The 1992 Consensus and China-Taiwan Relations

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Meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in November 2015 (source: Voice of America [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

From 2008 to 2016 Taiwan’s Guomindang administration and China’s Communist Party sought to deepen cross-strait dialogue and improve relations between the two sides. The meeting between Zhang Zhijun, the chief of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), and Wang Yuqi, the chief of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), as well as Zhang Zhijun’s visit to Taiwan in 2014, showed that the two parties were committed to taking cross-strait relations to a new level. Ma Ying-jeou, the chairman of the Guomindang, repeatedly defended the so-called “1992 Consensus” as the basis for dialogue between Taipei and Beijing. PRC’s state-run news outlet China Daily echoed this view in a 2012 article, arguing that “the 1992 Consensus will be the proven foundation for future peaceful cross-Straits relations“. But the rapprochement between the Guomindang and the Communist Party, which culminated in the historic handshake between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in 2015 (see picture above), alienated a large number of Taiwanese voters. They feared closer ties with the Communist giant, which still threatens to invade Taiwan and annex it if no other options for unification were left. In 2016 the Taiwanese electorate punished the Guomindang, gaving a broad popular mandate to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), thus putting an end to reconciliation as based on the 1992 consensus. 

But what is exactly the 1992 consensus and what does it mean for the development of China-Taiwan relations?

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Chiang Kai-shek – Dictator, Idealist, Criminal?

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Chiang Kai-shek’s portrait hung on the rostrum of Tiananmen Square. After the Communists overthrew Chiang’s government in 1949, they replaced his portrait with that of Mao Zedong (photo by unknown author via Wikimedia Commons, public domain work) 

Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Republic of China (ROC) and of the Guomindang from 1927 to 1975, is a controversial figure whose legacy is still debated both in China and in Taiwan. In this post we shall let Chiang himself speak and quote several passages from his speeches and works which highlight the complexity of his character, his contradictory relationship with Sun Yat-sen‘s ‘Three Principles of the People‘, and his constant oscillating between the role of a humanistic world leader, of a ruthless general, of an anti-Communist hero, and of a brutal, narrow-minded oppressor.

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Patriotism is not enough

A message to the eleventh annual New York Herald Tribune Forum on Current Problems delivered on November 17, 1942.
The political testament of the Father of our Republic, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, began with the reminder to his followers, “The Revolution is not yet achieved.” Even after the National Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the war lords and unified China in 1927, we have continued to characterize our Government as a Revolutionary Government. Critics asked, now that you have established a Government of all China, why do you persist in calling yourselves a Revolutionary Government? What do you mean by Revolution?
The answer is that what we mean by Revolution is the attainment of all three of Dr. Sun’s basic principles of national revolution: national independence, progressive realization of democracy, and a rising level of living conditions for the masses. When victory comes at the end of this war, we shall have fully achieved national independence but will have far to go to attain our other two objectives. Hence our claim that ours is still a Revolutionary Government which means no more or less than it is a government dedicated to attaining these other two objectives.
Insisting on national independence for all peoples, Dr. Sun’s vision transcends the problem of China, and seeks equality for all peoples, East and West alike. China not only fights for her own independence, but also for the liberation of every oppressed nation. For us the Atlantic Charter and President Roosevelt’s proclamation of the Four Freedoms for all peoples are cornerstones of our fighting faith.
For many centuries Chinese society has been free of class distinctions such as are found even in advanced democracies. At the core of our political thought is our traditional maxim, “The people form the foundation of the country”. We Chinese are instinctively democratic, and Dr. Sun’s objective of universal suffrage evokes from all Chinese a ready and unhesitating response. But the processes and forms by which the will of the people is made manifest, and the complex machinery of modern democratic government cannot, I know to my cost, be created overnight, especially under the constant menace and attack of Japanese militarism.

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Legalism And Leninism In China’s Constitutional History

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The National People’s Convention met in the Great Hall of National Central University in Nanjing on May 5, 1931. Seven days later the Convention adopted the Provisional Constitution (photo by unknown author, via Wikimedia Commons)

When the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and the Republic of China (ROC) was proclaimed, the revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen embarked on an ambitious experiment to modernise the country according to liberal Western ideals of democracy, human rights and division of powers. The new Republican government issued a Provisional Constitution which guaranteed progressive democratic rights, including judicial independence. However, after the first elections held in 1913, general Yuan Shikai unlawfully seized power and suppressed the elected parliamentary majority. Sun Yat-sen and his party, the Guomindang, were forced into underground opposition. When Yuan died in 1916, the central government fell apart, and regional warlords created personal fiefdoms in which they ruled like monarchs.

The 1912 Constitution was inspired by the ideals of the American and French revolutions. But the failure of democracy, the repression suffered at the hands of Yuan Shikai and the warlords, and the threat of foreign imperialism convinced Sun Yat-sen that democracy in China was unattainable as a short-term goal. He observed with keen interest the events of the Russian revolution, and the triumph of the Communists led by Lenin seemed to him an example of a revolutionary party that had succeeded where the Guomindang had failed. Sun asked for Soviet help, and Russian advisers were sent to China to reorganise the Guomindang on the basis of Leninist principles. Continue reading

Legalist Tradition And Criminal Law – Republic Of China vs People’s Republic Of China

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The original Constitutional Drafting Committee of the newly founded Republic of China, photographed on the steps of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where the Draft was completed in 1913 (photo by Rowanwindwhistlerhttp://www.archive.org/details/thefightforthere14345gut, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

In a previous post we have demonstrated that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) contains fundamental elements which are consistent with, if not directly derived from, Legalist principles. In this chapter we shall analyse and compare the Legalist elements contained in the criminal codes of the Republic of China (ROC) and of the PRC.

Legalism and the Criminal Code of the Republic of China

In 1911 the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty which had ruled China for over 260 years. On January 1st, 1912, the leader of the insurgents, Sun Yat-sen, proclaimed the foundation of the Republic of China (ROC). On March 11 the government promulgated the Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China (中華民國臨時约法). The Constitution embodied Sun’s political ideals, which he later enshrined in the Three Principles of the People. Sun had been educated in the United States and his worldview had been shaped by the three major Western ideologies of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, namely nationalism, democracy and socialism. In his Three Principles, Sun tried to synthesize these three political currents in order to revitalise and strengthen China.

The Provisional ROC Constitution was heavily influenced by Western liberal democratic ideals, most especially the principle of free popular elections, of protection of individual freedoms and rights, and of division of powers, including judicial independence (法官獨立). Article 51 stated: “Higher government authorities shall not interfere with the independent work of judges” (法官獨立審判不受上級官廳之干涉). Continue reading

Sun Yat-sen: Memoirs of a Chinese Revolutionary

Sun Yat-sen (source: Wikipedia)
Sun Yat-sen (1866 – 1925) was a Chinese revolutionary and politician. During the Late Qing era he fought to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty and establish a new, modern Chinese state. His political doctrines, most notably the Three Principles of the People, had a deep impact on the development of China in the 20th century. Sun Yat-sen is the founding father of the Republic of China (ROC) and the founder of the Guomindang (中國國民黨, literally “China National People’s Party”), the oldest still active political party in the Chinese-speaking world.
 
His legacy is still alive both in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the ROC in Taiwan. Sun’s doctrines are enshrined in the ROC Constitution. Article 1 states that “The Republic of China, founded on the Three Principles of the People, shall be a democratic republic of the people, by the people, and for the people“. In the PRC, however, the Communist Party of China (CCP) and the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (RCCGD) both claim to represent the true spirit of Sun’s ideas.  
 

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The Guomindang, The Communist Party And Leninism

Founded in 1912, the Guomindang (中國國民黨, literally China National People’s Party) is the oldest still active political party in the Chinese-speaking world. It constituted the first elected majority in the Chinese National Assembly of 1913. After Yuan Shikai‘s coup d’etat, the Guomindang devoted itself to the mission of reunifying China, defeating the warlords, and defending the country’s territorial integrity from foreign powers. From 1927 on, the Guomindang ruled over China with an iron fist. But in 1937 the “golden era” of Nationalist China came to an end, as Japan invaded the country.
The Guomindang fought at the side of the Allies and won the war of resistance against Japan. Yet only four years later it lost the civil war to the Communists led by Mao Zedong. In 1949, the Guomindang apparatus and the whole government of the Republic of China retreated to Taiwan. There, once again, the Guomindang governed with authoritarian methods, wiping out opposition to its one-party rule. In the 1980s, however, the party leadership loosened its grip on society and allowed the formation of an opposition and free elections (for a history of the Guomindang, see Peter Moody: Political Change on Taiwan: A Study of Ruling Party Adaptability, 1992, pp. 13-35).
But despite the fact that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Guomindang were bitter rivals, they also share a common element: Leninism. It is the purpose of the present article to analyse how the Guomindang, after having been suppressed by Yuan Shikai and marginalised by the warlords, reorganised itself through the aid of Soviet advisers and incorporated fundamental elements of Leninism.

Sun Yat-sen and the Old Guomindang

Prior to 1912, Sun Yat-sen had been the most radical enemy of the Manchus. For years he had fought to overthrow the Manchu dynasty and bring a Han Chinese government to power. In Sun’s mind, the corrupt and inefficient imperial government and the lack of national spirit were the reasons why China had been unable to resist foreign invasions and exploitation. In 1905 Sun founded the Tongmenhui, an organisation supported by a small group of intellectuals, professionals, and overseas Chinese. The Tongmenhui was based on the tradition of China’s secret societies. The underworld and temporary alliances with imperial army officers were the only military means that Sun’s revolutionaries possessed to organise their anti-imperial revolts.

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Provisional Constitution Of The Republic Of China (1931)

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Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government in 1930 (source: Wikipedia Commons)

The following text is the Provisional Constitution (約法) of the Republic of China as adopted by the National People’s Convention (國民會議) on May 12, 1931. The Provisional Constitution included Sun Yat-sen’s principle of “political tutelage”, de facto providing the Guomindang government with dictatorial powers. The Constitution remained in effect until 1936, when the government promulgated a new draft constitution.

PREAMBLE

The National Government, in order to reconstruct the Republic of China on the basis of the Three Principles of the People and the Constitution of Five Powers, which forms the underlying principle of the revolution, having now brought the revolution from the military to the political tutelage period, deems it necessary to promulgate a Yueh Fa (Provisional Constitution) for general observance, so that the realization of constitutional government may be accelerated and political power restored to a popularly-elected government; and further, in pursuance of the last will of our late Leader, has called at the national capital the Kuo-Min-Hui-I (National People’s Convention). Continue reading

The Chinese Revolution of 1911 – The Founding of the Republic of China

The Chinese Revolution of 1911, also called Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) after the year of the Chinese calendar in which it occurred, was an uprising that led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and to the foundation of the Republic of China (中華民國, ROC). The revolt began on October 9th when the accidental explosion of a bomb drew the attention of the local police to a house in Wuchang’s Russian Settlement. The house was searched and a list of names of revolutionaries was found. Since the incident had exposed their plans and identities, the insurgents decided to strike at once. On October 10th, the revolutionaries attacked and overwhelmed imperial forces in the city of Wuchang. The uprising spread to other cities and provinces, causing panic among Qing officials. The imperial house hoped to save itself by seeking the help of Western powers, but they chose to remain neutral. The dynasty that had ruled China for 267 years fell with astonishing rapidity, and the insurgents became masters of China. October 10th was later declared the National Day of the Republic of China (國慶日 / 国庆日; pinyin: Guóqìng Rì), also known as Double Ten Day (雙十節 / 双十节; pinyin: Shuāngshíjié).

1992 Double Ten Day celebration in front of the presidential palace in Taipei

One of the earliest references to the Double Ten Day commemoration can be found in a speech given by Sun Yat-sen on October 10, 1912, at a meeting of the Chinese World Student Association in Shanghai (Sun 1994, p. 100). The Double Ten Day celebration became an integral part of the rituals of power of the Guomindang one-party state on the mainland and later on Taiwan. Nowadays, the Double Ten Day remains the National Day of the ROC on Taiwan, while in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the Xinhai Revolution is praised for having overthrown the feudal Qing Dynasty, but it is considered only a transition period that paved the way for the Communist victory of 1949. The Double Ten Day used to be celebrated in Hong Kong, especially in the Guomindang enclave of Tiu Keng Leng. It is also celebrated by some communities of overseas Chinese and by ROC sympathisers in the PRC.

The Founding of the Republic of China (1911-1916)

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