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New Perspectives on China’s Late Imperial Period

Why China Slept

Patrick Leung

The book offers new perspectives on the history of China’s late imperial period and presents a much-needed novel explanation for China’s stagnation and decline in recent centuries. It begins by questioning all the conventional wisdom on the factors behind China’s relative lack of progress and subsequent decline since the 15th century and follows with a fresh interpretation of China’s past. The new vantage points provide insights into China’s resurgence in recent decades and its significance for other nations. The book also makes projections on the general direction that China’s future evolution is likely to take with respect to its market economy, rule of law and representative institutions.

The author aims to deepen international understanding of China’s past and present which will hopefully facilitate the development of more productive relationships between China and other nations. The book is written so that it appeals to students, academics as well as the general public and whoever is interested in gaining a better understanding of China’s rapid rise today. The book is relevant to third and fourth year undergraduate courses in history, economics, international relations, law and political science. It can be used as a text book for upper class core or elective courses in history and economics and as a reference book for upper class courses in international relations, law and political science. It can also serve as a reference book for graduate students in the above disciplines.

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Chapter Twelve Ruling Class Democracy versus Rule by Mandarins


Ruling Class Democracy versus Rule by Mandarins

During the 1919 “May Fourth Movement” in China, patriotic Chinese youths ardently called for the embrace of Sai Xiansheng (Mr. Science) and De Xiansheng (Mr. Democracy) to save their faltering nation. These idealistic young people believed that the Western idea of democracy along with Western science would be the saviors of China, and only their presence could bring about the rebirth of their homeland. What these youths might not have realized was there were only a tiny number of states in the West—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc.—that practiced universal suffrage in 1919, and all of them were small states with a relatively homogeneous population. Moreover, their universal franchise was granted less than a decade ago.1 Most of the voting systems that were used in Western states at the time were still subjected to various kinds of restrictions based on income level, gender, literacy, etc. More importantly, there was as yet no example of a country in the world which was able to introduce universal suffrage first and successfully industrialize subsequently. All the Western democracies at the time had essentially completed their industrialization process prior to their implementation of universal suffrage.

This chapter attempts to compare and contrast the degree of authoritarianism in dynastic China and pre-modern Western states. The first section offers a possible explanation for the difference in power configurations across Chinese and Western societies which the previous chapter has referred to. The second section is ←293...

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