The Government of China (1644-1911)

By Pao Chao Hsieh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE EMPEROR

The emperor in the old Chinese monarchy, popularly known as the "Son of Heaven," more popularly misconceived as an absolute monarch like those of ancient and medieval Europe or other Oriental countries, occupied a position unique enough to have no analogue in other states. As we have seen in the previous chapter, this term, "Son of Heaven," was the only survival of the old triumvirate (son of heaven, minister of heaven and people of heaven); we can safely deny any superhuman or theological tinge attached to it. Running through the old classics and other literature, one comes across the frequently quoted proverb, "The state does not belong to any individual, but the virtuous man takes charge of it." This old saying is as much quoted by private writers as by emperors in their edicts. The philosopher Kuo Pei Yun says: "The throne is not a treasure per se. It is so because people will be benefited when on it sits a sage: so the king does not treasure it, but the people do." Mencius says, " EmperorYao did not give the throne to Shun, nor did Shun give it to Yu, nor did Yu give it to Chi: KingTang did not take the throne from Chieh, for none of them owned it."1 Imperial edicts bear witness to this, the important ones always beginning with the phrase "By order of heaven, I succeed to the throne and hereby issue this edict. . . . ." In petitions and memoranda, reference is made to this theory as often as in edicts. Thus, at least from the theoretical standpoint, the non-ownership of the throne by the emperor was not disputed.

The emperor's temporary exercise of the sovereign power together with the right of rebellion made the emperor

____________________
1
Chapter of Wan Chang.

-24-

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