CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
Nos. 30/31, June/September 2012


On Dictatorship | China Heritage Quarterly

On Dictatorship

The Rule of Dictatorship

The China Critic

The following Editorial appeared in The China Critic, VII:27 (5 July 1934): 656-657

China's political evolution has been a laborious one. From the abortive attempt at a constitutional monarchy by Emperor Kuang-hsu, the illustrious predecessor to the ignominious Henry Pu-Yi, she has willingly submitted herself to a series of highly diversified experiments. Between the first provisional government at Nanking of which Dr Sun Yat-sen was the president and the present national government of which General Chiang Kai-shek is the virtual ruler, there have been one dictatorship under Yuan Shih-kai, two monarchical fiascos under Yang Tu and Chang Hsun, innumerable minor dictatorships under military chieftains of all shades, a communist regime at Hankow and one political tutelage under the Kuomintang. During the same time there have been civil wars without number, coups of all sorts, alliances without rhyme or reason and the loss of four provinces without the slightest display of resistance.

Fig.1 'The Rise in Social Statues of the Chinese Peasant' 一個鄉下人的三個時期 , from The Crystal 晶報, 27 June 1930, artist unknown. Reprinted in The China Critic, 10 July 1930.

The net result of China's twenty years' venture in democracy seems to be in inverse ratio to the zeal with which the nation has awaited a new dawn. It may be even admitted that China is hardly better off today than at the close of the last century, and it is this superficial phenomenon which has provided confirmed pessimists with an unfailing source of ammunition for relentless attack on this country. And yet, in all candidness it must be observed that with each failure in some phase of the experiment in democracy there has developed a new impetus to forge ahead, a new determination to succeed. The development of highway and aviation facilities is but one eloquent testimony to the silent resolve for a rebirth, and the complacency of the Canton clique in national affairs, in spite of its occasional outbursts of patriotic fustian, seems to indicate a genuine consciousness of national unity as a condition precedent to national strength.

It appears evident, therefore, that in the failures of the successive regimes may perhaps be discerned a disguised blessing. A nation cannot achieve political greatness without conscientious efforts, and each effort that has fallen short of its goal cannot but make a people wiser politically. For this reason, if for no other, we may welcome the opportunity of discussing the latest fad in government, that of dictatorship.

On this vast subject opinions are bound to differ. In this issue are presented the views of two outstanding Chinese critics and those of a foreign observer of long standing in this country. For our part we are receptive to any principle which works for the best interest of the country. Whether by dictatorship may be evolved a united and strong nation is highly problematical, and no living human being can venture a prophecy with any degree of certainty. The test of the pudding is, after all, in the eating.

On one

Fig.2 Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石, 1887-1975) with the enigmatic Dai Li (戴笠, 1895-1946), head of Chiang's intelligence services and a prominent member of the fascist Blue Shirts Society 藍衣社. Dai's proclivity for cruelty and admiration for the Nazi SS leader earned him the moniker 'Chinese Himmler'.
point, however, there can be no difference of opinion, and that is the equality of all before the law. Traditionally the Chinese people have been democratic in spirit irrespective of the form of government. Any rule which tends to encourage class distinction, religious antipathy or political factionalism will be so alien to the country that it will be foredoomed to failure. If the dictatorship to be adopted for China should take on the complexion of Hitlerism and stand for racial cleavages, then we may emphatically declare that it is not wanted. The Chinese Republic is a nation composite of five races each one of which is just as essential to our national existence as another. There must be no distinction.

The political rights of the people, too, may not be abridged on account of non-allegiance to the ruling party. The equality of opportunity must be co-existent and co-extensive with the equality of opportunity. The affiliation with a political party should be deemed as a privilege to serve the nation and not as a right to demand preference in political appointment for which only merit should be the main consideration and guide.

The popular consent to a dictatorship, moreover, is not to be accepted as a willingness to submit to an iron rule without qualification. It does not imply a supine attitude toward an imposition of a government policy which is designed to infringe upon the rudimentary rights of an average citizen. Dictatorship must in fact be looked upon as a mode of government which is far from being infallible and which consequently must yield to candid criticisms and be sensitive to public wishes. Dictatorship may stand for centralization, but it is by no means omnipotent. It may represent the will of the people but it cannot force its own upon them. Here one may pertinently invoke the classical maxim that 'Heaven sees through the people and hears through the people,' and it follows that a dictator as a benevolent ruler can claim no greater divine right.

If these simple rules of government are faithfully observed, one would neither object to the rule of a dictator nor doubt its chance of success. And if these self-same rules are observed, any government will succeed even without a dictator.