AMID the dramatic events of the past several years of war China's development of democratic political institutions has passed almost unreported abroad. Americans hear of "dictatorship" in China and rumors of civil wars. Few have heard of the growth of a governmental machinery which is the antithesis of dictatorial and which is the best insurance against future civil conflict. So far, of course, the program can be given effect only in those parts of China which are free of Japanese domination, and even there it has made uneven headway. The ultimate goal -- a Chinese National Congress -- cannot be realized until there is peace. But through the creation of representative assemblies in small administrative units throughout the provinces there has been a steady advance toward Dr. Sun Yat-sen's political ideal of direct democracy.

Chinese history is full of racial and religious differences among the "Five Peoples" -- Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Mohammedan and Tibetan. From the early days of the Chinese Republic, Chinese revolutionists hoped for the unification of these five peoples into one great family. But after the founding of the Republic this was postponed by a period of internecine conflicts and the struggles of war lords. The vast expanse of China's territory, the absence of efficient means of communication, the high percentage of illiteracy, and an agricultural economy based on small self-sufficient units were among the factors which made the problem difficult.

Japan's blows drove the Chinese people together. The 1,300,000 Tibetans who live on the "roof of the world" now offer regular prayers for the "final victory of the Central Government." From the Mohammedans of the northwest and from Mongolia and Manchuria comes similar evidence of an awareness of national purpose. The Japanese stimulated this spirit with their first attacks. In the battle of Shanghai in 1932, for example, two regiments of Lolos, or aborigines, representing a number of tribes from the frontier districts in Sikang, generally known as China's "baby province," learned to fight not in the name of ancestral pride but as Chinese soldiers, motivated by patriotism. Today soldiers from the four northeastern provinces (Manchuria), from Szechwan and Sikang in the west, from Yunnan, Kweichow and Kwangsi in the southwest and south, from Sinkiang, Kansu and other provinces in the northwest, fight together on every front. Japan expected to demoralize the Chinese masses by bombing inland cities and non-military establishments. She succeeded in filling the hearts of all the people with grief, with a passion of extreme hatred, and with a feeling of brotherhood for one another.

The growth of a spirit of national unity is most strikingly manifested in the rural areas. Farmers constitute no less than 85 percent of the total Chinese population. In the old days, Chinese farmers fled when it was reported that soldiers were coming. They do so no longer. I have asked in the countryside: "How do you like the Army?" I have been answered: "Do you see that our soldiers are helping us in cutting crops, and are singing war songs to us?" And the farmers who have spoken that way have pointed to the fields, in which I saw both farmers and soldiers at work. The Generalissimo had ordered all troops in the rear mobilized to help with the harvest. There is a remarkable new attitude of coöperation between soldiers and farmers. The straw hats which Chinese farmers wear on hot days now bear the same slogans one sees written on walls and buildings -- "National Salvation," "Resistance Against Japan," "Fight to the Last," and so on. Everywhere in China today one hears farmers denounce the "Eastern Ocean Devils" who have "invaded and occupied our territory, killed our fathers, uncles, brothers and sisters." The development of national consciousness and political intelligence among China's farmers is, I think, the internal factor of greatest importance for China's future.


As early as 1933 the Chinese authorities took steps to organize mass movements for defense and to lay the foundations for democratic government. Upon the outbreak of the present war in July 1937 the effort was intensified. It received a great stimulus when the Congress of Kuomintang representatives, in March 1938, adopted the "Program of Armed Resistance and National Reconstruction," which among other objectives urged the formation of occupational groups among farmers, laborers, merchants and students, and guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, with some reservations. The establishment of a Ministry of Social Affairs in 1940, the first department of its kind in Chinese political history, was another important step in the organization of the masses. Up to September 1942 more than 8,000 farmers' unions had been organized, for example, with more than a million and a half members. And there has been a comparable growth in the number of Chambers of Commerce, free vocational associations, and physical education, public welfare, religious and cultural associations of all kinds.[i] The primary requisite of the "period of constitutionalism" toward which all thoughtful Chinese people look is the crystallization of a public opinion in China. Public opinion must provide the effective sanction against any possible recurrence of civil war. This, I believe, is what the Generalissimo meant when he said, last September, "We should realize clearly that the Chinese Communist problem is purely a political problem which should be solved by political means."

China's "Three-Year Program of Reform in Local Government" was outlined in a speech by the Generalissimo in April 1938 and made explicit in a law promulgated by the National Government on September 19, 1939. It began to be put into operation in 1940. Below the unit of the province, China is divided into districts called hsien. They suggest the division of American states into counties, although the comparison is not very exact. The "Three-Year Program," "Local Autonomy Program," or "Local Self-Government System" -- it has various names -- is designed to replace the former system of local government with one which will give the people more voice in their own affairs, through the creation of representative assemblies in all the still smaller administrative units within the hsien, and which will help in the development of a constitutional form of government.

The primary unit of government in China is the household. The households are grouped in the local self-government plan into progressively larger units -- the chia, composed of roughly ten households; the pao, composed of about ten chia; and the hsiang or chen, composed of about ten pao. (Hsiang is the word used in rural areas, chen in urban districts.) These are grouped to form the final unit of local government, the hsien. If, however, the latter is unusually large, it may be subdivided.

According to the scheme, representative government functions on every level. A chia chief is elected by the household heads, and each household also sends a delegate to the pao assembly. This body elects a chief, and also two delegates to represent it in the hsiang or chen assembly. This assembly in turn, besides electing a chief and other officials, sends one delegate to the hsien assembly. Above that are the provincial assemblies; and it is expected that the National Congress will form the apex of the pyramid. The organization is designed to create the closest possible relationship between the people, and the administrative functions of education and defense. The chiefs of the second and third levels of the hierarchy, mentioned above, are concurrently principals of the People's School and of the Central School. These chiefs are usually also captains of the local militia.

All Chinese citizens, irrespective of sex, who have lived in the hsien for more than six months or have established their domicile for more than a year, may vote and exercise the rights of recall, initiative and referendum. There is no property restriction. Only opium-smokers, persons prohibited by law from owning property, and those with criminal records are barred from citizenship.

By the end of 1942, a total of 1,084 hsien had adopted the new system. When the country has been restored and the program has been completed, China will have approximately 2,000 hsien (including those in the northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Kirin, Heilungkiang and Jehol), comprising some 88,000 hsiang and chen, 880,000 pao, 8,800,000 chia and 88,000,000 households. There will be one People's School for each pao, and one Central School for each hsiang and chen. At the end of 1941, in 14 provinces, there were 146,451 People's Schools and 15,189 Central Schools.

The functions of the various assemblies can be summarized briefly. The chia assembly meets once a month and has such responsibilities as census taking, promotion of public hygiene, and discussion of measures for the improvement of conditions in the area. The pao assembly, likewise meeting once a month, adopts the regulations to be enforced within the district, makes arrangements with other pao relating to local affairs, passes on problems of labor conscription, questions those in charge of administrative affairs and activities, and discusses and decides measures relating to the welfare of the district. It must consider and act upon any proposal submitted by five or more citizens. In villages, or streets which form natural units by themselves, two or three pao may jointly establish a school, a coöperative, public storage facilities and similar community services.

Hsiang and chen assemblies are convened once every two months. Among other duties they adopt and audit the budget for the area under their jurisdiction, administer government property, discuss and act upon the proposals made to them by the district chiefs, elect and dismiss those chiefs, receive reports from higher administrative officers and interpellate those officers. Chiefs of these districts must be chosen from among citizens who have passed the ordinary public examinations, have held government posts above the "delegated appointment" rank, have graduated from normal schools or other institutions higher than the junior middle schools, or have had a good record in handling public affairs of a local nature.

The chief magistrate of the hsien is chosen by the higher authorities, but the hsien assembly has a large measure of power. It is composed, as we have noted, of delegates chosen by the lower units of government; and it also includes delegates sent by professional unions and trade guilds, to a number not to exceed three-tenths of its total membership. The assembly adopts the laws and regulations to be enforced in the district, decides the collection of taxes, the making of loans, and all other matters pertaining to the local treasury. Like the other assemblies it has the power to interpellate higher administrative officers, and receives addresses of grievances from the people.

Each hsien has its own sources of revenue. They include a portion of land tax, 30 percent of the stamp tax, a portion of business tax and earnings from local government property and other public enterprises. Projects ordered by the provincial government or the National Government must be covered by special appropriations from the latter. In principle, all expenses of the district are met by its own treasury, but deficiencies are made good by the provincial government. The provincial government and the National Government make special grants for hsien with small populations but large undeveloped areas.

To undertake reconstruction projects, the local government may float loans, upon resolution by the assembly and approval by the provincial government. The assembly must pass all budgetary and final estimates before they are submitted to the provincial government for approval. Only in exceptional cases may the magistrate submit the estimate to the provincial government before presenting it to the assembly. The fundamental principle of the new system is that the people in the hsien shall control its budget.


The creation of the First People's Political Council in July 1938 opened a new era in the history of the constitutional development of the country. The entire membership of 200 was appointed by the Kuomintang, and the Council's powers were confined to receiving government reports, interpellating government officials and making proposals to the Government. But the membership of the Second Council was increased to 240, and of these 90 were elected by the provincial or municipal councils. In addition to the powers exercised by the first body, the Second Council had the right to organize committees of investigation, upon request of the Government. The present or Third People's Political Council has a far stronger representative character than the two previous bodies. According to the revised organic law promulgated by the Government on March 16, 1943, two-thirds of the members of this Council, 160 out of a total of 240, were elected by the various provincial or municipal People's Councils, by secret ballot.

The Council has five committees to examine reports from the Government and resolutions from the floor, and subcommittees to deal with national defense, foreign affairs, economic problems and so on. When each full session adjourns the Council elects 25 members to form a Resident Committee which, during the recess, is competent to listen to government reports and exercise the Council's power of investigation. Only a majority quorum is necessary for a full session; and resolutions are adopted by a simple majority vote of those present. The councillors have absolute freedom of speech in the conference room. The outspokenness with which councillors questioned government officials during the recent session was noteworthy. On one issue, the Council refused to adjourn until the Minister of Food replied to questions in person and made a detailed report on the food situation in the country, an action which was taken as establishing a precedent for holding high government officials answerable to public inquiry and criticism.

The recent Plenary Session of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang promised that a National Congress would be convened "one year after the termination of the present war." It is expected that the Congress will have some 1,700 delegates and that it will mark the end of the era of "political tutelage" and the assumption of political power by the people. Predictions as to the exact decisions which will be taken by that Congress are premature, but it is probable that after the adoption of the permanent constitution, all political parties in the country will stand on the same footing and enjoy the same right to organize, to hold meetings and to publish literature, so long as their actions are within the law.

The calling of a National Congress and the adoption of a permanent constitution will not settle all party strife nor solve all political problems. Obviously constitutional government is impossible if any party claims the privilege of maintaining armed forces, occupying territory, setting up forms of administrative units not permitted by the law, and disobeying the orders of the National Government. The problem of the Chinese Communists was brought up for discussion at the 11th Plenary Session of the Fifth Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang held in September 1943, and it was resolved that "the Standing Committee should be entrusted with the task of settling this matter and in an appropriate manner persuading the Chinese Communists to realize their past mistakes and honestly redeem the pledge which they made in their Declaration of September 22, 1937." That pledge committed the Chinese Communist Party, among other matters: (1) to work for the realization of the Three People's Principles of Dr. Sun Yat-sen; (2) to abandon the policy of creating disturbances and propagating the Communist movement; (3) to dissolve the present Soviet Government, thus helping to bring about the political unity of the nation; and (4) to disband the Red Army by incorporating it with the National Army under the direct command of the National Military Affairs Council of the National Government.

Beyond that, all China must learn the unwritten laws of "constitutional morality" -- the submission of the minority, the practice of tolerance by the majority, and the observance of good sportsmanship in political struggles. Public opinion alone can enforce these unwritten rules that make democratic constitutional government workable.

[i] See "The Annual of the National Government," 1943.

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  • C. Y. W. MENG, of the Economic Research Department of the Central Bank of China, Chungking.
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