China Emergent

In the midst of World War II, as China's Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, struggled against Japanese invaders from without and the Communist movement from within, his Wellesley College–educated wife decried the exploitation of China by the West and delineated a vision for a more democratic future.

Westerners may be surprised to learn that China is the Columbus of democracy. Twenty-four centuries before the Christian era, Emperors Yau, Shun, and Yü succeeded each other by their subjects’ wish instead of by hereditary right. Over a thousand years before Confucius an articulate political platform proclaimed, ‘The people’s views are heaven’s voice,’ anticipating by centuries the Western adage: ‘Vox populi vox Dei.’ From earliest times a system of local government prevailed in our country, based upon subdivisions of the hen, or county, which, as I shall explain later, is the foundation upon which we now are framing—even in wartime—our constitutional government. Mencius, in the fourth century before Christ, enunciated the theory that the people rank first, the state second, the ruler last. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract, published in 1762, rings like an echo of The Essays published by Huang Lichow in 1663. Huang, in discussing political theories, severely criticized the monarchial form of government. In a chapter on ‘The Origin of Rulers’ he dwelt at length on differences among ancient rulers and the autocrats who followed them; the former regarded their country as the hub of the universe while the latter held themselves to be of primary importance. Logically Huang urged the overthrow of such rulers in order to establish the people's government. This subject might be pursued further, but enough has been said to substantiate the observation that China, long before the West, embraced democratic ideals.

I have already referred to Chinese socialism, for our political compass shows our ship of state ploughing in that direction. Nevertheless, some people are alarmed at the very word ‘socialism,’ much as a timid horse shies away from its own shadow. Actually, though not called by that name, socialism has influenced national thought in China for decades, even amid the confusion caused by civil unrest and the present war. But it does not have any affiliation with communism. The Chinese do not accept the much-mooted theory of enriching the poor by dispossessing present owners of their wealth, nor do they believe such a step would give any prospect of an enduring alleviation of poverty and human misery. We prefer leveling up to leveling down. Before the present war started, the political tutelage which Dr. Sun Yat-sen decreed should precede full constitutional government had been put into practice for the purpose of laying sound and lasting democratic foundations for the people to build upon. Some progress had already been made when Japan forced us to take up arms to fight for freedom on July 7, 1937.

In the midst of war in 1938 the People’s Political Council was established as the precursor of a National Parliament. This body of 240 members includes not only regional representatives, some of whom are women, elected by provincial and municipal popular assemblies, but also scholars and experts appointed by the National Government. It has the power of revision and recommendation and has become an important element of our national life. One of its outstanding achievements was the adoption of a proposal to constitute the county (hsien) as a unit of self-government. As I write, greater scope of action and further popular representation have been given to the Council.

This new hsien system aims to enable people to manage the affairs of their home districts by electing their own representatives to local governing organizations. When this program for local self-government is carried out, they will be free to elect their chief magistrate. Furthermore, these assemblies, composed entirely of elected representatives, will choose delegates to a national convention for the purpose of adopting and promulgating a permanent national constitution and for the election of the president of China.

From the base to the apex the political structure will be erected by the people themselves. Thus the rules and regulations of the new hsien system are much more than a mere step toward local self-government. They are a political move forward in the direction of national democracy.

Some of our time-honored institutions such as our trade guilds will usefully complement this new pattern of national political growth. For centuries they have been a valuable feature of our social and commercial life. The provincial guilds in our large cities relieve fellow provincials in distress, settle disputes among members, thus preventing costly litigation, and help in numerous other ways. We propose to give these organizations more executive power and to obtain for the government the benefit of their experience.

Regarding civil administration, I have often expressed strong views about our civil service. I hold no brief for a system of political patronage. In our country, after the war, civil service appointments must be made on merit alone. Fitness to hold a position should in the future be the criterion for government service, not friendship or the favor of those in high and influential places. Nepotism must be completely jettisoned. This is a reform that I, for one, have always advocated, and it has been started on its way.

Their agelong experience has taught the Chinese people that all mundane things change, and even social and political systems are subject to transmutation. Chinese thinkers today are therefore content if they can so fashion the framework that the political fabric of the future can be woven and expanded in the best interests of the nation.

Chinese socialism, if you like to call it that, seeks above all else to preserve the birthrights of the individual. No state can be great and prosperous unless the people are contented. They can only be content if their dignity and rights as human beings are kept inviolate. To cherish the worth of the human personality is what we seek, and we are therefore giving the individual ever-increasing power to decide his own and the nation’s future.

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