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America, Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat By Tingfang Wu Characters: 21897

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Democratic principles were enunciated by Chinese philosophers as long ago as 4,500 years, and from time to time various emperors and statesmen have endeavored to apply them to the government of China, but these principles in all their minute details have been exemplified only by the wisdom of the statesmen in the West. In the United States they are in full swing. As China has now become a Republic, not in name only but in fact, it will be well for her statesmen and politicians to examine the American constitution, and to study its workings. To do this at close range it will be necessary for the student to visit Washington, the Capital of the United States of America. Here he will find the President, or the chief of the nation. With the co-operation of his Cabinet and a large staff of assistants, the President administers the affairs of the Federal Government. He may be a new man and have had no previous training in diplomacy, and little administrative experience, but in all probability he is a man of resource and adaptability, who has mastered every detail of his high office. All important matters are referred to him, so that his daily work taxes his whole strength and energy. Another part of his function is to see the Congressmen, Senators, or Representatives, and others who call to see him on business, and this takes up a great part of his time. In fact, he is expected to be, and generally is, 'Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re'.

In Washington the National Congress, which is composed of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, holds its sittings in the Capitol, and passes bills subject to the approval of the President. If he signs a bill it becomes law, and binds the nation. The basic principle of democracy is the sovereignty of the people, but as the people cannot of themselves govern the country, they must delegate their power to agents who act for them. Thus they elect the Chief Magistrate to govern the country, and legislators to make the laws. The powers given to these agents are irrevocable during their respective terms of office. The electors are absolutely bound by their actions. Whatever laws Congress may pass, the people must strictly obey; thus the servants of the people really become their masters. There is no fear, however, that their masters pro tempore will betray their trust, as any neglect of duty on their part, or disregard of the wishes of their constituents, would most likely destroy their chances of re-election.

According to the terms of the Constitution, the senators and representatives must be residents of the states for which they are chosen. This is an excellent provision, insuring that the people's delegates possess local knowledge and know how to safeguard the interests and welfare of the states which sent them to Washington. On the other hand, as each state, irrespective of its size, is entitled to elect only two Senators, and to send only a limited number of Representatives to the House, proportionally to its population, unfortunately it frequently happens that eminent, capable, and well-known public men, of large experience, are deprived of an opportunity to serve their country. In England, and in some other lands, the electors may choose as their representative a resident of any city, borough, or county as they please, and it only occasionally happens that the member of Parliament actually lives in the district which he represents. Is it advisable to adopt a similar system in the United States? It could not be done without amending the Constitution, and this would not be easy; but every nation, as well as each individual, should be prepared, at all times, to receive fresh light, and be willing to change old customs to suit new conditions, and so I make the suggestion.

The fixing of four years as the term of office for the President was an excellent idea, intended no doubt to prevent an unpopular or bad President from remaining too long in power. It is, however, gradually dawning on the minds of intelligent people that this limited term, though excellent in theory, is very inconvenient in practice. However intelligent and capable a new President may be, several months must elapse before he can thoroughly understand all the details incidental to his exalted position, involving, in addition to unavoidable social functions, the daily reception of callers, and many other multifarious duties. By the time he has become familiar with these matters, and the work of the office is running smoothly, half of his term has gone; and should he aspire to a second term, which is quite natural, he must devote a great deal of time and attention to electioneering. Four years is plainly too short a period to give any President a chance to do justice either to himself or to the nation which entrusted him with his heavy responsibilities. Presidential elections are national necessities, but the less frequently they occur the better for the general welfare of the country. Those who have been in the United States during campaign years, and have seen the complicated working of the political machinery, and all its serious consequences, will, I feel convinced, agree with what I say. During the greater part of the year in which a President has to be elected the entire nation is absorbed in the event, all the people, both high and low, being more or less keenly interested in the issue, and the preparations leading up to it. They seem to put everything else in the shade, and to give more attention to this than to anything else. Politicians and officials who have a personal interest in the result, will devote their whole time and energy to the work. Others who are less active, still, directly or indirectly, take their share in the electioneering. Campaign funds have to be raised and large sums of money are disbursed in many directions. All this sadly interrupts business; it not only takes many business men from their more legitimate duties, but it prevents merchants and large corporations from embarking in new enterprises, and so incidentally limits the demand for labor. In short, the whole nation is practically hurled into a state of bustle and excitement, and the general trade of the country is seriously affected. A young man in Washington, who was engaged to be married, once told me that he was too busy to think of marriage until the election was over.

If the French system were followed, and the President were elected by a majority of the combined votes of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the inconveniences, the excitements and expense above enumerated might be avoided, but I think the people of America would rather endure these evils than be deprived of the pleasure of electing their President themselves. The alternate remedy, so far as I can see, is to extend the presidential term to, say, six or seven years, without any chance of a re-election. If this proposal were adopted, the President would be more free and independent, he would not be haunted by the bugbear of losing his position by temporarily displeasing his political friends, he could give his undivided attention, as he cannot do now, to federal affairs, and work without bias or fear, and without interruption, for the welfare of his nation. He would have more chance of really doing something for his country which was worth while. A further advantage is that the country would not be so frequently troubled with the turmoil and excitement arising from the presidential election. If I were allowed to prophecy, I should say that the young Republic of China, profiting by the experiences of France and America, will most likely adopt the French system of electing its President, or develop a system somewhat similar to it.

One of the defects in the American way of government is the spoils system, in accordance with the maxim, "To the victor belongs the spoils." The new President has the right of dismissing a large number of the holders of Federal Offices, and to appoint in their places his friends, or men of his party who have rendered it services, or who have otherwise been instrumental in getting him elected. I am told that thousands of officials are turned out in this way every four years. President Jackson introduced the practice, and almost every succeeding President has continued it. This spoils system has been adopted by almost every state and municipality; it forms indeed the corner-stone of practical politics in the United States. In every country, all over the world, there are cases where positions and places of emolument have been obtained through influential friends, but to dismiss public servants who are doing useful work, for no better reason than simply to make room for others, is very bad for the civil service, and for the country it serves. Attempts to remedy these evils have been made within recent years by the introduction of what is called "Civil Service Reform", by which a candidate is appointed to a post after an examination, and the term of his service is fixed. If this is to be strictly adhered to in all cases, the President will be, to a great extent, deprived of the means of rewarding his political friends. In that case I doubt if the professional politicians and wire pullers will be so active and arduous as they have hitherto been, as the chief aim in securing the election of the nominee will have been taken away. Great credit is due to President Taft for his courage and impartiality, in that after assuming the duties of the high office to which he was elected, he gave appointments to men according to their ability, irrespective of party claims, and even went so far as to invite one or two gentlemen of known ability, who belonged to the opposite party, to become members of his Cabinet.

In America men are not anxious for official offices. Men possessing talent and ability, with business acumen, are in great demand, and can distinguish themselves in their several professions in various ways; they can easily attain a position of wealth and influence, and so such men keep out of politics. It must not, however, be inferred from this that the government officials in America are incompetent. On the contrary I gladly testify from my personal experience that the work done by them is not only efficient, but that, taken as a whole, they compare most favorably with any other body of government officials in Europe. Still, on account of the small salaries paid, it is not to be wondered at that exceptionally good men cannot be induced to accept official positions. I have known several Cabinet Ministers who, after holding their offices for two or three years, were obliged to resign and resume their former business, and a President has been known to experience great difficulty in getting good and competent men to succeed them.

These remarks do not apply to the President, not because the President's salary is large, for compared with what

European Kings and Emperors receive it is very small, but because the position is, far and above any other, the largest gift the people can bestow. No one has ever been known to refuse a presidential nomination. I believe anyone to whom it was offered would always gladly accept it. I have conversed with some in America who told me that they were heirs apparent to the White House, and so they are, for they are just as eligible candidates for the position, as is the Crown Prince to succeed to a throne in any European country. Even a lady was once nominated as a presidential candidate, although she did not obtain many votes.

One of the things which arouses my admiration is the due observance by the people of the existing laws and the Constitution. Every one obeys them, from the President to the pedler, without any exception. Sometimes, however, by a too strict and technical interpretation of the law, it works a hardship. Let me quote a case. According to Article 1, Section 6, of the Constitution, "no Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during such time." A certain Senator was appointed by the President to a Cabinet office, but it happened that the salary attached to that office had been raised during the time he was in the Senate, and so it was held that he could draw only the salary which was allowed before he became a Senator, and that he was not entitled to the increase which was sanctioned by Congress while he was in the Senate, although at the time he had not the slightest notion that the increase would ever affect his own pocket.

The relation of the states to the Federal Government is peculiar and unique. I will illustrate my point by correcting a mistake often made by foreigners in regard to the different provinces of China. It is generally assumed by Western writers that each province in China is self-governed, and that the provincial authorities act independently and in defiance of the injunctions of the Peking Government. The facts, however, are that until the establishment of the Republic, all the officials in the Provinces were appointed or sanctioned by the Peking Government, and that by an Imperial decree even a Viceroy or Governor could, at any moment, be changed or dismissed, and that no important matter could be transacted without the Imperial sanction. How does this compare with the states in America? Every American boasts that his state is independent of the Federal Government. All officials, from the Governor downward, are, in every state, elected by the people. Each state is provided with a Legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives, also elected by the popular vote. The state has very large, and almost absolute, legislative and executive powers, and is competent to deal with all matters not reserved by the Constitution for the Federal Government. Each state is also independent of every other state. The criminal and civil laws, including all matters pertaining to the transfer of and the succession to property, as well as marriage, divorce and fiscal laws, are within the scope of the state administrations. The authorities of each state naturally do their best to make their own state as populous and prosperous as possible. Thus in some states the laws concerning divorce, corporations, and landed property, are more favorable than in other states. A person, for example, unable to obtain a divorce in his own state, can, without difficulty, attain his object in another state. What is expressly prohibited by statute in one state may be perfectly legitimate in the neighboring state. It is the same with the local taxes; fees and taxes are not uniform; in one state they are heavy, while in another they are comparatively light. A stranger would naturally be surprised to find such a condition of things in a great nation like America, and would wonder how the machinery of such a government can work so well. Nevertheless he will find that everything goes on smoothly. This can be explained only by the fact that the inhabitants of one state often remove to other states, and by commercial and other dealings and social associations they mix together, so that, notwithstanding the dissimilarity of conditions in different states, the people easily adapt themselves to the local surroundings, and, so far as I can find, no friction or quarrel has ever arisen between two states. However, would it not be better for all the states to appoint an interstate committee to revise and codify their laws with a view to making them uniform?

Foreigners living in America sometimes find themselves at a disadvantage, owing to the state being independent of the control of the Federal Government. This point can be better illustrated by a case which happened some years ago in one of the states. A foreigner, who was the subject of a European country, was attacked by a mob, and his property destroyed. He laid his complaint before the local authorities, but it appeared that he could not obtain the redress he sought. His consul did all he could for him by appealing to the local authorities, but without success; finally the matter was reported to his ambassador in Washington, who immediately interested himself in the affair and brought it before the Secretary of State. The Secretary, after going into the facts of the case, said that all he could do was to write to the Governor of that state and request him to take the matter up, but the Governor, for some reason or other, did not take any such action as would have given satisfactory redress to the foreigner. His ambassador made frequent appeals to the Secretary of State, but the Secretary was powerless, as the Constitution does not empower the Federal Government to interfere in state matters. This seems a blemish in the administration of foreign affairs in the United States of America. Suppose a foreigner should be ill-treated or murdered in a state, and no proper redress be given, the Federal Government cannot send its officers to arrest the culprit. All it can do is to ask the Governor of that state to take action, and if he fail to do so there is no remedy. Fortunately such a case rarely happens, but for the more efficient carrying on of their state affairs, is it not better in special cases to invest the Federal Government with larger powers than those at present possessed by it? I am aware that this opens up a serious question; that Congress will be very reluctant to confer on the Federal Government any power to interfere in the state affairs, knowing that the states would not tolerate such an interference; but as there is a large and ever increasing number of aliens residing in the United States, it naturally follows that riots, and charges of ill treatment of foreigners now and then do occur. Now state officials can, as a rule, be trusted to deal with these matters fairly, but where local prejudice against a class of aliens runs high, is it not advisable to leave to the Federal officials, who are disinterested, the settlement of such cases? For the sake of cordial foreign relations, and to avoid international complications, this point, I venture to suggest, should be seriously considered by the Federal and the State Governments.

The question as to what form of government should be adopted by any country is not easy to decide. The people of America would no doubt claim that their system is the best, while the people of the monarchial governments in Europe would maintain that theirs is preferable. This is mostly a matter of education, and people who have been accustomed to their own form of government naturally like it best. There are communities who have been long accustomed to the old system of monarchial government, with their ancient traditions and usages. There are other communities, with a different political atmosphere, where all the people share in the public affairs of State. It would be manifestly improper to introduce a democratic government among the former. It would not suit their tastes nor fit in with their ideas. What is good for one nation is not necessarily good for another. Each system of government has its good points, provided that they are faithfully and justly carried out. The aim to secure the happiness and comfort of the people and to promote the peace and prosperity of the nation should always be kept in view. As long as these objects can be secured it does not matter much whether the government is monarchial, republican, or something else.

It may pertinently be asked why China has become a Republic, since from time immemorial she has had a monarchial form of government. The answer is that the conditions and circumstances in China are peculiar, and are different from those prevailing in Japan and other countries. In Japan it is claimed that the Empire was founded by the first Emperor, Jummu Tenno, 660 B.C. and that the dynasty founded by him has continued ever since. It is well known that the Chinese Imperial family is of Manchu origin. The Ching dynasty was founded in 1644 by conquest, not by succession. Upon the recent overthrow of the Manchu dynasty it was found very difficult to find a Chinese, however popular and able, who possessed the legal right of succeeding to the throne. Jealousy and provincial feelings placed this suggestion absolutely beyond discussion. Disagreements, frictions, and constant civil war would have ensued if any attempt had been made to establish a Chinese dynasty. Another fact is that a large majority of the intelligent people of China were disgusted with the system of monarchial government. Thus it will be seen that for the sake of the peace and welfare of the nation there was no other course for the people but to take a long jump and to establish the present Republic. The law of evolution has been very actively at work in China, and no doubt it will be for her ultimate good, and therefore for the benefit of all mankind. China is now an infant republic, but she will grow into a healthy and strong youth. Her people have the kindest feeling for the people of the elder republic across the Pacific. There are excellent reasons why the two republics should be in closer friendship. It is well known that there are great potentialities for the expansion of trade in China, and as the Philippine Islands are close to our shores, and the completion of the Panama Canal will open a new avenue for the enlargement of trade from America, it will be to the interest of both nations to stretch out their hands across the Pacific in the clasp of good fellowship and brotherhood. When this is done, not only will international commerce greatly increase, but peace, at least in the Eastern Hemisphere, will be better secured than by a fleet of Dreadnaughts.

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