Courtesy Reuters

China's New Constitution

ON December 25, 1946, the Chinese National Assembly adopted a permanent constitution, to come into effect on Christmas Day, 1947. This new Constitution is a more democratic document than might have been expected, for the history of constitutionalism in China has been a story of frustration.

Leading figures at the court in the Manchu régime of the late nineteenth century entertained the idea that the country's lack of constitutional government accounted in part for her weakness in resisting the encroachments of the western Powers and of Japan. Talk at that time, however, failed to lead to action, and it was not until the overthrow of the dynasty in 1911 and the establishment of a republic that a Provisional Constitution was adopted. This provided for absolute ministerial responsibility in conjunction with a powerless Chief Executive modelled on the French plan of government. Its framers had disregarded China's peculiar political needs in their eagerness to import from the west; the result was confusion and the ascendency of military provincialism. During the war-lord years, successive constitutions were drafted but none of them was given effect.

With the establishment of the Nationalist Government at Nanking in 1927, however, constitutionalism began to assume a semblance of reality. The outline of governmental organization then adopted was based on the theories of Sun Yat-sen and evolved into the Provisional Constitution of 1931. The need for unity in the face of Japanese aggression gave rise to a more concrete expression of constitutional principles. These were elaborated in the Draft Constitution of 1936. This has been the document under which the national government has ostensibly operated up to the present day. Actually, however, China has not been governed under a constitutional system at all, for the Kuomintang, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, has been acting as the "trustee" of the people and in practice has exercised dictatorial authority. The decision to declare the period of tutelage at an end, and at last to establish a constitutional government was, therefore, even if only in principle, an

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