China and the Political Upheavals in Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia: Non-Western Influences on Constitutional Thinking in Late Imperial China, 1893-1911
Research about Sino-foreign cultural interactions during the last decades of the Qing Empire pays much attention to the extremely dense and complex relations between Japan and China. Against this backdrop, historians have tended to neglect that the Chinese “constitutional preparation” of the years 1905-06 was concomitant to the promulgation of constitutional documents in other thitherto absolutist countries such as Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Persia. This paper shows that, during the whole period of “constitutional preparation”, the Qing government, media and intellectuals remained well aware of these events.
In particular, the experiences made by countries similar to China did not fail to have a manifold impact on Chinese perceptions on how to cope with China’s own challenge. On the one hand, the international trend fostered the feeling that a constitutional document was needed for purposes of internal and external legitimacy, and for building nationalism from above. On the other hand, the fact that the hastily introduced constitutions in these countries did not necessarily solve their underlying problems was noticed as well. Describing them as mere “sham constitutions” was one possible interpretation, but they also reinforced Chinese notions that the population at large was not yet ripe for partaking in the political reforms and that thorough “preparation” was needed first.
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