Sih-Gung Cheng.

Modern China, a political study online

. (page 6 of 28)
Online LibrarySih-Gung ChengModern China, a political study → online text (page 6 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

1832.13 P

66 Constitution-making

Shao-yi) attempted to realize the ideal of a responsible
Cabinet by making it independent, but he soon found it
impossible under so strong a President. His successors were
either mediocrities or former subordinates of the President
under the Manchu Government. After the dissolution of
Parliament, President Yiian Shih-k'ai abolished the Cabinet
and substituted for it a secretariat.

With the accession of President Li Yiian-hung, the
responsible Cabinet was restored and the pendulum swung to
the other extreme. He had neither the will nor the power
of his illustrious predecessor, and was no statesman in either
the Western or the Eastern acceptation of the term. His
simplicity and modesty qualified him to fulfil the condition
that he should reign but not govern. The Cabinet under
General Tuan Ch'i-jui, in assuming full responsibility to
Parliament, began to ignore the existence of the President.
' Before a cabinet meeting, no agenda was presented ; and
after it, no report was issued.' The Prime Minister might
not see the President for many months, but the President
was expected to sign decrees, the purport of which he did
not understand ; and to confirm appointments without
being informed of the requirements of the post. When he
complained, he was warned that the responsible Cabinet
had arrived at a decision which was not open to review.
In dispatches to foreign courts or to ambassadors abroad
the President was made to speak in the name of the Govern-
ment, but at home he had no notion of what had happened.
In short, the President was relegated to the position of
a keeper of the seal of his office, and the weekly ' palatial '
conference initiated by his predecessor had now become
a lunch party at which ministers enjoyed his hospitality
but refrained from political discussion.

Cabinet 67

A situation even less tolerable seems recently to have
arisen. President Feng Kuo-chang represents a medium
between his two predecessors, and his own policy is not
always coincident with that of the Cabinet. So long as
one dominated the other, the Central Government was
undivided, but since dual control has taken shape, dissension
has assumed a more serious character. On the question of
civil war with the South, the President advocates concilia-
tion and the Cabinet suppression ; the former finds his
supporters in the Central provinces and the latter in the
North. With the rebellious South included, the country
is divided into three sections, and the triangular quarrel, if
it lasts long, threatens to paralyse the nation.

To avoid this danger as far as is possible by political
machinery, it is proposed that the President should assume
responsibility to Parliament himself. The proposal creates
no new precedent in constitutional history ; it revives the
rule of the ancient Republics in which the Chief Magis-
trate was personally answerable to the Assembly. In truth,
the President is to be ' the King, the Minister, and the
Parliament ', if he is to lead it like the Prime Minister of
England. The consequence is that the President should
only retain olhce so long as he holds the confidence of Par-
liament, and that the country should be called upon to
elect a new President when he loses that confidence and
does not dissolve Parliament, or when a new parliamentary
election returns a majority opposed to the President.

The impracticability of this proposal can be easily under-
stood, as it has already been shown that a frequent election
of President would throw the country into continual
confusion.^ Moreover, the President, made immovable

^ Supra, § I. President, p. 50.

!•■ 2 '

68 Constitution-making

during his term except for high treason, is the only stable
part of Government when the Cabinet is subject to par-
liamentary fluctuation. The visible continuity of govern-
ment will be preserved, so long as the President is not
changed, although a change of Cabinet may alter the whole
system of administration. With the unimaginative Chinese,
it is a solemn tradition that they should be governed by
a visible head ; it is ijidifterent whether he possesses real
power of government.

The alternative to this proposal will be the rule adopted
in the United States, by which the Executive is made
independent of the Legislature. The objection to adopting
this rule in China is that while in America both are subject
to the control of public opinion, in China public opinion,
even if it exists, is too ineffective to attract the attention of
the Government. If the Executive is not responsible to
Parliament, it will be responsible to no one ; responsibility
to the nation is a meaningless phrase, as by reason of the
vast extent of its territory and the present undeveloped
state of political education it is incapable of formulating
a will to direct Government action.

The essence of a responsible Cabinet is that it is at one
and the same time a part of the Executive and a part of
the Legislature. ' It is a hyphen ',^ says Bagehot, ' which
joins, and a buckle which fastens, the legislative part of
the State to the executive part.' It is controlled by Par-
liament, but it also exercises great influence on it, supplying
it with necessary information. It is liable to censure and
inquest by the country through its representatives, and yet,
it educates it by political reasonings and debate. To

' W. Bagehot, English Constilutioiu p. 85 (Nelson's edition). [P. 14,
new edition, l?"*^.]

Cabinet 69

prevent the government of China from falling into the
hands of the few who are not reluctant to sacrifice national
interest for the satisfaction of their individual greed, or
who are incompetent or slow to perform their duties,
a responsible Cabinet is the only channel through which
Parliament can make good its claim that things should be
done or left undone. On the other hand, to control the
turbulence of Parliament and moderate its excesses, a
responsible Cabinet is the only instrument which can direct
it on what to deliberate and on what to be silent. More-
over, at this transitionary period when China is in urgent
need of economic development, it is only a responsible
Cabinet which is in a position to secure that necessary laws
are passed and money provided to carry out the new

It will be wise, however, that at this early stage of her
political development, when a parliamentary frame of
mind has not yet been acquired by her citizens, China
should not accept a responsible Cabinet in the full sense as
understood in England or France. Japan has a responsible
Cabinet, but ministers need not be supported by a majority
in the Diet, though an adverse vote on a question of confi-
dence would compel them to resign, if the Emperor did
not dissolve it. In China, an absolute power of dissolving
Parliament should be given to the President on the con-
dition that a new Parliament should be summoned within
a limited time. The Legislature should be so restricted in
power, in function, and in the number of its members,
that it will be enabled to check the Cabinet, but not obstruct
its action ; to stimulate it from idleness, but not meddle
with intricate problems which are beyond its capacity to
grasp ; to afford opportunities to train politicians and

70 Constitution-making

educate the country, but not at the expense of the stability
of the government ; and to control ministers collectively
and individually, but not tie their hands when prompt
decisions are necessary. How the chambers should be con-
structed if these ideals are to be realized will be discussed
in the next section.

The principal features of the British system of Cabinet
government are lacking in China and perhaps need not be
reproduced. The first feature is collective responsibility,
by which every minister is made responsible for the policy
of the whole Cabinet as well as that of his own department.
The Chinese Parliament that was dissolved insisted on the
recognition of this principle, but it has not been observed
by the Cabinet. It was true that ministers in this case
resigned when they disagreed with their colleagues, but it
would be difBcult for the individualistic Chinese to com-
prehend that he should lose office owing to some accident
in some other department over which he himself exercised
no control. Collective responsibility, it is said, is essential
to the unity of the Cabinet, but I believe that the unity can
be maintained by making the Prime Minister responsible for
the acts of his colleagues, and not the several ministers
responsible for the acts of each other. This will, I think,
be more intelligible to the individualistic Chinese
and enhance the sense of responsibility of the Prime

The practice of collective responsibility is intimately
connected with the custom of choosing all ministers from
one party. As parties in China have not yet grown to
maturity, there has not been a party Cabinet. It was,
however, suggested in 191 3 that members of the then
coalition Cabinet who were not agreed on party questions —

Cabinet 71

some Radicals, some Conservatives, some soldiers, some
Confucian scholars with no party connexion of any kind —
should all enlist in the Democratic party, irrespective of
their sentiments, temperaments, and political convictions.
A party Cabinet would then be created out of the most
heterogeneous elements and on the supposition that those
members who had been opponents of the party would all
discard their earlier antagonism and be converted to its
dogmas. The suggestion was perhaps plausible, but its
practicability was doubted by the humorous Chinese ; it
showed, however, their high capacity for inventing make-
shifts and compromises.

There was no convention in existence at the time of the
Revolution that ministers should be answerable to the
majority in Parliament. Hence it was enacted in the
Provisional Constitution that all ministers, before they
were appointed, should have been approved by Parliament.
This is irreconcilable with the British conception that the
Prime Minister, as ' the keystone of the Cabinet arch ',^
should be allowed a free choice of his own colleagues. At
the present stage of party development in China, it will be
fatal to the speedy formation of a Cabinet and to the
unanimity of its policy, if the Prime Minister is legally
obliged to secure parliamentary consent for every one of
his colleagues. Political parties are not created in a day ;
they require time to develop. Still more time is needed
to adapt a country which has hitherto had no notion of
political parties to the requirements of party government,
granting that such government is desirable for its own
sake. Partisans in China may well claim that things will go
smoothly, if they only have a free hand, but the difficulty
^ Viscount Morlcy, JValpolc, p. 157.

72 Constitution-making

is that human beings are not all of one shade of opinion and
of one state of political education.

To enable ministers to control and to be controlled by
Parliament, the convention has been firmly established in
European countries which adopt the system of a responsible
Cabinet that they should be members of Parliament, or at
least should be allowed to attend and take part in the
debates. The Provisional Constitution of China alloAvs the
ministers to appear in Parliament and speak. The par-
liamentary frame of mind, as I have already said, has not,
as yet, been acquired by the Chinese ; and politicians,
especially those of the old school, are not willing to indulge
in the art of oratory. In the Senate and the House of
Representatives in Peking, the ministerial benches are
placed on the platform on each side of the Speaker, quite
apart from those of ordinary members. When speaking,
a minister has to ascend the tribune, and on concluding
he immediately leaves the House. There is no feeling of
community between ministers and members ; and there
is no inducement to co-operation between the legislative
and the executive parts of the Government. The one views
the other with animosity and contempt ; and each thinks
that the other is transgressing its own power.

Attempts have been made to appoint members to minis-
terial posts, but it was urged in opposition that a legislator
could not be made a Janus with two faces. Not under-
standing that ministers are the link between Parliament and
Cabinet, the country imagines that members are influenced
by greed and avarice if they aspire to Cabinet rank. It is
thought that, members being already substantially paid, the
hope of a ministerial salary in addition would excite their
selfish desires. It must be said once again that in a country

Cabinet 73

which does not yet understand the working of the Cabinet
system, it requires time and education to introduce new
rules and new conceptions of government. It will be
reasonable that ministers, whether they are members or
not, should be automatically giVen seats in Parliament
(without an additional salary). It is the practice in France :
it should be introduced into China without importing the
British rule that a minister, if not already a member, must
find a constituency to represent.

To return to the conflict between the President and the
Cabinet. Much depends, of course, on their intelligence
and prudence. High executive officers are expected to
dispossess themselves of jealousy and arrogance ; harmony
in government and mutual respect are only obtainable by
personal and conscious efforts. Courtesy and politeness
have, however, been the characteristics of the Chinese ;
and it is to be hoped that they will be brought to bear on
their modern politics.

Rules should, perhaps, be laid down to define the func-
tions of the respective offices and minimize the overlapping
of their powers. The President, elected with much con-
sideration and care, should not be taken as an idol for fools
to worship. The powers granted to him and the duties
imposed on him by the Constitution do not permit him
to fulfil the ideal of a ' pig kept to fatten '. The French
President presides over Cabinet meetings (Conseil des
Ministres) and the King of England in Council may also
perform State duties of high importance. It is only reason-
able that the President of China should participate in
conferences relating to important decisions, and that,
before the presentation of a case to him, ministers should
hold meetings of their own which will probably be similar

74 Constitution-making

to the Conseil de Cabinet In France, as distinct from the
Conseil des Minlstres.

The Cabinet of China is itself a highly organized depart-
ment ; and the organization reveals the capacity of the
Chinese for analytic reasoning and scientific management.
The revelation is all the more significant when we remember
the fact that the Prime Minister of England, till quite
recently, had no secretariat adequate to the amount of his
work, and that the Conseil des Minlstres is not equipped
with a department. The Cabinet in Peking, although it
holds meetings In secret, keeps detailed records in its
minutes, and it is in charge of business which is common to
all departments or which belongs to none. It maintains
the unity of administration and Is the link between the
provincial authorities and the Central Government.

It Is divided into four sections. Through the first
section, the secretariat, the Prime Minister Issues orders
and instructions to the whole country within his prescribed
sphere of action. It drafts documents, keeps records,
compiles reports, and is the custodian of State archives.
The next section is the bureau of Laws and Regulations,
which occupies the same position as the Government
draftsmen in England. The more important section is the
bureau of the Civil Service. It combines in itself the func-
tions divided in England between the Treasury Board, the
Civil Service Commission, and the Ministry of Pensions.
It is also responsible for the preparation of the ' Honours
List ', according to which decorations and insignia are con-
ferred on ' meritorious ' persons, and it authorizes the
acceptance of decorations granted to Chinese subjects by
foreign States. Finally, a section on ' Printing and Engrav-
ing ' discharges the same duty as H.M. Stationery Office

Cabinet 75

in England, with the additional function of designing and
making seals and badges of every description.

The Cabinet of China, as has been shown, has had a
long history. The division of the Executive into different
departments was also long in development. In the ritual
of the Chou dynasty which ruled China from 11 22 B.C. to
225 B.C., we find that six Government departm.ents were
then in existence. To inquire into their internal organiza-
tion and to examine their division of powers in detail will
be a study of immense historical interest, but it will be
out of place to mention here more than the broad
division into departments of the Imperial Household ; of
the Interior and Education ; of Rites ; of Public Works ;
and of Punishments. After numerous alterations in suc-
cessive dynasties, the Manchu Government had depart-
ments of the Civil Service ; of Rites ; of Works ; of War ;
of Finance ; and of Justice. New departments were created
towards the end of its reign.

The Republic carries on its administration through ten
departments. Modern activities have grown up, and more
governmental interference is needed to direct social activi-
ties towards certain channels. The mutual diplomatic
representation between China and other States has necessi^
tated the creation of a department of Foreign Affairs, the
nucleus of which has existed ever since the establishment of
the Tsungli Yamen in 1863. It is the department through
which China communicates with the Foreign Offices of
other Powers, and its functions do not differ much from those
of the latter. But owing to the exercise of territorial
rights by other States in China, it often deals with questions
v/hich do not concern the Foreign Office of any other
country. Treaty ports are under the jurisdiction of foreign

76 Constitution-making

consuls, and litigation involving both aliens and Chinese
often requires careful and dignified handling by this depart-
ment. Mixed Courts, in which Chinese judges sit with
foreign colleagues, are partially controlled by the Ministry ;
and cases of extradition from Chinese territory to foreign
settlements and vice versa often present thorny problems
for solution. For instance, the registration of ahen enemies
in time of war is in most other countries done by the police,
but in China, as these aliens are mostly resident in foreign
settlements, it comes under the Foreign Ministry as the
proper authority to approach foreign consuls, with whom it
must co-operate to effect the registration. The Ministry
appoints delegates to represent it in treaty ports to deal
with foreign affairs.

China is no leading figure in the family of nations, but
tlic conduct of her foreign affairs is sometimes extremely
painful and delicate. The demand by foreign Powers for
economic and sometimes territorial concessions, and the
occasional delinquency in the observance of* treaties in
remote parts of the country, are unpleasant events for her
Government. She has no formal alliance with any country,
and, not being a Power of first rank, she exercises little
influence on the course of those international events which
make modern political life so exciting and foreign affairs so
difficult to understand. But a weak Power is always a pawn
which the strong hands play, and, though impotent itself,
often disturbs the equilibrium between the Great Powers.
On her own part, China only desires peace and non-inter-
ference on the part of other States so that she can have
time to organize her resources and to adapt herself to the
changes of environment caused by her coming into contact
with Western States.

Cabinet 77

Next in order comes the Ministry of the Interior. Its
functions are manifold and cover vast ground. China is no
federal State, and her administration is centralized. This
Ministry is charged with all local administration, including
elections, publication, copyright, sanitation, police, public
\vorks, poor relief, charity organization, disposition of
public land, public worship, and control over morality and

Europeans will probably be puzzled by this long list ;
any one of the items enumerated might require a separate
department to carry out its administration over so vast an
area as three-fourths of the Asiatic continent. But China,
up to the present, has not been a modern country, and,
according to European notions, she has not attained even
a rudimentary standard in sanitation and public works.
Throughout the whole country there are not more than
a few thousand yards of water pipes and not more than half
a score of workhouses provided at the expense of the
Government. _

The Chinese are reputed to be docile and honest. They
have developed self-control and mutual help to a very high
degree and they require very little government. The
shrewd observation of the late Sir Robert Hart that China
is the only country in the world where a single magistrate
governs thousands of square miles and millions of population
is truly reflective of her social organization. Richthofen is
also of opinion that there is no other country more immune
from official interference or interruption.

Modern activities have, however, gradually multiplied
and the increase of travel has already put an end to the
calm and tranquillity of the old order. Factory life has
been introduced and organization on a big scale has become

78 Constitution-making

necessary in order to meet the requirements of modern
industry and trade. The IVIinistry of the Interior, with
a staff of a little over a hundred, should find it impossible to
cope with the multifarious duties imposed on it, but at
the moment the introduction and execution of social
reforms has been so retarded by internal strife and financial
chaos that it finds its staff sufiicient to deal with its various
duties. Moreover, the centralization of administration,
although much advertised in Government publications, has
never been and probably never can be enforced. The
Ministry is in charge of the Police Force of the whole
country, but in practice its administration largely depends
on the pleasure of provincial authorities who, in turn,
delegate it to magistrates. The inhabitants in rural dis-
tricts organize their own police in their own fashion without
being subject to the supervision of the Central Government.
The vastness of the country and the imperfection of the
means of communication have made the Ministry unable to
enforce its will ; and the only police force under its direct
control, and for the efficiency of which it is responsible, is
the Police Force in the metropolitan area of Peking.

This Ministry is in charge of Public Worship. It is
a highly controversial question w-hether China has a State
religion, but she is certainly more tolerant of religious
opinions than any other nation. Buddhism, Moham-
medanism, Judaism, and Christianity all have their followers
in China ; but throughout her long range of history there
has not been a single instance of religious persecution.^

^ The massacre of Christian missionaries in China in 1900 cannot be
said to have been a religious persecution. They were killed not because
they were Christians, but because they were foreigners, and the native
converts were killed, not because of their new faith, but because of
their association with foreigners.

Cabinet 79

The function of the Ministry is, however, administrative
and not religious. It deals with questions that may possibly
arise in connexion with different religions, and it keeps in
order and repair temples dedicated to Heaven, to Gods, to
Confucius, and to other notable historical persons. It
has a more interesting function, that of granting Government
appreciation and encouragement to those distinguished in
chivalry, in chastity, or in kindred virtues, and to those who
have enjoyed the long age of over one hundred years.
The authorization of the erection of memorial tablets and
arches to young widows who have not been married for
the second time is a function peculiar to Chinese moral

The Ministry of Finance is in charge of the financial
machinery of the whole country, which includes taxation,
public debt. Government monopoly, Government banks, and
currency control. The principal sources of revenue of the

Online LibrarySih-Gung ChengModern China, a political study → online text (page 6 of 28)