is a fact into the causes of which it is worth while to inquire. We find it pictured in the records which make up the Book of History, and we find it enforced in the writings of the great apostle of patriarchal institutions, Confucius, and in all the other works which go to make up the Confucian Canon. The reverence with which these scriptures are viewed was the principal means of perpetuating the primitive form of Chinese imperialism. The contents of their pages formed the study of every schoolboy, and supplied the themes at the competitive examinations through which every one had to pass who sought an official career. Thus the mind of the nation was constantly and almost exclusively turned towards them, and their dogmas became part and parcel of the national training. The whole theory of government is the embodiment of parental love and filial piety. As the people are the children of the emperor, so is he the T‘ien-tsze or the Son of Heaven.
In practice the arbitrary power of the emperor is tempered in several ways. Firstly, although the constitution conferred this absolute and unchecked power on the emperor, it was not for his gratification but that he might exercise it for the The emperor. good of his people. He rules by divine authority, and as the vicegerent of heaven upon earth. If he rules corruptly or unjustly, heaven will send disasters and calamity on the people as a reproof; if the rule becomes tyrannical, heaven may withdraw its favour entirely, and then rebellion may be justified. The Manchu dynasty came to the throne as foreign conquerors, nevertheless they base their right to rule, not on the power of the sword, but on divine approval. On this moral ground they claim the obedience of their subjects, and submit themselves to the corresponding obligations. The emperor, unless he has gained the throne by conquest, is selected by his predecessor or by the imperial family in conclave. He is usually a son (but seldom the eldest son) of his predecessor, and need not be the child of the empress-consort, though (other things being equal) a son of the empress is preferred. Failing a son another prince of the imperial house is chosen, the choice being properly among the princes of a generation below that of the preceding emperor, so that the new emperor may be adopted as the son of his predecessor, and perform for him the due ceremonies at the ancestral tablets. Apart from this ancestor-worship the emperor worships only at the Altar of Heaven, leaving Buddhism, Taoism, and any other form of worship to his subjects. The emperor’s sacrifices and prayers to heaven are conducted with great parade and ceremony. The chief of these state observances is the sacrifice at the winter solstice, which is performed before sunrise on the morning of the 21st of December at the Temple of Heaven. The form of the altar is peculiar.
“It consists of a triple circular terrace, 210 ft. wide at the base, 150 in the middle, and 90 at the top.... The emperor, with his immediate suite, kneels in front of the tablet of Shang-ti (The Supreme Being, or Heaven), and faces the north. The platform is laid with marble stones, forming nine concentric circles; the inner circle consists of nine stones, cut so as to fit with close edges round the central stone, which is a perfect circle. Here the emperor kneels, and is surrounded first by the circles of the terraces and their enclosing walls, and then by the circle of the horizon. He then seems to himself and to his court to be in the centre of the universe, and turning to the north, assuming the attitude of a subject, he acknowledges in prayer and by his position that he is inferior to heaven, and to heaven alone. Round him on the pavement are the nine circles of as many heavens, consisting of nine stones, then eighteen, then twenty-seven, and so on in successive multiples of nine till the square of nine, the favourite number of Chinese philosophy, is reached in the outermost circle of eighty-one stones.”
On this occasion, also, a bullock of two years old, and without blemish, is offered as a whole burnt-offering in a green porcelain furnace which stands close beside the altar. The emperor’s life is largely occupied with ceremonial observances, and custom ordains that except on state occasions he should not leave the walls of the palace.
For his knowledge of public affairs the emperor is thus largely dependent upon such information as courtiers and high officers of state permit to reach him. The palace eunuchs have often exercised great power, though their influence has been less under the Manchus than was the case during previous dynasties. Though in theory the throne commands the services and money of all its subjects yet the crown as such has no revenues peculiarly its own. It is dependent on contributions levied through the high officials on the several provinces, subject always to the will of the people, and without their concurrence and co-operation nothing can be done. The power of the purse and the power of the sword are thus exercised mediately, and the autocratic power is in practice transferred to the general body of high functionaries, or to that clique which for the time being has the ear of the emperor, and is united enough and powerful enough to impose its will on the others.
The functionaries who thus really wield the supreme power are almost without exception civil officials. Naturally the court has shown an inclination to choose Manchu rather than Chinese, but of late years this preference has become less marked, China governed by its civil service. and in the imperial appointments to provincial administrations the proportion of Manchus chosen was at the beginning of the 20th century not more than one-fifth of the whole number. The real reason for this change is the marked superiority of the Chinese, in whose hands the administration is stated to be safer for the Manchu dynasty. Practically all the high Chinese officials have risen through the junior ranks of the civil service, and obtained their high position as the reward—so it must be presumed—of long and distinguished public service.
Through the weakness of some of the emperors the functions of the central government gradually came to be to check the action of the provincial governments rather than assume a direct initiative in the conduct of affairs. “The central Functions of the central government. government may be said to criticize rather than to control the action of the provincial administrations, wielding, however, at all times the power of immediate removal from his post of any official whose conduct may be found irregular or considered dangerous to the stability of the state.” This was written in 1877, and since then the pressure of foreign nations has compelled the central government to assume greater responsibilities, and the empire is now ruled from Peking in a much more effective manner than was the case when Lord Napier in 1834 could find no representative of the central government with whom to transact business.
If the central authorities take the initiative, and issue orders to the provincial authorities, it, however, does not follow that they will be carried out. The orders, if unwelcome, are not directly disobeyed, but rather ignored, or specious pleas are put forward, showing the difficulty or impossibility of carrying them out at that particular juncture. The central government always wields the power of removing or degrading a recalcitrant governor, and no case has been known where such an order was not promptly obeyed. But the central government, being composed of officials, stand by their order, and are extremely reluctant to issue such a command, especially at the bidding of a foreign power. Generally the opinion of the governors and viceroys has great weight with the central government.
Under the Ming dynasty the Nuiko or Grand Secretariat formed the supreme council of the empire. It is now of more honorific than actual importance. Active membership is limited to six persons, namely, four grand secretaries and two Departments of the central administration. assistant grand secretaries, half of whom, according to a general rule formerly applicable to nearly all the high offices in Peking, must be Manchu and half Chinese. It constitutes the imperial chancery or court of archives, and admission to its ranks confers the highest distinction attainable by Chinese officials, though with functions that are almost purely nominal. Members of the grand secretariat are distinguished by the honorary title of Chung-t‘ang. The most distinguished viceroys are usually advanced to the dignity of grand secretary while continuing to occupy their posts in the provinces. The best known of recent grand secretaries was Li Hung-chang.
Under the Manchu dynasty the Grand Council (Chün Chi Ch‘u) became the actual privy council of the sovereign, in whose presence its members daily transacted the business of the state. This council is composed of a small knot of men holding various high offices in the government boards at Peking. The literal meaning of Chün Chi Ch‘u is “place of plans for the army,” and the institution derives its name from the practice established by the early emperors of the Manchu dynasty of treating public affairs on the footing of a military council. The usual time of transacting business is from 4 to 6 a.m. In addition to the grand council and the grand secretariat there were boards to supervise particular departments. By a decree of the 6th of November 1906 the central administration was remodelled, subsequent decrees making other changes. The administration in 1910 was carried on by the following agencies:—
A. Councils.—(1)The grand council. Its title was modified in 1906 and it is now known as the Grand Council of State Affairs or Privy Council. It has no special function, but deals with all matters of general administration and is presided over by the emperor (or regent). (2) The Grand Secretariat. This body gained no increase of power in 1906. (3) The advisory council or senate (Tu Chêng Yuen) created in 1907 and containing representatives of each province. It includes all members of the grand council and the grand secretariat and the heads of all the executive departments. The members of these three bodies form advisory cabinets to the emperor.
B. Boards.—Besides boards concerned with the affairs of the court there were, before the pressure of foreign nations and the movement for reform caused changes to be made, six boards charged with the
- The empress-consort is chosen by the emperor from a number of girls selected by his ministers from the families of Manchu nobles. From the same candidates the emperor also selects secondary-empresses (usually not more than four). Concubines, not limited in number, are chosen from the daughters of Manchu nobles and free-men. All the children are equally legitimate.
- Recent emperors have been children at accession and have been kept in seclusion.
- See “Democratic China” in H.A. Giles, China and the Chinese.
- W.F. Mayers, The Chinese Government (1878).
- This body is superseded by the Imperial Senate summoned to meet for the first time on the 3rd of October 1910.