Sih-Gung Cheng.

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solution of their entanglements is bound up with the settle-
ment of the relations of the Central to the Provincial
Governments. Let us now proceed to inquire into those
relations which exist in times when the country is not
ravaged by civil war ; and to suggest lines on which they
should develop.

It should again be emphasized here, that, taking the size
of her territory and population into consideration, China
presents a greater degree of uniformity than any other
nation. Throughout the whole country — apart from
Mongolia and Tibet, which are governed as dependencies
under different regulations — there is practically no differ-
ence in race, in language, or in religion. The Manchus, who
do not belong to the Chinese stock, have, nevertheless,
been so thoroughly absorbed by the Chinese that they have
lost their original characteristics ; and the Mohammedans
are numerically not strong enough to disturb the equilibrium
or to destroy the uniformity of the country. It is therefore
easy to divide China into different administrative units and

122 Provincial Government

to unite them under one central government without
encountering difficulties which beset countries like India,
where the racial, the religious, and the linguistic differences
divide up the Peninsula to such an extent, that not only
the institutions in the various parts of it should be different,
but the fundamental principles underlying them should be
also diverse.

In China, however, a uniform system of administration
has been introduced and maintained since the second century
B.C., when the so-called feudalism was abolished. The
division of provinces and the system of provincial govern-
ment have been altered in different periods of Chinese
history, but the broad principles of the relations of the
Provincial to the Central Government have always been the
same, and these principles may be summarized as central-

Centralization, as a system, has much to recommend it.
It secures uniformity ; it maintains unity ; and in time it
diminishes the differences in social and political develop-
ments throughout the country by enforcing one and the
same system of administration. Moreover, it was peculiarly
suited to China, where the intellect of the whole country
was attracted by competitive examination to the Imperial
Academy at Peking, the membership of which was con-
sidered the best qualification for an official career ; and
where the people themselves did not care to take into their
own hands the direction and management of provincial

Centralization has, however, not always been effective.
Throughout the long history of China, it is only under the
vigorous and far-sighted Emperors, of whom there have
been but a few, that the orders and rules issued by the

Its Relation to the Central Government 123

Central Government have been obeyed and executed by
provincial authorities. Most of her rulers, through their
inactivity and indifference, have permitted governors and
viceroys to assume excessive powers and to arrive at inde-
pendent decisions without their formal sanction ; and, in
times of difficulty, they are compelled by circumstances to
share with them responsibilities which, according to the
law, are reserved to the Emperor and his Council. Capable
and resourceful governors and viceroys, through their
control of provincial revenue and through their personal
energy and influence, often initiate and promote enter-
prises which would eventually make the Central Govern-
ment dependent upon them for vital decisions affecting
the honour and interest of the State. The latest instance
of this state of affairs is found in the fact that under the
Manchu regime many viceroys, led by Li Hung-chang and
Yiian Shih-k''ai (both in Chili), trained an army on the
European model with their provincial revenues, and finally
established their influence to such an extent that they
virtually combined the dual post of Viceroy and Minister of
War, The result was that the Government in Peking could
not execute any military scheme or enter into war with a
foreign Power without their hearty approval and ready
co-operation. The absence of a centralized control in the
Chinese army was obvious to the Marquis Ito of Japan,
when he, in reply to a criticism on his policy of war with
China on the ground that the latter's resources in wealth
and man-power far exceeded those of his own country,
stated that China was a Confederation of eighteen states
(provinces) and that war with her was only a conflict with
the province of Chili, and not with the whole Empire.
The indifference of the other provinces to the military

124 Provincial Government

operations was in fact largely responsible for the chaotic
state of the Chinese army and for its swift and hopeless
defeat in the field.

On the other hand, the increasing power of the viceroys
on several occasions saved China from humiliating disasters
caused by the incompetence and ignorance of the Central
Government. The most notable occasion was that on
which the viceroys of the three Yangtze provinces, in
which the European commercial interests were the strongest,
ignored the decree of the Empress Dowager to support the
Boxer Movement, the object of which was to save China
from foreign aggression by killing all aliens in her territory,
and actually afforded special protection to the foreign
residents, thus restricting the movement to the North and
saving China from a greater humiliation than that which
was inflicted on her by the Powers in 1901 in revenge for
the loss of life and property suffered by their citizens or
subjects in the course of the insurrection.

Although it was expounded by Yiian Shih-k'ai in his
inauguration speech of 191 3 that ' the original meaning of
loyalty is loyalty to the State and not to the individual \^
it is now evident that, since the overthrow of the Dragon
Throne, the governors of the different provinces are no
longer loyal to the Central Government. The successive
Revolutions in the last six years have all resulted in
an increase of their independence ; and the Presidents
and the Prime Ministers, unable to establish their own.
authority by the force of law, are compelled to tolerate
their arrogance and to acquiesce in their defiance. In
truth, the Central Government depends for the main-
tenance of its authority on the support of the governors,
^ Cd. 7356, Afairs oj China (1914), p. 61.

Its Relation to the Central Government 125

and this support is only granted on the condition that the
latter are not restricted in the enjoyment of their own

Even in the absence of this separatist tendency of
different provinces, the growth of modern activities has
made the system of centralization obsolete. It is impossible
to expect all government departments in Peking, however
efficient, to initiate, execute, and supervise numerous social,
industrial, and economic reforms in all the provinces, as
they are hampered by the distance from the scene and the
difficulties in getting an inside knowledge of local conditions.
In a territory so extensive in area and so rich in natural
resources as China, it is indeed necessary for the Central
Government to devolve some of its functions on the pro-
vincial authorities, if it is to develop the country on a com-
prehensive scale and by Western methods. Moreover,
devolution has already begun in China in a small way,
and its beneficial effect may be judged by the fact that, in
the few provinces in which modern education and industry
have been introduced, it is largely due to the energy and
activity of the local gentry, with the encouragement of an
enlightened viceroy, that the enterprises are crowned with
success ; and that while the reforms are proclaimed by the
Central Government for all provinces alike, the extent to
which they are carried out depends invariably on the
enthusiasm and ability of the viceroy and his wilHngness to
co-operate with the provincial gentry.

Moreover, the introduction of modern reforms has
tended to diversify the country, which has hitherto been
made uniform by the Confucian civilization. Some
provinces, owing to their geographical situations, are more
susceptible to foreign influence and, in consequence, more

126 Provincial Government

adaptable to modern conditions. Others, especially those
farther away from the sea coast, are less progressive and less
ready to introduce reforms.

The difference in this respect between the North and the
South is explained in a preceding chapter, but in the North
and in the South alike each province differs again from its
neighbour. Each province may have to develop itself in its
own way, and it is only through a system of devolution that
each may solve its own difficulties.

Speaking on the relations of the Central to the Provincial
Government, Mr. Hsiung Hsi-ling, at one time Prime
Minister of the Republic, says :

' The position of our province is between that of an area
of local government and that of a member of a federal
state. It cannot be entirely recognized as the former, or
as having the attributes of the latter. If we adopt the
federal system in order to raise and sustain the position of
the province, and to bestow upon it some of the powers
of the central government, thus making the administration
of the whole country more likely to be thorough and
efficient, it will be the most suitable system, taking all
things into consideration.'

The federation of China, if adopted, will differ from that
of the United States, by the fact that the latter was produced
by a union of States which had hitherto been sovereign and
independent ; and that the former will be produced by the
transfer of duties and powers to States which have hitherto
been considered as integral parts of a united country under
the sway of a Central Government.

In the United States, the powers of the Federal Govern-
ment are enumerated, all the rest being reserved to the
States ; in China, the powers of the States (provinces) will
be enumerated and the rest will be reserved to the Federal

Its Relation to the Central Government 127

Government. The Federal Government of America can-
not extend the list of its enumerated powers without an
amendment of the Constitution approved by the States,
but in China the process would be just the reverse. The
Central Government will be able to increase its powers and
duties at its pleasure so long as it does not interfere with
those granted to the Provincial Governments. It may
diminish them by transferring them to the Provincial
Governments, provided the latter are willing to accept them.
The nearest parallel to the federation of China will be that
of Canada, where the State rights are enumerated and the
rest reserved to the Central Government.

Federation is said to be a form of government beset with
difficulty on account of the conflicts that may arise between
the Federal and the State Governments, but this will not
necessarily be the case in China. People are often misled
by phraseology when they discuss political problems ; the
scarcity o,f words and terms compels us to denote different
things by the same names. The Constitutions of the United
States, of the German Empire, of Canada, of Australia,
and of South Africa, differ from each other very much,
but they are all called federal. The system I recommend
for China will merely involve the devolution of certain
powers, and it is only called federal because of the absence
of a better name. The Central Government may even be
the final authority to make and amend provincial con-
stitutions, and be authorized to enforce uniform laws,
fundamental or otherwise, in some or all of the provinces.
It may be authorized, as it is now, to appoint provincial
governors and other provincial executive officials, so long
as it does not interfere with the functions exclusively
reserved for the province.

128 Provincial Government

It will be a matter of detail to determine what powers
should be enumerated and delegated to the provinces. The
extent of devolution will depend on expediency and cir-
cumstances. Probably at this time, when the transition
from centralization to federation is regarded by the majority
as a novelty and a bold step, the powers to be devolved
should be limited. Foreign affairs, tariff, inter-provincial
railways, and any concern that affects the country as a whole
or more than one province, should always remain in the
hands of the Central Government. It may be even desirable
that university education should be directed and supervised
by the Central Government, as several provinces may have
only one university and its financial support may involve
inter-provincial controversy. Pure provincial affairs, such
as secondary and elementary education, sanitation, local
industries, and all other things that may be included under
the terms of local government, should be entrusted to the
provincial government.

The provincial authorities having been made exclusively
responsible for the administration of certain functions, there
will be opened in every province a new field of employment
for a large number of Civil Service candidates who would
otherwise go through the difficult process of making their
way to Peking in order to obtain their ' loaves and fishes '
by favouritism or other undesirable means. They will then
have the opportunity of training themselves for adminis-
trative work in their own province and form the reserve
from which the Central Government can draw its supply
of experienced officials.

The same thing is true with the legislative branch of the
Central Government. As noted elsewhere in this volume,
Parliament in China is not representative, as both voters

7/5 Relation to the Central Government 129

and representatives have not been trained to understand
what is required of them. A separate legislature in the
province w^ill be a useful institution to train the prospective
members of the Central Parliament.

The election of the provincial assembly, and the interest
that will be aroused in connexion- with it, will teach the
voters many useful lessons which will enable them to
exercise discretion at the time of electing a Parliament for
the whole country. The upper and the middle classes of
the Chinese have always been more interested in provincial
than in central politics, and the devolution of provincial
legislation to a provincial assembly is therefore not only
a step towards the development of a self-governing spirit
but is also best suited to the existing situation.

Of the many problems relating to the division of functions
between the Central and the provincial Governments, the
question of finance is the most urgent. At the present
time, the Government in Peking is supposed to have the
power to dispose of all provincial revenues, but, in practice,
it gets no regular receipts from any province. The Gover-
nors, instead of remitting money to Peking, demand from it
financial support. They issue no budget, and the annual
receipts and expenses in the provinces are open to no
inspection by the Central Government. Taxes and imports
are collected as usual and new charges often made, but
there is no account of expenditure. Such a chaotic state
of finance will, it is hoped, come to an end when military
despotism has been overthrown and the provincial assembly
established, but it is at the same time important to enact
and carry into effect that the central revenue shall be
settled and collected directly by the Central Government

1832.13 K

130 Provincial Government

without the interference of the provincial governors. The
desirabihty of this arrangement may be illustrated by the
example of the Customs Administration, which, being
independent of provincial authorities, regularly supplies
the Central Government with revenue at a time when it
receives no remittance from the provinces.

With an independent supply of revenue, the Central
Government will be able to centralize the control of the
army, which even in a federal country should always be
kept in the hands of the central authority. Hitherto, the
different divisions of the Chinese army, stationed and
trained in a certain province, are maintained by its revenue,
and the consequence is that the army has acquired provincial
associations and lost its national character. It should
henceforth be enacted that no province be permitted to
maintain an army of its own and that the provincial names
prefixed to different divisions and regiments should be
abolished. There is no need and no justification for
stationing a few divisions in every province. Some provinces
are only within one or two days' distance from Peking,
and, in case of emergency, there is ample time to dispatch
troops from the capital. In the more distant provinces,
the permanent stationing of troops is perhaps expedient in
view of the urgency of local disturbances, but the experience
of the last few years has clearly proved that the distribution
of troops in different parts of the country is productive of
internal disturbance, and that, in the absence of discipline
among the inadequately paid troops, it is sometimes
impossible to distinguish between the soldiers and the
brigands whom they are expected to suppress. It is there-
fore hoped that the centralization of army control, and the
concentration of troops in a few localities only, will save

Its Relation to the Central Government 13 1

the Central Government from falling a victim to the mercy
of military commanders and the country from unnecessary
troubles. Mr. Hsiung Hsi-ling, whom I have already
quoted, writes as follows in connexion with this point :

' As the Central Government should have full power to
command the army and the navy, the first thing to do is
to mark out by law military circuits which are to be inde-
pendent of provincial administration and not to interfere
with it. The delimitation of military circuits should not
be influenced by administrative areas. One circuit may
include several provinces, or one province may contain
several circuits. Divisions and regiments are not to be
posted permanently in the circuits where they are stationed
but may be moved at any time by the Central Government
from one circuit to another. Military men will then have
no means to interfere with affairs outside their own sphere.
Civil and military administrations being thus separated,
the administrative power of the province naturally belongs
to the provincial chief and cannot be held conjointly by
a military man.'

Referring to the present entanglement between the
North and the South, he goes on to say :

' I consider that the most frequent cause of civil wars in
our history is to be found in the unification of civil and
military power, and in the combining of central and
provincial administration, and that the present struggle is
largely due to these two causes. . . . And it is only by an
adoption of the federal system of government, that we
may hasten the solution of these two problems and that,
after their solution, we may have a guarantee that they
will never occur again. The reason is that, after the
adoption of federation, the Central and the provincial
governments will each have their own powers. So will the
civil and the military authorities. Power will then be
based on the foundation of the State, and be expressed in

K 2

132 Provincial Government

the Constitution. They will mutually help each other, and
will not conflict. The present civil war is entirely due to
the inability of the Central and the provincial governments
and of the civil and the military authorities to exercise
each their own powers. The Central government wants
centralization and therefore extends its rule in the
provinces by despotism. The provinces want division of
power and therefore resist the rule of the Central govern-
ments by revolution. The so-called military men have
originally no independent intentions of their own, and no
wish to cause trouble. Those in favour of the Central
government become involved in despotism ; and those in
favour of provincialism become involved in revolution.
Despotism and revolution each go to the extreme and
become recurrent. Finally, the Central government has no
power to centralize and the provinces have no power to
divide. They only promote the condition of killing and
suffering over the whole country.'

The lucidity of his language, the sincerity of his desire
to save the country, and the rich experience he gained from
the high office he once held, qualify Mr. Hsiung Hsi-ling
to speak with authority, but I do not share his optimistic
belief that the adoption of federation is the panacea for
all the troubles which confront the country. The internal
strife has causes manifold and deep. Stated briefly, they
are personal jealousies and intrigues, and unwillingness to
compromise personal differences. It is in fact doubtful
whether, after a clear division of powers and the adoption
of federation, the results will be as happy as Mr. Hsiung
Hsi-ling anticipates.

I do not dissociate myself from Mr. Hsiung in his recom-
mendation of federal government. Political machinery is
limited in scope and is only expected to achieve moderate

Its Relation to the Central Government


aims. It is impossible by a single stroke of the pen, or by
the setting up of a new machine, to improve at once all
the defects of a country. But machinery can sometimes
solve a deadlock from which the antagonists are striving
to escape without losing their credit. It can certainly, in
time, alter environment, and diminish the influence of
traditions so that the people who adopt it will gradually
become fit for new institutions and for new principles and
methods of government.

It is for these reasons that I see in federation a solution of
the present strife that has threatened to ruin China and has
certainly deprived her of a most valuable and much-desired
chance of pulling herself together. For these reasons, too,
I hope that, through the working of federation, China may be
able to develop her resources more rapidly and to afford
a wider field of employment to politicians, who will then
devote their energy to constructive work, and not to revolu-
tion and other kinds of violence.

Federation, if not carefully worked, may doubtless cause
violence and fail to achieve competence in administration,
but every system of government may produce disappointing
results. At times, we have to choose between two evils ;
and federation in China is a lesser evil than the present-day
nominal centralization, with the Central Government
powerless to rule the provinces. If federation is conducive
to the centralization of army control and to a reasonable
recognition of the provincial autonomy which is already a
fait accompli, it will have done a great deal to improve the
present intolerable situation, to enforce the unity of China,
and to ensure a reasonably rapid development of the

134 Provincial Government

The present objection against federal government for
China is her lack of experienced administrators and legis-
lators. The success of Federalism in the United States, as
Lord Bryce points out, is due to the fact that the Americans
had already been well trained in State governments previous
to the formation of the federal Union, The Chinese are,
of course, not so well trained as the Americans of that
time, but it would be doing them injustice to say that they
are incapable of self-government. They will adapt them-
selves without much difficulty to the new demands on
them, provided their curiosity is excited and their sense of
duty stimulated. In fact, I believe that the literary and
business men of some means in the provinces, who, as
members of the gentry, have already taken active parts in
provincial politics, are much less infected with officialism
and bureaucratism than the officials in the different depart-
ments at Peking. They can, on the whole, be trusted to
conduct a more efficient provincial government than one
administered directly from the capital.

The real difficulty, so far as I can see, is that in spite
of the limited powers which will devolve on the provincial
governments, there can be no guarantee that conflicts will
not arise between them and the Central governments.
Conflicts of this kind are decided in the United States by
the Supreme Federal Court, the verdicts of which are
binding on all States. The eminence of its judges and the
impartiality of their judgements have won for it so great
a respect that nowadays no State or citizen in America

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Online LibrarySih-Gung ChengModern China, a political study → online text (page 10 of 28)