应当提前准备与英国并肩作战,如果仅仅在经济上援助英国,那就无异于“替身作战”,还很不够,在他看来,二战乃人类历史上唯一的民主主义与极权专制之间的较量。他还经过一番研究,把德、意两国代表的极权主义归纳为20个特点:




One thought on “Long-Standing Mistakes in Understanding “A Century of Constitutional Governance”

    […] Long-Standing Mistakes in Understanding “A Century of Constitutional Governance” (Guo Shiyou, Yanhuang Chunqiu, 9 May) […]

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