A sightly exotic constitutional proposal

I have just finished A Confucian constitutional order by Jiang Qing. (different characters from that other Jiang Qing) He proposes a constitution for China that is based on a combination of pragmatic arguments and Confucian metaphysics that he calls the Way of the Humane Authority. The Yi Jing is cited in a number of places as authority for various ideas, although he relies more the Gongyang Commentary to the Analects of Confucius, a text dating from the Han dynasty.

The proposals, in short order, are:

(1) a tricameral legislature designed to embody sacred, cultural and popular legitimacy;

(2) a symbolic monarch as head of state;

(3) an academy with the power to dismiss any member of the legislature or the executive for corruption or misconduct and to administer examinations for the House of Scholars.

The three chambers would be the House of Scholars (Tongru Yuan) to represent sacred legitimacy; the House of the People (Shumin Yuan), to represent popular legitimacy; and the House of the Nation (Guoti Yuan) to represent cultural legitimacy. The House of Scholars would be elected through a system of recommendation and testing in the Confucian classics rather similar to the old examination system for the imperial bureaucracy. The House of the People would be elected in a democratic manner. The House of the Nation would comprise distinguished experts and traditional leaders, some of them hereditary. The House of the Nation is the least well-defined of the three chambers. It is unclear whether Jiang Qing proposes appointment by the head of state on ministerial advice or some other criterion, although some members would be hereditary. The academy is based on the censorate tradition and is also to be selected by recommendation and examination from among scholars in various traditions.

Two houses could pass a bill unless the third house rejected the bill by supermajority. The executive is the least detailed proposal. There is to be a parliamentary executive, although the precise details of nomination and investiture are unclear. There is a strong preference for functional constituencies to elect the House of the People. The Dalai Lama is mentioned as one of the traditional leaders to be included in the House of the Nation. There would be a justiceable bill of rights, although Jiang Qing suggests the academy would be more effective in enforcing rights than a conventional supreme court.

The candidate for symbolic monarch (oddly with the title of king, rather than emperor) is the head of the Confucian lineage on grounds of cultural authority and descent from Tang of Shang, the founding sage king of the second of the Three Dynasties.

This is not a widely-accepted model in China itself, although there are occasional calls for the Chinese Communist Party to rename itself the Confucian party and Confucius is widely promoted in China as an exemplar of Chinese culture and history. The government, for example,is funding Confucius Institutes in foreign countries on the model of the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institutes.

Okay, I suppose I should have said ‘very exotic constitutional proposal’. I certainly hope this is by no means the end of Fruits and Votes.

7 thoughts on “A sightly exotic constitutional proposal

  1. Daniel Bell had some interesting proposals along these lines in “Democratic Deliberation: The Problem of Implementation”, in Deliberative Politics: Essays on DEMOCRACY AND DISAGREEMENT, ed Stephen Macedo (OUP 1999), pp 70-87. Excerpts viewable here: http://tinyurl.com/lt45ykw esp starting page 76.

  2. It almost sounds like someone interpreting the British system through Chinese eyes. The House of the Nation containing appointed, hereditary, and religious leaders sounds very much like the House of Lords to me. The House of Scholars sounds to me like someone trying to understand the supposed powers and roles of the bureaucracy-educated, professional and permanent officials in Whitehall advising the elected leaders on what is and isn’t possible but generally not having a full veto.

    Perhaps this isn’t so exotic after all.

  3. The Academy and the House of the Scholars also fit into Chinese tradition where brave and fearless scholar-officals were supposed to censure bad emperors. Sadly they had no guarantee against imperial retaliation and it tended to end unpleasantly for them.

    A late Confucian, Kang Youwei, proposed guaranteeing that remonstrating officials be immune to retaliation, but the idea was so scandalous it had to be circulated in secret until the fall of the monarchy.

  4. > “It almost sounds like someone interpreting the British system through Chinese eyes”

    Whereas observing the British system through French eyes gave us Madison, via Montesquieu…

  5. Very interesting indeed! I hope I live to see the day when China discusses a new form of government. It could be boring and exceedingly conventional, but I think it’s likelier to be original and maybe even revolutionary for constitutional design.

  6. Personally, I’ve often wondered why bicameralism rather than some other number.

    The pre-revolutionary estates-general in France had 3 chambers and the Swedish riksdag at one time had 4 (nobility, clergy, towns and ‘peasantry). The Roman republic famously had more assemblies than you could shake a stick at, although they were not actually chambers of a single legislature. Ditto the Venetian and Florentine republics and ancient Athens.

  7. I think bicamerialism is popular because both the U.S. and Britain have bicameral systems and many if not most of the world’s legislatures are inspired by the U.S. Congress or the British Parliament.

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