The provinces, in actual practice in the past and in theory to-day, occupy a semi-autonomous position vis-a-vis the Imperial government; in some aspects they may be said to be satrapies, in others to resemble the constituent states of a federation. Either comparison is too sweeping, however, without careful study of the differences, and the distinction must always be remembered between the Occident, which insisted on local self-government, and the Orient, which was always governed by the strong hand. The provinces were satrapies to the extent that, so long as the tribute and matriculations were duly paid and the general policy of the central administration followed, they were free to administer their own affairs in detail, as seemed best to their own provincial authorities. So far does provincial autonomy went that before, and for many years after, 1834, the Imperial government struggled hard to keep clear of all contact with foreign affairs, and required that their discussion and the decision of them should be left absolutely to the officials in the provinces. With much latitude in the exercise of their power, many restrictions are imposed on the individual officials.
In each of the provinces into which the empire is divided there was a most formidable array of officials, all of whom act directly or indirectly under their respective boards or tribunals. Thus in the province of Kwang-tung, to illustrate the working of the government in each province, there were the following civil mandarins:-viz., a governor general, a governor, a treasurer, a sub-commissioner, a literary chancellor, a chief justice,-the last four being of equal rank- six tautavs of equal rank, ten prefects of equal rank, and seventy-two district or county rulers of equal rank. Each of these officials had a council to assist him in the discharge of the duties of his office. Besides these officials, every town and village in the empire had its governing body, so that the number of officials in each province was very great.
The various classes of officers were in regular subordination. Thus, the governing body of a village was subordinate to the ruler of the district or county in which it is situated. The district or county ruler is subject to the prefect of the department of which his district is a part. The prefect is, in turn, subordinate to the tautai; the tautai to the chief justice or criminal judge, and so on, step by step to the governor-general or viceroy. Each official stands in loco parentis to the subordinate immediately below him, while the mandarins are regarded as standing in a paternal relation to the people they rule. The principle pervades all conditions of society down to the humblest subjects of the realm, those who are in the higher walks of life acting the part of parents to those of an inferior grade, while over all is the all-embracing paternity of the emperor.
Chinese officials of certain grades were not allowed to hold office in the provinces of which they were natives, nor were they, without imperial permission, allowed to contract marriages in the provinces in which they had been appointed to hold office. To preclude the possibility of their acquiring too much local influence in the districts, or prefectures, or provinces where they were serving, they were removed, in some instances triennially, and in others sexennially, to other posts of duty. All officers were supposed to be appointed by the emperor on the recommendation of the board of ceremonies, the members of this board being especially regarded as the advisers of his imperial majesty in the bestowal of political patronage. The salaries attached to government offices were very small. This was a system which led to most scandalous and irregular proceedings. Thus the mandarins of China, though drawing quarterly from the imperial exchequer the smallest possible amount of pay, were enabled, by the accumulated gains of fraud and avarice, to retire from office as men of wealth and substance. They were, and had been for a considerable time past, the very curse of the country, the palmerworm at the root of its prosperity.
The duties which devolve upon a governor-general, or governor of a province are very arduous. He is responsible to the emperor, who is responsible to the gods, for the general peace and prosperity of his province. It is his duty to take cognizance of all the officials, and to forward triennially to the board of civil appointments at Pekin the name of each officer under his administration, with a short report on his general behaviour. The information is furnished to the viceroy or governor by the immediate superior of each officer. Should the governor-general be accused of any offence, an imperial commission to investigate the charge is at once appointed.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|