Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has dominated public discourse through its control of the media and education. The CCP has thus successfully promoted an image of China that suits its own interests.
One of the key elements of CCP propaganda is its opposition to democracy and the distortion of the definition of democracy itself. The Party claims to have the right to lead the PRC and does not tolerate any alternative political force.
On June 30, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong gave a speech on the concept of the “People’s Democratic Dictatorship“. He said:
“All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teaches us to enforce the people’s democratic dictatorship, that is, to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right.
“Who are the people? At the present stage in China, they are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. These classes, led by the working class and the Communist Party, unite to form their own state and elect their own government; they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism — the landlord class and bureaucrat-bourgeoisie, as well as the representatives of those classes, the Kuomintang reactionaries and their accomplices — suppress them, allow them only to behave themselves and not to be unruly in word or deed.
“If they speak or act in an unruly way, they will be promptly stopped and punished. Democracy is practiced within the ranks of the people, who enjoy the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, association and so on. The right to vote belongs only to the people, not to the reactionaries. The combination of these two aspects, democracy for the people and dictatorship over the reactionaries, is the people’s democratic dictatorship.”
What Mao meant by “people’s democratic dictatorship” may sound confusing, but it is actually quite simple. According to Mao, the Party had the right to decide who “the people” were. Therefore, the regime could arbitrarily strip individuals of their rights if it deemed them “reactionary”.
This led to crimes against millions of Chinese who were imprisoned, tortured or killed because of their social status, their past political affiliation, or because of opinions that the Party leadership did not like. As Frank Dikotter has explained in “The Tragedy of Liberation“, the classification of the population in clearly distinct classes as envisioned by Mao proved impossible, causing arbitrary persecutions.
To this day the concept of the people’s democratic dictatorship is enshrined in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Ever since the founding of the Communist regime, the Party has been adamant that it alone has the right to lead the country, and that “democracy” means that the “people”, as defined by the Party, must follow Party ideology.
After the demise of the Soviet-style planned economy in the 1970s and the establishment of a state-led market economy, the CCP began to shift its anti-democratic narrative from a strictly Marxist-Leninist standpoint to a cultural-historical one.
In 2002 Zhao Qizheng, director-general of the State Council Information Office (SCIO), claimed that the West and China had different views on human rights.
“Human rights, as a matter of fact, have to undergo a process of constant development in step with societies’ progress and the development of civilizations … Countries vary in the state of economic development, history and culture and, naturally, should follow different ways in striving for development and promoting human rights,” Zhao said. “China differs from the West in historical, cultural and religious background, economic development, political system and ideology. It is only natural that there exist differences between them on the issue of human rights.”
The Communist leadership challenges the notion of universal values and uses the concept of particularism to argue that Western values cannot work in China. At the same time, it also claims that another Western ideology, Marxism-Leninism, is applicable to China.
The CCP’s monopoly on the narrative about China has marginalized the democratic tradition of the country, and has depicted one-party rule – which is also a Western import – as the sole suitable model for the Chinese people.
In this article, we shall provide a few passages from the works of three notable pro-democracy intellectuals: Sun Yat-sen, Lin Yutang, and Carsun Chang. We shall argue that the failure of democracy in China was not predetermined by the character and history of its people, but it was the result of the conscious actions of politicians who used force and propaganda to seize power and mislead the public.
It must be pointed out that the three authors herein quoted expressed ideas that are not always compatible with the contemporary understanding of democracy and human rights. Our aim is not to portray Sun Yat-sen, Lin Yutang and Carsun Chang as flawless champions of democracy, but to show that Chinese intellectuals were influenced by democratic ideals and adapted them to Chinese circumstances. It is therefore wrong to argue that the Chinese adaptation of Marxism and Leninism has any more legitimacy than the adoption of other foreign theories.
Sun Yat-sen and the five-power constitution
Sun Yat-sen (1866 – 1925) was a Chinese politician and revolutionary. He was the leader of the Republican movement that overthrew the last imperial dynasty in 1911 and established the Republic of China (ROC).
Sun’s main work is the Three Principles of the People (Sanmin Zhuyi). The three principles were nationalism, democracy, and socialism.
Sun believed in representative government and separation of powers. Drawing on Western and Chinese traditions, he envisioned a so-called five-power constitution where the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government were complemented by the department of examination and the department of supervision (control).
The department of control was tasked with impeaching officials found guilty of misconduct. Its powers are exercised by the Control Yuan of the ROC on Taiwan. The purpose of the department of examination was to oversee the qualification of civil servants. Its functions are carried out by the Examination Yuan.
Sun argued that ROC citizens should have the right of suffrage, recall (a form of impeachment in which the citizens vote to remove elected officials), initiative and referendum.
The following passages are quoted from lectures Sun gave in 1924 and which were subsequently collected in the “Three Principles of the People.” Herein Sun discusses the issue of democracy in China and his concept of a five-power constitution.
“All of you who have come here to-day to support my revolution are naturally believers in democracy. Those old officials who want to restore the monarchy and become emperor are naturally opponents of democracy and believers in autocracy. Which, autocracy or democracy, is really better suited to modern China? This is a question worthy of serious study …
“The essential question is this: Is China to-day ripe for democracy ? There are some who say that the standards of the Chinese people are too low and that they are not ready for popular government. Although the United States is a democratic state, yet when Yüan Shih-kai was trying to become emperor, an American professor named Goodnow came to China to advise a monarchical form of government, saying that the Chinese people were not progressive in their thinking, that their culture was behind that of Europe and America, and so they should not attempt a democracy. Yüan Shih-kai made good use of these arguments of Goodnow and overthrew the republic, making himself emperor …
“China now is in a period of revolution. We are advocating a democratic form of government. Our ideas of democracy have come from the West. We have recently been thinking how we might copy these ideas and build up a nation under popular government.
“After China secures a powerful government, we must not be afraid, as Western peoples are, that the government will become too strong and get from under our control. Because our plan for the reconstructed state includes the division of the political power of the whole state into two parts. The political power will be given into the hands of the people, who will have a full degree of sovereignty and will be able to control directly the affairs of state; this political power is popular sovereignty. The other power is government, and we will put that entirely in the government organs, which will be powerful and will manage all the nation’s business; this political power is the power of government. If the people have a full measure of political sovereignty and the methods for exercising popular control over the government are well worked out, we need not fear that the government will become too powerful and uncontrollable.
“The political power above is in the hands of the people, the administrative power below is in the hands of the government. The people control the government through the suffrage, the recall, the initiative, and the referendum; the government works for the people through its legislative, judicial, executive, civil examination, and censoring departments. With these nine powers in operation and preserving a balance, the problem of democracy will truly be solved and the government will have a definite course to follow.
“The materials for this new plan have been discovered before now. Switzerland has already applied three of the political powers but does not have the recall. Some of the northwestern states in the United States have taken over the three political rights from Switzerland and have added the right of recall. Suffrage is the people’s power most widely exercised in the world to-day. Switzerland is already exercising three of the popular powers and a fourth part of the United States is exercising all four. Where the four powers have been exercised in a careful, compact way the results have been excellent. They are facts of experience, not mere hypothetical ideals. (Sun Yat-Sen, San Min Chu I: The Three Principles of the People, 1927, pp. 168-355, my emphasis).
Lin Yutang and Democracy
Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976) was a renowned Chinese intellectual. His most famous work, My Country and my People (1935), was a bestseller in the West.
In the following excerpt, written during the last months of the Second World War, Lin discusses his belief in democracy, criticizes the Guomindang regime’s failure to implement democracy, and attacks Communist totalitarianism.
“The problems facing China today may be summed up as (1) the problem of democracy, (2) the problem of unity, (3) the problem of the Army and (4) the problem of industrialization …
“The problem of democracy comes first because, looking beyond the war, the assurance of a truly democratic China is of great importance to postwar international co-operation, and is therefore of greater world interest than even the winning of the war, now that victory is certain. However, I do not think the establishment of constitutional government is the prerequisite for national unity; or rather, I do not think that its delay is the true cause of the Communist revolt, as I have shown in the chapter on “Civil War.”
“What does being democratic mean? Since everybody is democratic nowadays, we are terribly confused. Why is democracy extolled, applauded, contended for, and paid tribute to by every haranguing orator and every editorial writer?
“Democracy is a system of government based on the association of men who believe that peace, security, and justice for all can somehow be worked out by a delegation of their powers to freely elected bodies, provided the people can at any time peacefully throw out any government that doesn’t give them peace, security, and justice.
“Fun-pokers like G.B.S. [George Bernard Shaw] extol Mussolini and Hitler and Stalin and deny the existence of democracy in England and the United States. It is well to have a few fun-pokers, for democracy likes its clowns. But the people of England and the United States can peacefully throw out their governments that do not satisfy them, and organize other governments with some slight improvements, and that is good enough for me. Because of that, democracy guarantees peace in spite of clashes of opinion and interests inside a nation, and insures a steady evolution of progress, however slow. I believe that is why democracy is the most mature form of government.
“In order to make this possible, there must be certain established habits in the government and the people, like abiding by the majority, respect for the law of the nation established by the people themselves, the fundamental assumption that the government must be made responsive to the majority will of the people, and certain machineries for making the will of the people effective. There follow electioneering and campaigning by men who love power and love to rule others, and who praise themselves and as often as not deceive the people in campaign pledges, which are not to my liking. I am amazed that such people exist. But people are born differently, and I was by nature born into the class to be ruled by others, who send me questionnaires to be answered. Sometimes I good-naturedly co-operate with these busybodies because I know their families’ rice bowls depend on it and they cannot write books. Sometimes I rebel and feel the democratic urge to shove the high and mighty about, whether in my own or some foreign government. Therefore I believe I am fundamentally one of that class of democratic citizens without which no democracy can survive.
“Democracy means the inherent desire of private individuals to shove their rulers about, and the free exercise of their intelligence to tell their rulers what to do and what not to do. Since China says she is going on the road to democracy, I must limber up my muscles, and I shall enjoy it, too. God bless the Chinese Republic and Dr. Sun Yatsen its Founder, that my intellectual muscles may be so exercised.
“In the decade before the war, I tried my best to limber up myself, under a strict censorship of the press without landing myself in jail. The Kuomintang thought I had an undisciplined mind, and the leftist writers thought I was only a joker, trying to laugh off the cruel oppression of the masses. What the leftist writers could not stand was humor. One chauvinistic official, hearing that My Country and My People was a best-seller abroad, wittily said that I was “selling my country.” I am happy to say that that man has met his due: he has become the foreign minister of the puppet government [the government installed by the Japanese] at Nanking.
“It may be objected that criticism of one’s own government abroad is not opportune in time of war; on the other hand, greater harm can be done, and has been done, to the cause of China by painting a half-true picture. The sooner a state of confidence is established by presenting an accurate picture of the true situation, the better it will be for my country. God knows my country is full of imperfections, but only those willing to have their imperfections known and corrected are worthy of help. The present administration has a record of as many failures as successes, exactly the kind of failures that provide ammunition for some pretty bad slugging in a presidential campaign in a Western country. The Chinese government has got to learn to take such slugging as if it were in a presidential campaign with an active and virile opposition party. It has to prepare itself, not the people, for democracy.
“Yet I think the Chinese government and the nation have no reason to be ashamed of their record in this war. When the heat of political campaigning for the Chinese Communists is over, people five years from now, striking a balance sheet and taking into account all the internal factors, will find that they have done the stupendous and the impossible. They will find that both China and the Chinese government were the sinned against rather than the sinners. How difficult is a sense of balance and proportion! I know I am writing under great handicap when I wish to earn my right as an intelligent critic to refuse to fall in with the current conception that Chungking is all black and Yenan all white [Yan’an was the capital of the area controlled by Mao Zedong’s Communists]. I do not see how I can help myself. In the future, the fact that at present the size of American help to China is inversely proportional to the export tonnage of paternalistic advice supplied to her will be regarded as an anomaly, based neither on comprehension nor on policy, but on an offhand and lightminded thoughtlessness.
“Freedom of the press is more important than the enactments of laws and constitutions. People who do not know how to talk against their government do not deserve a democracy. And the best government in the world, when it is deprived of the goading of democratic “gadflies,” soon gets bored with its own virtues and dies of inanity. I sometimes think God Himself created Satan because He was so sick of the singing and flattering angels and wanted to save Himself from boredom. If the kingdom of heaven cannot do without opposition, how much less can a human secular government? …
“[T]hough bearing in mind the necessity of war censorship, I still say that in China the freedom of the press has deteriorated during the war to an undue extent. I talked with many writers and editors in China and found them irked by unnecessary restraint. When I said to a very well-educated reporter in Kweilin that the basis of all democracy is civil liberties and that American editors criticize official acts and nobody can do anything to them on account of protection of civil liberties, his eyes were wide open. In China, I must say, I did not hear of editors banned, fined, or imprisoned for criticizing officials; but since all newspaper copy is passed beforehand by the censors, this could not happen anyway. What good does it do to create a feeling of restraint and general dissatisfaction in the writing profession by an overall censorship?
“The connection between censorship and stupidity is proverbial. All newspapers, magazines, and books have to be submitted to censors before publication. In the case of newspapers, this has placed the government in the odious position of being responsible for approval of all press utterances. In the case of criticisms of acts of foreign allies, Chinese diplomacy is deprived of the power of reference to Chinese public opinion as expressed in a free press. Furthermore, censors are government employees, answerable to the several authorities of the government, the party and the army, and, like all bureaucrats, they prefer to act on the cautious side, which is the murderous side in the employment of the blue-pencil weapon.
“The censors also tend to make literature subservient to propaganda, and authors have to alter their plays in favor of patriotic platitudes. I have heard such complaints from a playwright; he was as mad about the censorship as any American playwright in a similar situation would be. This was the more unbearable because the playwright knew that the censor himself was probably a child of eighteen who has not yet finished high school. In numerous cases, the suppression of entirely harmless and irrelevant phrases became irritating and downright asinine, suggesting that the whole nation was being put through a Sunday school class. Once censorship is established, it is difficult to escape the paternalistic spirit of allowing and forbidding the people what to read and what to think.
“In practice, the Chinese people have got used to it, as the people of Soviet Russia have, except that they get bored with too oft-repeated phraseology and smile when they read it. The astounding thing is that people freely criticize the government acts in public places and private homes, everywhere except when they make a formal speech. They know “mandarin talk” when they hear it. The required submission of all newspaper copy and book manuscripts creates an unhealthy atmosphere, but this does not mean that the censors suppress all criticism of government measures. In 1940 I saw a Ta Kung Pao editorial which in criticism of the failure of the Price Stabilization Board quoted Tsao Tsao of the Three Kingdoms and suggested that “the skull” of the head of the Board “be borrowed to pacify the hearts of the people.” There have been occasional outspoken criticisms on internal policies like that. When in Chungking this time, I read a scathing exposure of a badly run public institution and a great many articles criticizing price control, the closing down of factories, and the transportation situation.
“The Communist daily, Hsin Hwa Jih Pao, was given more freedom than in Yenan. In February, in Chungking, I read a significantly passed attack in this paper on the Minister of Information Liang Han-chao himself, Liang’s reply, Hsin Hwa Jih Pao’s reply to the reply, and Liang’s final answer …
“The whole character of the Kuomintang government is paternalistic, but I do not think it is “fascist.” It has all the evils of paternalism, overanxious to guide and channel people’s thoughts and action, and not anxious enough to let the people guide themselves; but I do not think it has the evils of regimentation of thoughts and ideas and the rule of terror and force. The reaction of the people under a paternalistic regime is one of annoyance or placid amusement; the reactions of people under a totalitarian rule are whispers, secret terrors, frightened submission, and goose-stepping unanimous praise of the government. The evils of paternalism are corrigible; the evils of totalitarianism are not. For definite evidences of the latter, one must go to Yenan.
“What China needs is an immediate enforcement of the Bill of Rights. I would rather see a little less paternalistic coddling of the nation and a little more attention paid to seeing the people’s freedom of speech, assembly, and belief, and the habeas corpus enforced. It is my conviction that democracy begins, grows, and prospers with the protection of the people’s civil rights, and is inseparable from it. The definition of democracy as a term meaning merely the existence of mature, self-respecting individuals living with individual dignity can oftentimes be inadequate. Certainly the Chinese people are mature, self-respecting individuals with a great deal of individual dignity.
“How does it happen, then, that Chinese régimes have often been corrupt and the mature, self-respecting individuals could do nothing about it until the corruption got bad enough and the regime had to be overthrown by the wasteful process of revolt and bloodshed? Individual moral dignity without the legal protection of that dignity is not enough. When individuals were arrested without trial and could not appeal to law, evidently there was not much individual dignity left.
“Chinese editors are not inherently less self-respecting as individuals than American editors. Yet there is something which affects their spirit and mellows their tone; habitually they stand less for their rights than a New England farmer does. Democracy means just that difference, that when a man obeys the law no one on earth can touch him. He holds his head higher, talks louder, and sticks his chest out further. He doesn’t give a damn for anybody. This quality of not giving a damn for anybody is, as I have said, inherent in the Chinese people. But when he pursues his peaceful living and yet the officer of the law grabs him by the shoulder and he knows he does not enjoy the protection of the law, then he does care a great deal. Thereafter he learns to hold his head lower, talk softer, and become wiser. He goes about doing nobody any harm, and by patient industry and thrift and drudgery makes a living, enjoys his family and lives at peace with his neighbors. In one sense, he is a democratic individual; but in the sense of organized political democracy, where every man stands for his rights and is willing to fight for them, he is not free …
“The Bill of Rights is therefore more important than all the paraphernalia of elective government. When the protection of civil rights is enforced, the people do not have to learn to be democratic. There is no ground for saying that the people of China are unprepared for democracy. They are unprepared only so long as the Bill of Rights is not enforced. Any time the people can impeach officials with impunity and with some effect, they are democratic enough to do so. Any time government officials are ready to stand by the law and be impeached, the people are ready to impeach them. Any time editors can expose corrupt and lawbreaking officials with the sure knowledge that nobody can touch them except within the law, they are ready to expose them. Only when they can do that, only when this spirit is present, can true democracy arrive and the body politic be purged of its poison. Freedom of the press, of speech, belief, and assembly is the foundation of democracy.
“There is no reason why freedom of the press cannot be immediately enforced now. Censorship can and should be limited only to suppressing leakage of military secrets or information desirable to the enemy …
“Democracy is a hard thing to learn both for the rulers and for the ruled. In its essence, it implies the ability of the majority to rule and the ability of the minority to criticize and abide by the majority. Even in a small group of boys playing in the streets or three office girls sharing one apartment, democracy means no more than these simple habits of thinking. When the ruling party forgets that it is only elected to rule by the rest of the group and tends to suppress criticism of its actions, it is to that extent undemocratic. When the minority group fails to abide by the majority and prefers to break away and form a separate gang, it, too, becomes undemocratic.
“In so far as the Kuomintang has failed to encourage liberty of criticism through freedom of the press, it is moving in the wrong direction. And in so far as the Chinese Communist party was unwilling to subjugate its partisan interests and unite with the rest of the nation even in time of war, it, too, had failed to learn the most essential of democratic habits. Since it looks as if victory will come sooner than we expected and therefore China will soon inaugurate the constitutional period, both the Kuomintang and the opposition had better learn quickly these simple democratic habits of mind.
“The outer form of a democratic government means nothing. The history of democracy in the German Republic before Hitler, in Italy prior to the advent of Mussolini, and in France before the final collapse, should teach us that the finest form of human government also requires some of the hardest human virtues in co-operative action, struggle tempered by restraint, selfishness held in check by a sense of fair play, and contention subordinated to unity. The Kuomintang will have the best chance to show that it is democratic by rigidly enforcing the rights of freedom and respecting the rights of the opposition, and the Chinese Communists will have the best chance to show that they are democratic by being able to abide by the majority will of the nation. If unethical tactics are employed, the government will have no recourse but to fight underground with underground, as it has been doing in the past. Twice the Chinese Communists have bolted and set up secessionist regimes, because they have not yet learned to place the nation above the party. I hope their declared intention to abolish one-party dictatorship and become a democratic party is sincere — and is lived up to. (Lin Yutang, The Vigil of a Nation, 1945, pp. 2011-222, my emphasis).
Carsun Chang and the Third Force
Zhang Junmai (1886–1969), known in the West as Carsun Chang, was a Chinese intellectual and social democratic politician. Chang opposed both the Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang. He advocated for democracy at a time when radicalization and extreme partisanship made moderate politics not viable in China. In the following passage, Chang denounces both the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party. He argued that Communist totalitarianism acted against Chinese traditions of laissez-faire and that the regime would ultimately collapse.
“If the aim of the Kuomintang members was democracy, they should have had confidence in the people and ruled in accordance with the general principles of a constitutional government based upon the sovereignty of the people. After the end of the Northern Expedition, which was the end of the military stage, they should have started introducing the constitutional stage immediately, following the schedule laid down by Dr. Sun-military government, tutelage, constitutional government. But Chiang is a soldier; his view was that the intermediate stage should be prolonged as much as possible.
“The other Kuomintang leaders saw the situation differently; men like Wang Ching-wei and Hu Han-min had their own interpretation of Dr. Sun’s plan. They had been just as close to Dr. Sun as Chiang Kai-shek, if not closer, and they thought that they knew Sun’s mind better, a claim which was not in fact extravagant.
“Political tutelage implies the training of the people for constitutional government. If this is accepted, then the practice of parliamentary rule and its attendant privileges and responsibilities, should have been introduced forthwith. These institutions are as essential in the cultivation of democratic virtues as is the swimming pool for one who is to be trained as a swimmer. So long as there are merely lectures on swimming for the swimming class, and no swimming pool, how can the student learn to swim? The Kuomintang, in the first ten years of its existence under the direction of Chiang Kai-shek, never allowed or legalised the existence of opposition parties. For my part, I do not see how an opposition party can get its necessary training except under a constitutional government which granted it equal rights with the party in power.
“The people of China waited for twenty long years before the first election of the legislative assembly finally took place in 1947. Since the people never had any experience of elections during all these years, how could they be expected to vote intelligently when the election actually took place? The result was that the Kuomintang, still under the name of tutelage, kept the political power for itself alone. They talked much about local self-government, because, under the cover of local government, they could increase the number of their party members, whom they expected to appoint to all the offices in the villages; it was their aim to accomplish this and then announce that the stage of constitutional government could begin. This was Chiang’s interpretation of political tutelage, and here lay the roots of internal conflict later experienced by the Kuomintang.
“So long as there was no constitutional government, those who controlled Kuomintang policy with regard to military, financial, and diplomatic policy, would appear to the elements not in power, and even to Kuomintang members, as arbitrary and dictatorial. Chiang, as the leader of the ruling group, held the reins of the party and government and grew in personal power. Since Chiang’s power grew in this manner, it is no wonder that provincial governors like Li Tsung-jen, Pai Chung-hsi, Feng Yu-hsiang, and Yen Hsi-shan, rebelled against him. Chiang was a dictator in the eyes of these men, and when they opposed him he called them feudal-minded counter-revolutionists who were trying to overthrow the established government.
“So long as there was no constitutional government, there was no parliament, no responsible cabinet, no freedom of the press and no freedom of association. Naturally opposition to Chiang’s regime grew, and the Chinese Communists contributed to it, even though their own government was organised on a completely dictatorial basis. The democratic parties which really fought for democracy were then willy-nilly maneuvered into a position in which they had to side with the Communists against the government, when they could have given all their support to the government. It is a pity that Chiang lost the sympathy of large sections of the Chinese people by stubbornly refusing to give up his authoritarian government. This situation inevitably bred corruption and incompetence in the government, and when it was charged with these vices by people both within the country and abroad, there was nothing to say in its defense.
“Even as late as the time when Chiang wrote ‘China’s Destiny’, where he said, “We know that tutelage is the path that must be followed,” he still firmly believed in his authoritarian views. By that time a good deal of damage had already been done. But Chiang seemed to be indifferent to or unaware of the evils of tutelage. Truly, as Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“Tutelage meant in practice the desire of the Kuomintang’s followers to perpetuate the conditions which placed political power in their own hands. They merely gave lip-service to constitutionalism as a sop to Dr. Sun’s followers and to show that his teaching was not forgotten. Since there was no constitution, no parliament, and no responsible cabinet, all questions of defense, finance, and diplomacy were decided by the party. The people had no right to question the party. While the war was going on, Chiang Kai-shek was elected Tsung-Tsai, or Director-General of the Party, and his power became unlimited. Any expenditure which was approved by him was legally valid. He issued orders by means of notes in his own handwriting. In Chungking, Chiang’s government was openly called “the note-writing government,” and the system naturally led the way to a whole crop of abuses.
“Any minister who was in Chiang’s favor-and this was especially true of Chen Li-fu — could go to his office and get a large sum approved for expenditure. Those ministers who were not close to him had to suffer. Tutelage. in the end, was not even rule by the party as a whole but degenerated to rule by personal whim. Chiang is a man who has confidence only in his relatives, in his brothers-in-law H. H. Kung and T. V. Soong and their subordinates, in the Chen Brothers, and in Chen Cheng, the present Prime Minister of Formosa. Though there was a People’s Political Council which was supposed to serve as an open forum for discussion, yet when there was any question raised about the military or financial condition of the country, it was shouted down by the Kuomintang members, who preserved their majority by unconstitutional means. The opinions of the liberals and the opposition parties never had a chance to be heard.
“It is natural enough that the absolute power of the Kuomintang led to abuses and rampant corruption. The Kuomintang has never had a record of sponsoring efficient government. As early as 1927, one year after the establishment of the Nanking Government, when Chiang Kai-shek was forced to retire and Sun-Fo, the son of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, was appointed President of the Executive Yuan, Wang Han- liang was appointed Minister of Finance. On arriving at the Ministry to assume his functions, Wang found no documents left in it, all the archives having been removed by the staff of T. V. Soong in order to embarrass Wang. It is also known that when, on the recommendation of the British adviser Reith-Ross, China changed over from the silver standard to a managed currency, all the top-ranking men in the government made great fortunes out of it. It never occurred to them that using information derived from the performance of official duties in order to amass personal fortunes is criminal. All the important members of the Kuomintang indulged in this practice without any compunction whatever.
“The case of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, in which Mrs. H. H. Kung was involved in the buying and selling of cotton yarn, was once brought to the notice of Chiang Kai-shek. Wu Ting-chang, then Minister of Industry, was sent to Shanghai by order of the Generalissimo to make an inquiry. Wu brought all the documents back showing how Mrs. Kung was involved in the stock-market operations. Everyone expected that the Generalissimo would bring the case before the courts, the only proper thing to do, and show thereby that he had some respect for the laws of the land. But what actually happened? Wu Ting-chang was dismissed from the Cabinet and then appointed Governor of the distant province of Kueichow. Again, the gold-selling policy gave the influential families connected with the government a chance to amass immense fortunes.
“Because there was no parliament, no official media of publicity, no check, and no accountability on the part of ministers, nothing could be done to stop the abuses. If someone had the courage to write an article in the newspapers about these cases of corruption, he was regarded as one who wilfully tried to undermine public confidence in the government, and he courted great personal danger. Is it not obvious that in this species of political tutelage lie the roots of demoralization and corruption of the government and the army? …
“Chiang is not a man who abides by law or believes in the rule of law … Constitution and parliament in Chiang’s mind are tools which can be manipulated. He does not believe in the inviolability of a constitution decided on and promulgated by the people. He does not understand why there should be so much fuss made over the constitution. To him all government is personal government: constitutions are luxuries which at most serve the purposes of the one who is in power. During the tutelage period, constitutional amendments were made with regard to the position of the Chairman of the Chinese Republic.
“When Chiang was himself the Chairman he gave himself real power in the constitution with regard to policy making. When later Lin Sen was Chairman of the Republic, he became a mere figurehead and the real power went into the hands of the President of the Executive Yuan-who was Chiang himself. The constitution was simply remade to fit the changed circumstances. Chiang regards all institutions with complete indifference, being certain that he can manipulate them in any way he chooses. Imagine having more than 3700 members of the National Assembly, which is the constitutional organ that elects the President and the Vice-President of the Chinese Republic!
“When the Communists were in Chungking, Chou En-lai and myself were both opposed to such an unwieldy number, but the Kuomintang insisted on having it or there was to be no agreement. When the National Assembly actually was in session in 1947, its operations proved to be most awkward and difficult, which was a foregone conclusion. And Chiang never appears to think that laws representing the popular will should be carefully observed; he changes them when they do not suit him. I remember well that, after the rules concerning the People’s Political Council were published, when the number of candidates was found to exceed the number fixed, he just increased that number to suit his purposes. Laws are only putty, to be moulded into any shape and form according to the mood of the moment …
“What is urgently needed to overcome the present crisis in China is not a “strong man” whose twenty-odd years of arbitrary rule has brought nothing but a deluge of corruption and a red inundation, but rather the cultivation of law-abiding habits, a willingness to submit the main issues of national life to open and intelligent discussion so as to reach a just and equitable solution, a consciousness at least among the leaders of the importance of constitutional and parliamentary processes, and a substitution of rational understanding for unstable, unreliable, and whimsical practices. This can come about only when the nation’s intellectual resources are gathered together for maximum exploitation and unhampered expression and not smothered under the weight of an enlarged ego.
“I am firmly convinced that 90 per cent of the Chinese population will be glad to see China a democratic country and would much prefer to have nothing to do with revolution and conquest. They would like to maintain their valuable old traditions and beliefs, and evolve gradually towards a democratic, scientific, and industrial order. The Communist slogan of “Down with Feudalism” is only a pretext under which the Communists are wiping out the tradition of Chinese humanistic ideals and imposing upon China the formula of Stalinist orthodoxy. This Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist way of life is a complete denial of the individual and of individualism.
“It may very well fit into the pattern of life characteristic of Russia, with its history of tyranny and absolutism, but it will never be effective among a people who have lived in an atmosphere of laissez-faire for thousands of years. I have heard often that the control of the Communist regime over China is completely effective: no doubt the Communist army is an efficient one, the Chinese Communists have a well-disciplined party and police force, they watch over the movements of every family and every individual, and the life of every person is being regimented and brought under strict control. But, although there is no reliable way in which we can find out how the people feel under this new regime, as a Chinese, knowing the long history of China and the characteristics of my own people, I think that they cannot be happy under the new dispensation, and sooner or later, in a manner which may not even be predictable, they will rise against the new oppression.
“There is one predominant truth of overwhelming importance in this sad story of China which must be emphasized over and over again, and that is that the Chinese people went over to the Communists for the simple reason that they could not stand the government of Chiang Kai-shek any longer, that they were repeatedly duped, cheated, and oppressed by the shameless political debauchery, dishonesty, and corruption of the government until they were willing to take any chance and submit to any change because they thought that no change could be any worse than the conditions under which they were living. They have now learned to their regret that there is indeed no difference between the devil and the deep sea.
“What the historian Grote said about the Greek usurpers — that they employed the machinery of fraud whereby the people were to be cheated into temporary submission, as a prelude to using the machinery of force whereby such submission was to be perpetuated against the people’s consent — can very well be applied to explain the success of the Chinese Communist Party from 1946 to 1949.
“The Chinese people now realize that the policy of the Chinese Communists can only lead them to disaster. Communist control over China is only maintained by means of bayonets. Their hold on the country is effected through the secret police; it is not rooted in the hearts of the people. Their government is a house built of bamboo and mud, and can very easily be pulled down. It is a tree whose roots are exposed to rain and wind, and which can be shaken and uprooted. There is no reason to think that the control of the Chinese Communists over China can be effective for any length of time. Once it is shaken it will soften and weaken. The political psychology of the Chinese has been explained by the old sage Mencius: “Ke and Sui lost the Empire because they lost the people, and they lost the people because they lost their hearts. There is only one way to hold the Empire-hold the people. There is only one way to hold their hearts — that is to get for them what they like and not to impose on them what they dislike.”
“This political philosophy is true now as it was true 2000 years ago; it is true of China as it must be true of other peoples in other parts of the world. It means that behind a government there must be a sincere popular will. Let us look at the present situation in China. Is the Chinese intervention in the Korean war what the Chinese people want? Is the Sino-Soviet military alliance what the Chinese people like? Can mass executions make the present regime popular? Nothing that the Chinese Communists are doing has promoted the welfare of the people; they simply perform what Stalin commands. Can such a government last? No, it cannot last. (Carsun Chang, The Third Force in China, 1952, pp. 94-308.)
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