From Autocracy to Democracy: Political Institutions at the End of the Ch’ing Dynasty

  • William L. Tung


No political institution is absolutely sound at all times in all places. Its value varies with the changes in time and circumstances, which are actually the determining factors for the modern transformation from absolute monarchy into constitutional democracy. There is neither a definite standard for such transformation nor a workable rule for its success or failures. These, again, depend upon the particular background of a country, determination of the people, as well as other important elements. The uncertainty of the overall situation in modern China was the underlying reason for her frequent shifting from one government system to another.


Constitutional Rule Council Member Preparatory Period Electoral Rule Legislative Council 
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  1. 1.
    Before the establishment of the republic in 1912, China had traditionally used her old calendar. Thus come the discrepancies of dates in many books on China, because some authors keep the original dates of the old calendar while others record the corresponding dates according to the Western calendar. To check various dates in both calendars, consult Windon Chandler Welch, Chinese American Calendar (1849–1951).* Here the asterisk indicates that the work is written in English. Other sources quoted in the footnotes without * or any other sign are all in Chinese. In the bibliography can be found the publication data for each source.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Taiping Rebellion or Revolution broke out in 1850. Not till 1864 was it subdued by the Manchu regime. For twelve years, Nanking was in the hands of the rebels. Over a dozen provinces were devastated, and hundreds of cities were captured. In a score of pitched battles, the Imperial troops suffered defeat. It was evident that the Manchu generalship Was not quite equal to the task before it. For details, see W.J. Hall, Tseng Kuo-fan and the Taiping Rebellion * (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927). As a war measure for raising revenue during the Taiping Rebellion, the Manchu government instituted the infamous system of public sale of offices, which had been retained after the restoration of peace. See L. S. Hsii, Sun Yat-sen: His Political and Social Ideals.* pp. 28–29.Google Scholar
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    Li’s official title was Pei-yang Minister or Minister of Northern Provinces.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    The Collected Works of Sun Yat-sen (Shanghai: San-ming Book Co., 1937), Vol. IV, “Correspondence and Telegrams.” pp. 1–17.Google Scholar
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    See ibid., “A History of the Chinese Revolution,” p. 7; also Tsou Lu, The Manuscript of the History of the Nationalist Party of China. Vol. I, p. 2. There are different opinions with regard to the exact time and place of the founding of the Hsing-chung Hui. After research on this subject, Tsou Lu wrote: “Since there is a sentence in the autobiography of the late Tsung-li mentioning that he went to Hawaii and founded the Hsing-chung Hui, many people maintain that the Hsing-chung Hui was instituted in Hawaii. Actually, it was established in Macao. This fact can be sufficiently proved by referring to Tsung-li’s The Kidnapping in London”. (Ibid., Vol. I, p. 28, footnote 1.) The word Tsung-li means ‘ General Director or Leader, the official title of Dr. Sun Yat-sen in the party.Google Scholar
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    For details, see Ch. V., Sec. 2, “The Outline of National Reconstruction.”Google Scholar
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    The members of the secret societies in China took active part in the Chinese revolution. These were the Triad or the Hung societies. For their origin and activities as well as Dr. Sun’s personal connection with them, see T’ang Leang-li, The Inner History of the Chinese Revolution,* pp. 4–9.Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    See Liang’s article on “Enlightened Dictatorship,” published in the Hsin-ming Tsung Pao. In his letter to the Chinese businessmen in North and South Americas in June 1902, K’ang Yu-wei discussed at length the disadvantages of revolution and the advantages of a constitutional monarchy.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    See the Imperial Edict for Constitutional Preparations of September I, 1906. The sources of all official documents referred to in this work can be found in the Government Gazette and various collections of laws and regulations. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, all can be found in William L. Tung, The Government of China (Shanghai: World Book Co., 1942, 2 vols.).Google Scholar
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    Ta Ch’ing Kuang Hsü New Laws, Vol. II, Sec. 1, pp. 25–27.Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    See Yang Yu-chiung, Legislative History of Modern China, pp. 55–56.Google Scholar
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    Ch. I on general principles and Ch. II on elections. See Ta Ch’ing Kuang Hsü New Laws, Vol. II, Sec. 1, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    See Organic Law of the National Legislative Council, Chs. 1, 3, 6.Google Scholar
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    Ta Ch’ing Hsüan Tung New Laws, Vol. IX, pp. 13–14.Google Scholar
  15. 1.
    Organic Law of the Provincial Assembly, Chs. 6, 8.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., Arts. 3, 5–8, 39–40.Google Scholar
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    Promulgated on February 3, 1910. For texts, see Ta Ch’ing Hsüan T’ung New Laws, Vol. XIII, pp. 3–22.Google Scholar
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    For opinions of the Constitutional Research Bureau on local self-government, see Ta Ching Kuang Hsü New Laws, Vol. II, Sec. 1, pp. 2–3.Google Scholar
  19. 1.
    For a full description of Huang Hsing’s contribution to the Chinese revolution, see Chün-tu Hsiieh, Huang Hsing and the Chinese Revolution (Stanford University Press, 1961).Google Scholar
  20. 1.
    For its English translation, see Appendix B.Google Scholar
  21. 2.
    See Li Chiennung, The Political History of China, 1840–1928 (Shanghai: Pacific, 1930), pp. 193–194. Here the Emperor was Hsüan T’ung (P’u Yi), who succeeded to the throne in 1908 when both Empress Dowager and Emperor Kuang Hsü died.Google Scholar
  22. 1.
    For its text, see Government Gazette, January, 1912.Google Scholar
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    The Collected Works of Sun Yat-sen, Vol. IV, “A History of the Chinese Revolution,” p. 10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1964

Authors and Affiliations

  • William L. Tung
    • 1
  1. 1.Queens CollegeCity University of New YorkUSA

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