To love the Country is not to love the DynastyWritten by Julen Madariaga on April 15th, 2010
This little piece by historian Hong Zhenkuai has been taken down from the Southern Metropolis, but it has managed to escape the censors on some other sites. I liked the subtle way Hong criticizes the reigning CCP dynasty, and the cool Chinese rendering of “L’Etat c’est moi” as “朕即国家“.
Since I don’t have the time for Language Thursdays today, I have done this bit of translation work:
The French Bourbon king Louis XIV reportedly said “L’etat c’est moi” . Even if all the World’s sovereigns love autocracy, few of them would say it so openly. Louis XIV ruled from 1643 to 1715, the same period as China’s Kangxi. Kangxi’s thought was probably not unlike “L’etat c’est moi”, but clearly he had more “wisdom with Chinese characteristics” than Louis XIV – he did a lot of “humane actions”, thus earning a reputation of humane Lord while still ruling as a dictator.
In the ideas of the Sovereign People, the sovereignty belongs to the people and it is not “L’Etat c’est moi” but rather “L’Etat is us“. Of course this kind of ideas only appeared after Louis XIV’s death. In his age there were not many in the World who could tell the difference between the notions of sovereign, government and State. In China, even if the pre-Qin philosopher Mencius said: “first the people, then the State then the monarch”, in fact in the 2000+ years since the Qin and the Han, Patriotism has meant Loyalty to the Monarch, and these two concepts are muddled.
Only after the Western ideas arrived, some Chinese people started little by little to acquire a modern understanding of the notions of government, country and monarch. Among them Liang Qichao was first. He arrived to these conclusions during his experience in exile after the failure of the 1898 reforms.
Liang said that China was accumulating weakness, one of the causes being that the Chinese people could not distinguish between State and Dynasty, to the point that the patriotic spirit was not aimed at the right target[...] China has a long history, the Tang, Yu, Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Wei, Jin, Song, Qi, Liang, Chen, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing  are “all names of dynasties, not of States”. From the Yin named Shang, to the Ji named Zhou, to the Ying named Qin, to the Liu named Han, to the Li named Tang, to the Zhao named Song, to the Zhu named Ming, ; and also the Mongol Yuan and the Manchu Qing; all of them were family clans, not proper States. They were private operations run by a family clan and not a common asset of all the Chinese people. And yet the Chinese people frequently confuse Dynasty with State, as Liang Qichao said, and this is their big weakness.
Of the bad consequences of not differentiating between State and Dynasty, the most obvious is that Patriotism becomes Love for a Dynasty, or even Love for the Leader. Liang Qichao said: “Our long history shows, the famous officials and generals [...] .” Those characters in our long history, they killed people for one family clan, they did their hard efforts to acquire position and wealth, this has nothing to do with patriotism. But it was raised as a model of “patriotism” by each of the dynasties, and the people, since they cannot distinguish dynasty from State, they continue to praise and respect them. Truly lamentable.
A bit later than Liang, Chen DuXiu wrote a piece with title “Should we be patriotic or not?”, in the text it says: “To ask whether we should be patriotic or not, first we have to ask what is the State. Originally it is nothing but a group of people organized to resist the attacks of others from outside, and to harmonize the disputes of the people inside. Good people use it to defend against oppression outside and harmonize disputes inside, bad people use it to oppress the peoples both outside and inside. Therefore if someone asks: “should we be patriotic or not?” we will answer in a loud voice: “We love our country, the one that seeks happiness for the people, and not the one for which the people have to sacrifice”
The functions of a State, according to Chen DuXiu are: To defend against outside oppression, and to harmonize internal disputes. The former is towards the outside, the latter towards the inside. Harmonizing disputes is only the passive side, the State must also actively pursue public policies like preventing and providing relief against natural disasters.
The functions of a State should be performed by the government. If the government can do these functions, then the State is “seeking happiness for the people”; if not, then it becomes “the State for which the people sacrifice”. In human history the most common in practice is that the government cannot fulfill the State’s functions, or else it does them poorly. In this case it can appear that government equals no government. Or that government is even worse than no government.
Because of its geography China is a country where draughts and floods occur frequently. There are statistics that show that in the 2270 years before the Republic [pre-1911],there were 1392 officially reported draughts, and 1621 officially reported floods. It can be seen that every year there was some disaster. Because of this, one of the main functions of the Chinese government in the old times was to lead the defense against natural disasters, it can be said that this is one of the bases of the legitimacy of the government, and the emperors paid a lot of attention to these phenomena.
The emperor Qing even required the high officials in the provinces to timely inform of the rainfall, harvest, grain prices, etc. to understand the situation and so in case of a disaster to be able to offer immediate assistance and/or reduce the taxes in the affected regions. But looking at history, very often the people received no help. And in the case of large scale disasters, when the government could not offer assistance, the people had to face the risks and take action to survive. Like Li Zicheng who led the peasant revolt in the end of the Qing. His main actions where in Shaanxi and Henan, because there was a big draught there and the Ming government could not organize effective assistance. This force the victims to become roaming people, and ultimately a violent mob.
In any society there are some large tasks that involving many people, so there is no way any organization can do them other than the government. If the government cannot perform its responsibilities, the society becomes unruly, and the the public interest suffers. For example, food safety, public health, protection of the environment, this kind of affairs need to be taken charge of by the government.
In the development of human societies, this problem has been encountered for a long time: the people need the government but the government cannot live up to their expectations, protect them against outside menace or provide internal services. In many cases it even evolves into an organization that infringes on the people’s rights.
To make the government do its task diligently, the people needs to have the right to supervise the government, and the most effective way is to elect the government by voting. The people needs to understand what is common sense - that is, as Liang Qichao said, that the State is not the dynasty (government). The dynasty can be changed for the survival of the State. What the people should love is their country, and not the dynasty.
Hong Zhenkuai Historian
- meaning the State is me [↩]
- it is cool how all the history of China fits in one single line of dynasties: 唐虞夏商周秦汉魏晋宋齐梁陈隋唐宋元明清, I guess we should add 国共 in the end, for the KMT and the CCP dynasties of the XX century [↩]
- all these are the original surnames of the families that were behind each dynasty [↩]
- follows rant against the old patriotic heroes, this is old Chinese someone help me translate: 试观二十四史所载，名臣名将，功业懿铄、声名彪炳者，舍翊助朝廷一姓之外，有所事事乎？其为我国民增一分之利益、完一分之义务乎？而全国人民顾啧啧焉称之曰：此我国之英雄也。夫以一姓之家奴走狗，而冒一国英雄之名，国家之辱，莫此甚也！乃至舍家奴走狗之外，而数千年几无可称道之人，国民之耻，更何如也！而我国四万万同胞，顾未尝以为辱焉，以为耻焉，则以误认朝廷为国家之理想，深入膏肓而不自知也。 [↩]