Modern Chinese Government

by Qianyou Zhang (Volume editor) Kangzhi Zhang (Volume editor)
©2020 Monographs VI, 268 Pages


Modern Chinese Government is a primer on Chinese government, taking the government's changes and expansions throughout history as two dimensions along which to introduce its formation and development, its organizational structure and authoritative framework, and the scope of its functions. Furthermore, this book looks ahead to the future prospects of China's government. Overall, it aims to give readers a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals of Chinese government.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1 Government from the Republic to the People’s Republic
  • 2 Transformation of the People’s Republic of China Government
  • 3 A More Law-Based, Scientific and Democratic Government
  • 4 The Organizational Structure of the Government of China
  • 5 The Authoritative Structure of Chinese Government
  • 6 Functions of the Government of China
  • 7 Building a Service-Oriented Government
  • 8 The Path to Collaborative Governance
  • Afterword

1 Government from the Republic to the People’s Republic

The Beijing Government

From the End of the Revolution of 1911 to the Founding of the Provisional Government

In the fourth month of the third year of the reign of the Qing Xuantong Emperor (June 1911), the Qing court attempted to nationalize the locally-backed Sichuan-Hankou and Guangdong-Hankou Railways in order to secure a loan from a consortium of banks from Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United states. As a result, protests broke out in Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, and Guangdong provinces. In Sichuan, these protests intensified into large-scale, armed conflict. The Qing court quickly ordered the superintendent of the two nationalized railways, Duanfang, to lead the Hubei New Army into Sichuan and quell the revolution. Revolutionary forces within the Hubei New Army determined that it was a prime opportunity to organize an uprising of their own.

On October 10, 1911, Revolutionary Party elements within the New Army stationed in Wuchang mutinied and seized control of the office of the Viceroy of Huguang. The next day, revolutionary forces captured the city of Wuchang and ←1 | 2→the Viceroy of Huguang fled the city, signaling the uprising’s success. On October 20, representatives of the revolutionary forces met with representatives from the Hubei Provisional Provincial Assembly and local socialites and established a Hubei military government, the Hubei Commandery. Li Yuanhong, a former officer of the Hubei New Army, was elected to the office of “Commander.” The military government declared the establishment of the “Republic of China” and the abolishment of the Xuantong Emperor’s reign, and called for all other provinces to revolt. Before long, uprisings had sprung up in Hunan, Shaanxi, Jiangxi, Shanxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guizhou, Anhui, Guangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong provinces, and each province had established its own military government. Mass uprisings of varying scale broke out in other provinces as well. Revolutionary activities in support of republicanism were also seen in the Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang regions. Considered together on a national scale, these uprisings later became known as the Revolution of 1911.

Each province that established a military government declared itself to be part of the Republic of China, but in practice each government was an independent individual entity. The country lacked an effective central political organization. On November 25, 1911, representatives from commanderies in ten provinces (Hunan, Hubei, Guangxi, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Fujian, Anhui, Zhili, Shandong, and Henan) met in Shanghai and established the “Federation of Provincial Commanderies.” This organization served as a provisional institution linking together the revolutionary governments in each province. On November 30, a total of 23 representatives from the various commanderies gathered in Wuhan and held the federation’s first meeting. During this meeting, it was decided that the Hubei military government would serve as an acting central government, and the “Organizational Outline of the Republic of China Provisional Government” was passed. At the meeting, the federation also passed a resolution stating that: “If Yuan Shikai joins our side, he will be elected by public vote as provisional president.”1

On December 14, representatives from each province met in Nanjing and confirmed that the provisional government would be located there. On December 27, representatives from each province held a preparatory meeting in Nanjing for the provisional presidential election. During this meeting, Sun Yat-sen persisted in his opinion that the national government should use a presidential system. On December 29, an official meeting was held to conduct the presidential election. Each province received one vote. Sun Yat-sen received 16 of the 17 total votes. On January 1, 1912, Sun Yat-sen took office as provisional president and announced the establishment of the Republic of China provisional government. This marked the first year of the Republic of China era. On January 28, the Provisional Senate ←2 | 3→of the Republic of China was established to serve as the government’s acting legislative body. At the time, only 14 provinces were under de facto control of the Republic of China, namely Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shanxi. Other regions, including Henan, Shandong, Zhili (now Hebei), Gansu, Xinjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, remained under Qing control. Meanwhile, Yuan Shikai was serving as Prime Minister of the Imperial Cabinet, with complete control over Qing military and political affairs. On February 12, 1912, Yuan forced Empress Dowager Longyu to accept the favorable conditions offered by the Republic of China and agree to the official abdication of the Xuantong Emperor. With this step, the system of imperial despotism which had ruled China for millennia was finally ended.

On February 15, 1912, according to the conditions of the peace agreement between the Republic of China and Qing forces, Sun Yat-sen resigned from his position as provisional president, and the Provisional Senate unanimously elected Yuan Shikai as his successor. On March 10, Yuan Shikai was sworn in in Beijing. Soon after, the Provisional Senate of the Nanjing provisional government resolved to move the nation’s capital to Beijing, and announced the end of the Nanjing provisional government.

The central government of the Nanjing provisional government consisted primarily of the provisional president, vice-president, administrative departments, directly-administered institutions, and military institutions. The “Organizational Outline of the Republic of China Provisional Government” stipulated that the president’s primary powers included “the power to rule the entire country” and “the power to command the army and navy,” as well as the power to appoint and dismiss government officials and diplomatic officers, declare war or peace, enter into treaties, formulate a bureaucratic system, and establish a provisional central judiciary body. However, the use of these powers required the agreement of the Senate. The president also had the power to ask the Senate to reconsider any of its decisions. Thus, in order to centralize the power and authority held by local governments, the Nanjing provisional government utilized a presidential system similar to the one used by the United States. The provisional president was both head of state and head of government.

Nine administrative departments were under direct jurisdiction of the provisional president, specifically the army, the navy, and the ministries of foreign affairs, the judiciary, finance, internal affairs, education, commerce, and transport. Each department was administered by one minister and one deputy minister. Ministers were responsible for appointing positions below deputy minister ←3 | 4→according to the actual specifics of the work required. In addition, Hu Hanmin was appointed Chief Secretary, and the Bureau of Printing and Medal Making, the Bureau of Legislation, the Bureau of Official Reports, and the Staff were established within the Presidential Office. Each of the central department’s ministries established bureaus, sub-bureaus, offices, and divisions responsible for specific tasks.

The various policies and measures adopted by the Nanjing provisional government demonstrate a focused effort to implement the Three Principles of the People advocated by the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance and are a concentrated reflection of the desires and interests of the bourgeois.2 Just as Sun Yat-sen declared in his inauguration speech: “A provisional government is a government for the revolutionary era.”3

The Government’s Move to Beijing

From March 10, 1912, when Yuan Shikai took office as Provisional President of the Republic of China, to June 1928, when the National Revolutionary Army captured Beijing, the central government of the Republic of China, located in Beijing, was successively controlled by various elements of the Beiyang clique. Therefore this government is known as the “Beijing government” or the “Beiyang government.”4 Following Yuan Shikai’s period of dominance (March 1912–June 1916), the Beijing government fell under the control of various military factions. This period can be divided into three segments: the period of dominance by Duan Qirui and the Anhui clique (June 1916–July 1920), the period of successive dominance by Feng Guozhang, Cao Kun, Wu Peifu, and Sun Chuanfang, all members of the Zhili clique (July 1920–October 1924), and the period of dominance by Zhang Zuolin and the Fengtian clique (November 1924–June 1928).

The Beijing Government Under Yuan Shikai

The government underwent two major changes while Yuan Shikai was in office, corresponding to the “Provisional Constitution” era and the “Republic of China Constitution” (often referred to as the “New Constitution”) era.

From March 1912, when Yuan Shikai took office as provisional president, to May 1, 1914, when the “New Constitution” was implemented, the government of the Republic of China was primarily organized according to the “Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China.”

The “Provisional Constitution” was the first major document incorporating bourgeois constitutional elements in the Republic of China. Its goal was to limit ←4 | 5→the powers wielded by Yuan Shikai by transitioning from a presidential system to a cabinet system. The “Provisional Constitution” stipulated that a Council of State consisting of high-ranking government officials would be the nation’s highest executive institution. The State Conference would be the institution responsible for discussing matters of national importance and making high-level policy decisions. The high-ranking government officials (that is, the ministers of the various administrative departments) could only be appointed after receiving approval from the Senate, and were held responsible by the Senate. A countersignature from a council member was required before the president could submit bills, promulgate laws, or issue orders. Clearly, council members were given real political responsibility.

The “Provisional Constitution” stipulated that “the provisional president represents the provisional government and has full control over government affairs,” while the cabinet should “assist the provisional president in carrying out his duties.” As the constitution did not clearly state the precise definition of “assist” or the scope of authority entailed, in practice the Beijing government was an amalgam of both presidential and cabinet systems. The consequence of “establishing/amending laws because of a particular individual” was that these laws were reduced to political tools, and ultimately fomented a number of political conflicts.

When the Qing court attempted to establish a constitution near the end of the dynasty, Yuan Shikai had demanded that “a council with actual responsibilities be established” before he would bring the troops under his command to the emperor’s aid. During the Republic era, however, Yuan became an unwavering proponent of the presidential system—and even had one of the most unwavering supporters of the cabinet system, Song Jiaoren, assassinated. In October 1913, Yuan Shikai took office as the first president of the Republic, and the National Assembly began drafting a constitution. Because the Kuomintang (KMT) party held a plurality in the National Assembly, Yuan feared that the constitution drafted by the Assembly would adopt a cabinet system. Therefore in November he ordered the dissolution of the KMT party and expelled party members from the Assembly. In December, a central government assembly (fully controlled by Yuan) was established in an attempt to supplant the National Assembly. In January 1914, the first National Assembly was dissolved.

The central government assembly drew up the “Republic of China Constitution” and officially established the nation’s presidential system. The president enjoyed full control over governmental and military affairs, the sole exception being that the use of certain powers required confirmation by the legislature. However, at this time the legislature had not yet been established, and its functions were ←5 | 6→being fulfilled by the newly-established Participating Assembly. The Participating Assembly was a key institution established by the “New Constitution.” Nominally an advisory body, in practice the Assembly had the power to interpret the provisions of the temporary constitution and draft a permanent constitution. The Assembly was considered to have been established for Yuan Shikai’s “personal use.”

In order to effectivel consolidate power, Yuan Shikai enacted major restructuring of central government institutions. These changes were seen in a few key areas: First, the Council of State was dissolved, and the Administrative Affairs Office was established, bringing the various functions and powers originally belonging to the Council of State under presidential control. Second, the bureaucratic system used for the central ministries was revised to bring all ministers under direct control of the president, and the heads of key departments (foreign affairs, internal affairs, communications, finance, and the army and navy) were even required to give the president daily reports. These revisions not only eliminated the independent administrative responsibilities allocated to the various departments, but also downgraded them from the administrative core of the government to mere “affiliated institutions.” Third, the “Corrections to the Presidential Election Law” was formulated, extending the length of the presidential term from five years to ten, allowing reelections, and even allowing presidents to designate their successor.


VI, 268
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVI, 268 pp., 4 b/w ill., 3 tables.

Biographical notes

Qianyou Zhang (Volume editor) Kangzhi Zhang (Volume editor)

Zhang Kangzhi is a professor of public administration and Director of the Institute of Service-oriented Government at Nanjing University. He has published over 10 books and 400 journal articles. Zhang Qianyou is an associate professor of public administration at the School of Government at Nanjing University.


Title: Modern Chinese Government
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276 pages