Far Eastern Governments and Politics: China and Japan

By Paul M. A. Linebarger; Djang Chu et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER TWO
The Chinese Society Beneath the Confucian State

FROM the point of view of the modern student of politics, the most important feature about old China lay not in the particular structure of the political system--neither in the way laws were made nor in what they contained--but in the relationship of the political system as a whole to the rest of the society.

Within the framework of the Confucian ideology Chinese social life as a whole acquired a momentum which, in some respects, was more persistent than any known in a comparable Western state. Even in those periods of Western history in which governmental functions were reduced to an apparent minimum, government played a greater part in everyday life than did its equivalent in China.

Empire or Pseudomorph. One of the authors of this book raised the serious doubt some fifteen years ago that the processes called "government" in the West and "government" in China were similar in more than name. Certainly many of the difficulties between the Ch'ing dynasty and the Western states arose from fundamentally incompatible assumptions concerning the relationship of government to the rest of society.

The statement made fifteen years ago still holds:

Government in China was an auxiliary activity, the reserve power of a hierarchy given to the pursuit of different ends. The officials were teachers first and magistrates afterward; the emperor was a supreme model first and a ruler afterward; the people were shamed, and punished only when they were shameless. Such was the ideal theory upon which the Chinese built their world society. The facts were rarely as bright as they might have hoped; the reserve power never disappeared. . . .

As a state, as an all-embracing control institution, the old Chinese

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