Story of China - R. Van Bergen

How the Chinese are Governed

When we speak of China and its monarch, we call him an emperor and we call his country an empire. We do this because we have no better name. China, from its size, may deserve to be known as an empire; but the Solitary Man, who sits in the Purple Forbidden City at Peking, is certainly not an emperor.

The Chinese speak of him as Tien-tsz' (teen ts), that is, Son of Heaven. Sometimes they mention him as Hwang-Shang, or the August Lofty One. He is the High Priest, who stands between the people and the gods. But he is more than that, for he is the common father of all the people.

In another chapter I have told you that to love and reverence their fathers is taught to Chinese children from their babyhood. No crimes are punished so severely as those showing disrespect for parents. The father is complete master in his family; he may sell his wife and his children. The Chinese do not like or admire a man who does so; but if he wishes to do it, nobody can stop him. Therefore the Son of Heaven at Peking, as the common father of all the people, may do as he pleases, and the people must obey.

Chinese family


As the Son of Heaven, he is also the High Priest. No-body but he can worship at the great Altar of Heaven, and when he performs that ceremony, he does it for his people. If there is a flood, a long drought, a famine, or a plague, in any part of the vast country, it is the duty of the Tien tsz' to blame himself, and to punish himself; because he considers that the evil is owing to his neglect of duty. When he takes the blame upon himself, or punishes himself, it is announced in the King-Chau (king-chow), which means literally Court Records, but which foreigners in China call the Peking Gazette, and which is really the oldest newspaper in the world. It is distributed over every part of China, and anybody may subscribe for, and read it.

As a father, the Tien-tsz' is expected to treat the people as his children, that is, to show them kindness, sympathy, and love. As a High Priest he lives in the Purple Forbidden City, where he can be seen by nobody, except by the members of his own family and high officers of state. When he intends leaving the palace, his route is chosen and announced to time to have the streets cleaned, curtains stretched at both sides, and orders given that no one shall show himself, either in the streets or in the houses. The emperor is carried on a canopied platform upon the shoulders of eighteen men. Everything he uses has a particular color, and this color may not be used by the people. The color of the cover of this book is called Imperial Yellow. If it were sold in China, the people would think that it had come from the palace.

Throne of Empress


The outward gate of the palace must be passed on foot. The oldest statesman must leave his sedan chair here at the gate. Only the Tien-tsz' may use the paved walk leading up to it. The empty throne must be worshiped as if he were sitting on it. A screen of yellow silk over a chair is looked upon while the Chinese falls upon his knees; and when Li Hung Chang or any other Viceroy received a dispatch from the palace at Peking, incense was burned and he knelt down as he received it.

Since the Son of Heaven can not do everything himself, he employs officers to act in his place. In the chapter on Examinations I shall tell you how these officers are chosen. If the officers do not do their duty, or if they are too severe or cruel, the people often complain in this way: "A strange way for parents to treat their children!"

China Proper, as you know, is divided into eighteen provinces. These eighteen provinces have eleven governments, at the head of each of which is a Tsung-tuh (tsoong-tooh) or Viceroy, or a Fu-yuen (foo-yooen), one rank below the Viceroy, but having so nearly the same authority that he is addressed as Viceroy by foreigners.

These Viceroys, each in his province or provinces,—for one Viceroy sometimes rules over two provinces,—have the same authority as the Son of Heaven exercises over the whole country. But their first duty is to preserve law and order. If any disturbance or riot breaks out in their province, they are sharply called to account, and may lose, not only their position, but also their heads. They are made responsible even for accidents which they can not help. Li Hung Chang more than once asked the Tien-tsz' to punish him, because heavy rains had caused a flood in his province. Chang Chih Tung (chahng chee toong), a Viceroy almost as well known as Li, asked to be removed from office because there had been a drought, followed by a famine. The Viceroy, like the Tien-tsz', has power over life and death.

Each province is again divided into several tao (tahoh), literally a circuit, but which we might call a county. At the head is the taotai (tahoh-tie), who is really a deputy of the Viceroy, and responsible to him. They are superior to the other officers of the county. The county is again divided into fu, chau; or ting (foo, chahoh, ting), which may be translated as districts.

The people, however, are allowed to choose their own "elders," who decide disputes and quarrels. The Chinese, one and all, dislike the idea of employing a lawyer. "We don't want to have a man," they say, "who will try to tell us that right is wrong, and wrong is right."

Chinese officials, one and all, have a bad name. We have been told that they are dishonest, and rob the people. You must know, however, that a great many of these officials receive the same, or almost the same, pay that was given two thousand years ago, and at that time a penny in money would buy more than ten dollars will now. The salary of a Viceroy is not enough to pay one secretary; yet out of his salary he is expected to pay several secretaries, and a small army of other officers. The government knows this and pays them an extra sum of money, about twenty times as much as the salary, but even this is not enough to meet expenses. The Chinese are aware of this, and are willing to pay an official a fair price for his services. Among the lower magistrates, however, are many who are actually in league with thieves and robbers. But if the people think an officer is trying to rob them, they have several means of putting a stop to it.

The lowest magistrate or officer of a district knows quite well that, if a complaint is made by the people of his district, the officer above him, or the county officer as we would say, will fine him one-half of all he has made, and that fine must be paid. There is no means of getting out of it. So he prefers taking less and keeping it all. It is the same with every officer, even with the Viceroys.

Besides this, there are everywhere in China a number of people who have passed the examinations (see the chapter on Examinantions), and who are known to us as literati or men of letters, that is, learned men. These men may be put in office at any time, and they watch the officers, hoping, no doubt, that if one is removed, they may have a chance to be appointed to his post. The Government at Peking has the names and addresses of all these literati, and is not at all sorry to use them as spies upon the officers.

Chinese literati


There is another good reason why officers should behave themselves. They are appointed for a term of three years, and their record is kept at Peking. If they have made a good record, it is likely that they will be promoted. These are the rules for an officer: No officer can be appointed in the district where he was horn, and he can not marry a girl from the district where he holds office, nor own land there; nor can he have a son, brother, or any other near relative holding office under him. An officer knows, therefore, that every man under him may be a spy, and that, if he does wrong, the fact will be reported, and count against him when his term of office expires.

As you know, the President of the United States has a number of men around him, each of whom is at the head of a department, which he manages for the President. These men have the title of Secretary,—as Secretary of State, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of the Treasury, etc. The Secretary of State carries on the business of the government with other nations; the Secretary of the Treasury looks after the money of the United States, and pays the bills of the nation.

China has eight such departments, but the heads of these do not, as in the United States, act as advisers. That office belongs, first, to the Nui Koh (nwee koh). This is a council made up of six men, four councilors and two assistant councilors, half of whom are Manchu and half Chinese. This council informs the Tien-tsz' about the business of China. When he asks them for advice, they write it on a slip of paper, and fasten it to the paper under discussion. After everything is finished, they present the paper to the Tien-tsz', who by a stroke of his vermilion pencil marks the advice which he selects. That advice becomes at once a law, and is published in the King-Chau  or Peking Gazette.

The second council is the Kiun-Ki Chu (keeoon-kee choo), or General Council. This is the most influential body in the government. The members of this council meet every morning between five and six o'clock in the Forbidden City, and attend to whatever business may be before them. If they are called by the Tien-tsz', they sit upon mats or low cushions, for no one is permitted to sit on a chair in his presence. In times of war, every question is decided in this council.

The eight departments are:

1. The Li-Pu (lee-poo), or Department of Civil Service. It appoints the officers, promotes, removes, rewards, or punishes them, and grants or denies requests for leave of absence.

2. The Hu-Pu (hoo-poo), or Department of Revenue, is almost the same as our Treasury Department.

3. The Le-Pu (lay-poo), or Department of Religion, controls and directs everything belonging to ceremonies.

4. The Ping-Pu (ping-poo), or Department of War, also embraces the Navy Department. As the name shows, it is supposed to look after the army and navy.

5. The Hing-Pu (hing-poo), or Board of Punishments, somewhat resembles our Department of Justice and Supreme Court combined.

6. The Kung-Pu, or Board of Works, is to some extent like our Department of the Interior.

7. The Li Fan Yuen (lee fahn yooen), or Colonial Office, directs the affairs of the provinces beyond China Proper, as Mongolia, Koko-Nor, etc.

8. The Tsung-li Yamen (tsoong-lee yahmen), or Foreign Office, transacts business with other nations.

One of the most important parts of the government is the Tu-chah Yuen (too-chah yooen), or Censorate. Its first duty is to see that manners and customs are kept unchanged. You will understand now why it is that our customs are not introduced into China. The man who should dare to introduce them, would be a traitor, and, if he were caught, would probably lose his life. The Censorate also keeps a record of all the officers, and does not hesitate to blame a Viceroy or even the Tien-tsz' himself. There are numerous instances where the Tien-tsz' was roundly told the truth by these censors. It is, of course, ticklish work, especially if the Son of Heaven is a man who has a will of his own. A great number of censors have been punished with death for expressing themselves too freely. But the Tien-tsz' knows that every one of his acts may be criticised in this manner, and it makes him careful.

In the last six years the Censorate has opposed every movement toward progress in China. Many high officers who were in favor of reforms, said plainly that they dared not express themselves openly, for fear of being reported. The Board of Punishment has no regard for rank or wealth, and a Viceroy's head is cut off just as easily as a beggar's.