Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Democracy" in China, Part I

Sorry about the downtime. A little after I posted last Tuesday, I spilled soda on my laptop and promptly ruined it. Fortunately I back everything up and am now up and running again.

So what do I mean by "democracy"? More or less the form of government in the United States, otherwise known as a constitutional republic. So let's be clear that when politicians and citizens call for "democracy" in the PRC, they are really talking about instituting a republican form of government.

The first modern appearance of republican government in China was the establishment of the Republic of China. It was established in Beijing on January 1, 1912 after the last emperor of China was forced out. The Republic of China still exists, although on the island of Taiwan since 1949. Unfortunately it got off to a bad start from which it never recovered, as a general named Yuan Shikai was its first president.

Yuan began his career by serving in the Qing imperial army and rose through the ranks. He was part of the clique that brought an end to period known as the 100 days of reform, during which Emperor Guangxu tried to usher in reforms to transform the Chinese empire into a constitutional monarchy (think Great Britain). Positive sign, right?

The Chinese can't be blamed. In fact, Yuan was THE muscle in China. He had the largest and most modern army in China at the time. So despite the fact that Sun Yatsen should have been president by all accounts, the person with the largest amount of force assumed the position.

My next post will discuss Chiang Kai-shek (or Jiang Jieshi in pinyin). While I recognize that this is skipping a few years, I'm sticking the milestones in China's experiments with less authoritarian forms of government. After that, I'll delve into what Mao Zedong's thoughts were on democracy. For a good review on this material, John Spence's book "The Search for Modern China" is an excellent resource.

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