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Concepts in the Qing imperial context

Although in East Asia the use of parliamentary terminology was even more driven by contact and observation of foreign practices, the concepts which pertained to parliamentarism were also vemacularized and positioned within the historical and mythologized context of the empire. Increased contacts with European countries as well as the United States in the nineteenth century necessitated the creation of a vocabulary to describe concepts and institutions specific to those places.36 Chinese-language books describing the countries of the world, including their respective political institutions, began to mushroom from the 1830s. The most well-known of these works, Wei Yuan’s Illustrated Treatise on the Countries of the Seas (Haiguo tuzhi йл£), first published in 1843 in the wake of the First Opium War ( 1839-1842) between the Qing and British Empires, compiled excerpts from a large number of other works and was seminal for the formation of the mental world map of Chinese intellectuals in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The encyclopedia showed two possible strategies of coping with the challenge of explaining parliamentary institutions to a Chinese readership. On the one hand, it quoted extensively from the US American missionary Elijah Coleman Bridgman’s 1838 Sketch of the United States of America (Meilige Heshengguo zhiltie tif i’îM.eSBf)), which translated the US American House of Representatives as “Elected Department for Deliberation” (xuanyichu йайЖ),37 and the Senate as “Chamber for Deliberation of Matters” (yishige ЖЖИ). On the other hand, the Haiguo tuzhi is also well-known for its treatment of the English Parliament under the phonetic transcription Baliman E®i®.3S As a matter of fact, the encyclopedia employed a whole set of transcriptions for the parliamentary institutions of the United Kingdom, United States, and France: Ganwen Haosi H'Üf Ж] (“House of Commons”); LU Haosi (“House of Lords”); Gun'elishi ЖИЖІ (“Congress”); Libolixian Haosi ЯЗЙЖтИїж] (“House of Representatives”); Xiye (“Senate”); Zhanma’afu ¿їЖИЖ ("Chambre” [des députés]).39

Whether mid-nineteenth-century East Asian intellectuals used newly coined words or phonetically transcribed the English- and French-language terms, their renditions mostly appealed to preexisting East Asian notions of governance, as these institutions got rendered as bureaucratic institutions. In the case of transcriptions, the Haiguo tuzhi and others specified the meaning of the unheard-of term by adding the general Chinese word for an administrative office. The “Parliament,” thus was actually a “Parliamentary office” (Baliman yamen ВДШЇиїН),40 and the Congress was the “Congress office” (Gun ’elishiyamen The

Haiguo tuzhi also offered the clearest example of this understanding of parliaments as bureaucratic organs in its description of the French parliament: “For administrative matters, [France] established one Chambre office with 430 officials staffed by every district, just like in the example of the English House of Commons.”42

In the more frequent case of new coinages such as “chamber for deliberation of matters,” Chinese - as well as Japanese43 - writers mostly attached suffixes which referred to types of buildings and, by extension, to bureaucratic offices in the Chinese and Japanese government systems. The by far prevailing suffix, yuan Pic, originally denoted a courtyard, and later became “a common final element in agency names, impossible to render consistently in English: Office, Bureau, Court, Academy, Institute, etc.”44 From the late nineteenth century, it not only came to be employed as the general term to denote parliaments (ytywon/Jap. giin - “court of deliberation”) and as a suffix in the name of various parliamentary institutions such as the late Qing “Political Consultative Council” (Zizhengyuan WS^Jt) and the legislative branch (“Legislative Yuan”) of the Republic of China (Lifayuan

Actually, it came to be the suffix for all branches of government of the Republic of China. Although using certain signifiers in a translation does not necessarily pre-define how the understanding of a term evolves later, Kuei Hung-chen rightly points out that the understanding of parliamentarism as seen in the first texts about foreign parliaments set the basis for a bureaucratic understanding of parliaments which prevailed throughout the Qing Empire.45

Yet, there is also another, less bureaucratic and more national-stately46 notion which gained general currency: that of an assembly (hui Hf). Throughout Imperial China, a deliberative assembly (huiyi Hfsil) of court officials used to be convened in order to deliberate about policies and make recommendations to the Emperor, and the term hui # was also used as equivalent for the Mongol khural.*1 In its modern parliamentary sense, it reappeared in 1837 and 1838 in Karl Friedrich August Gtitzlaff's Eastern Western Monthly Magazine (Dong-xi-yang kao meiyue tongji zhuan which referred to the English Parliament

as the “public assembly for the administration of the state” (guozheng gonghui H¡^-¿f#’), the “public assembly of the state” (guojia gonghui and

guogonghui nr), or simply the “state assembly” (guohui HI#).48 This last form stuck. In the literature it was used, for instance, in the seminal 1864 Chinese translation of Henry Wheaton's Elements of International Law.*9 Later, it became the name of the Japanese Imperial Diet (jap. pronunciation kokkai), the National Assembly of the Republic of China, and eventually the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea (kor. kukhoe).

Whereas works such as the Haiguo tuzhi or Karl Gtitzlaff’s magazine merely described foreign parliaments and other foreign political concepts, sooner or later East Asian intellectuals were bound to discuss them in light of their own political realities. In Japan, intellectuals were vigorously debating possible reforms to the Tokugawa-led bakumatsu government even before the “Meiji Restoration” of 1868 (see Yuri Kono’s Chapter 2 in this volume). In China, it took less than a decade until, in the mid-1870s, the first intellectuals began to discuss not only the adoption of European technology, but also the adaptation of Western statecraft as a means to counter the country’s political and economic decline and to strengthen it against external threats.

Indeed, parliamentarism was the first such concept to be seriously discussed for the Qing Empire, nearly two decades earlier than the closely related “constitutionalism.”50 From the beginning, this happened with reference to Japan. For example, an editorial of the Shanghai newspaper Shenbao W published on June 17,1874, can be taken as indicative of the public debates on parliamentarism that would be held in the last decades of the Qing. According to the paper, parliaments facilitated the communication between “high” (shang _h) and “low” (xia T). Yet, they needed well-informed representatives who could “be above the people” (ju min shang fUK Ji), something which was lacking in the Qing Empire. If the development of parliamentary institutions in Europe and America had been gradual, the paper implied, it needed to be even more so in the Qing Empire.51

The newspaper-led debate of the 1870s was gradually taken up by men-of-let-ters.52 The tropes set in the Shenbao in the 1870s continued to pervade in discourse, but given such events as the Sino-French War of 1884-1885, an increasing number of intellectuals began to downplay the aspect of gradualism and instead maintained that the Qing Empire needed a parliamentary institution not in some distant future after gradual preparation, but here and now. As the proposal for such an institution had to be justified in light of the ruling ideology, they argued that, from ancient times, it had been a Confucian ideal that officials be well-informed about the concerns of the populace. Zhang Zimu for example, argued in 1884 that parliaments were a source of the political strength of a nation and that the "West preserved the idea from [Chinese] antiquity” whereby the concerns of the people were brought to the attention of the officialdom.53

One of the contributors to the Shenbao, Zheng Guanying, began to publish his book Easy Words (Yiyan SW) in 1871, wherein he painted the international scene of the time as a re-edition of the ancient Chinese Warring States period (475-221 BC). In the subsequent editions of the book as well as in the successor book Words of Warning in Prosperous Times (Shengshi weiyan fjStttiaW), first published in 1894, Zheng developed his position that the Qing Empire should adopt modern instruments of statehood in order to survive in a Warring States like cut-throat competition, with parliamentarism being one of the main elements in strengthening the Qing Empire’s competitiveness. Zheng devoted a section of his book to the bicameral parliamentary system found in the “Western countries,” which, he argued, ensured concord between government and the people, as well as the quality of political measures.54

For long-standing political traditions to be radically changed in a short period of time, references to foreign examples alone did not suffice to make arguments in favor of - or against - reforms. Rather, until the fall of the empire, the notion of parliamentarism was also analyzed in view of one’s own tradition. This was even more important in a culture which valued its own classics and ancestors as much as China. Scholarship has pointed out that the recourse to the venerable classics was used to legitimize modern phenomena from railroads to political institutions.55 But this was not the only use: as was pointed out at the time, the connection between the classics and modern phenomena was also made to protect the classics at a time when their authority stood under heavy attack.56 Furthermore, it should also not be forgotten that the classics were also used in conservative arguments against new institutions.57

Zheng Guanying had no unified approach to possible ancient Chinese equivalents of parliamentarism. In his chapter on parliaments, he raised the question whether parliamentarians would not be the same as the Court Gentlemen of Consultations (yilang who had existed in the Han state (206 BC-AD 220), or the same as the censors and remonstrators of later periods, but denied the question and argued that the parliament was a different institution which would avoid China’s traditional vices.58 Yet, in the revised 1895 edition of his book, Zheng added a chapter in which he made a reference to a Han-time practice of “local selection,” of which the actual historical meaning is obscure. Zheng placed strong emphasis on the point that it was imperative to revive this institution, framing his chapter with references to it at the beginning and at the end.59 At any rate, Zheng’s views about possible Chinese parliamentary precedents did not affect his opinion about why the introduction of a parliament was imperative and which he had laid down in his parliamentary chapter. It is representative of a large portion of late Qing arguments in favor of a parliament:

Hence, if we want to implement public international law, nothing is more important than strengthening the country's clout; if we want to strengthen the country’s clout, nothing is more important than conquering the people’s hearts; if we want to conquer the people’s hearts, nothing is more important than letting the concerns of the lower [part of society] flow; if we want to let the concerns of the lower [part of society] flow, nothing is more important than establishing a parliament.60

 
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