Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Constitutional Monarchy and Modernization: Kang Youwei's Perspectives on "Keeping the Emperor and the Royal System in China"

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Constitutional Monarchy and Modernization: Kang Youwei's Perspectives on "Keeping the Emperor and the Royal System in China"

Article excerpt


At the end of the 19th century, China opened up its age of democratic revolution. Kang Youwei, a senior intellectual, advised Emperor Guangxu to establish the Constitutional Monarchy system in China as England and Japan did. However, his thoughts were condemned as "conservative", "anti-revolutionary" by those radicals in his time. In this article, the author makes a deep exploration of the Constitutional Monarchy system in different countries in today's world, the social roles of kings and monarchs, and the economic positions of today's Constitutional Monarchy countries in the world. It is found that nearly all these countries are developed countries which gained political stability and economic prosperity by establishing the constitutional monarchy system and account for a large percentage in the world's most developed countries. Compared to those democratic republican countries of the same period, they developed in a more stable and rapid way. The kings and queens play important roles in keeping the country stable and prosperous. Thus, history has proven that the Constitutional Monarchy is a great democratic system and Kang Youwei's proposal of "keeping the emperor and the royal system" and establishing the Constitutional Monarchy system was the most suitable choice in terms of the situation of China at his time.

Key words: Constitutional Monarchy system; Modernization; Kang Youwei


Since the failure of the 1898 Reform Movement of China, also known as the Wu Xu Reform, Kang Youwei's political perspectives on "Keeping the Emperor and the Royal System" were often criticized by historians as "fogyism", "driving back history" and by politicians as "reactionary", "a counter-revolutionary". When referring to Kang Youwei's political views, many politicians believed that his views had reflected "he had special feelings towards Emperor Guangxu" and "his loyalty to the Emperor became even stronger." Many people also mentioned about his conservative views, but their comments lacked in-depth analysis about his political attitudes. This paper will elaborate on this aspect.


Kang Youwei's special feelings towards Emperor Guangxu were truthful. His insistence on "Keeping the Emperor and the Royal System" was not simply his personal feelings, but had much deeper political and philosophical implications.

In the transitional process from the feudal to the capitalistic societies, the U.K. and Japan achieved the Constitutional Monarchy by keeping the royal system of the past, establishing the Constitution in their fight against the old feudal autocracy and peacefully moving to the capitalistic boom. The French Revolution, on the contrary, abolished completely the royal system and established a brand new capitalistic republic. After decades of vicissitudes, France has painstakingly moved to a capitalistic society and achieved the revolutionary republic system.

We have learned different lessons from these two routes. However, both routes have successfully completed the historical transition from the feudal society to the capitalistic society and both have achieved the tasks of the capitalistic revolution. From the macro perspective of the world history, the revolutionary republic side and the Constitutional Monarchy side are both revolutionary and progressive.

During the later years of the Qing Dynasty, China was in the transitional period of vicissitudes from the declining feudal society to the capitalistic society. Under the special state of the union, what forms of government should be adopted? A gradual, critical inheritance with innovations? Or a great leap forward abolishing the old and establishing the new system? These two routes had represented the two major trends in the political circle in China at that time. Kang Youwei had become a model favoring the Constitutional Monarchy route. This was not because he had special feelings towards Emperor Guangxu. …

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