3. Late Qing Statism and the Relationship between Individual and Nation
Clearly, Zhang's denial of the nation was inextricably linked with his anti-Manchu nationalism. This cannot explain, however, why his criticism of the nation adopted the nation/individual duality mode of discourse. On this point, we must analyze from the opposite perspective the position of his opponent Liang Qichao. After he returned from his visit to the United States (1903–6), Liang expressed deep reservations
In addition to the relationship between the "national people" and the ethnic group discussed above, Liang cited the statist ideas of Bluntschli and Bornhak. First, unlike the society composed of individuals, the nation was an organic entity with a spiritual purpose, a physical structure, untrammeled movement, and a developmental process. Liang approved of Bluntschli's criticisms of Rousseau's theory of civil rights and social contract, believing that "national sovereignty" could not be shared with any individual. Second, regarding the political entity, Bluntschli believed that constitutional monarchy was superior to other polities, especially that of the republic. This was not only because the establishment of republican polities depended on specific historical conditions but also because the separation of legislative powers (where the majority ruled) and administrative powers could weaken national sovereignty. Republican polities boasted freedom and equality, but in truth, because their social elite despised the lower ranks of the people, they also were suspicious of excellence. According to Bornhak, republican polities mixed the ruling subject and ruling object, and outside of the people there was no place for the nation. Considering the immediate relevance of this theory, Liang decided: "Our China today is weakest, and what it most urgently needs is organic unity and coercive order. Freedom and equality are secondary." Third, sovereignty belonged neither to the sovereign nor to the society; the nation and its constitutional law were the source of sovereignty. Liang especially condemned the view that the sovereign was the collective authority of individuals but could not be the sovereign of a corporate nationality. He believed that with sovereignty there was the nation, and without it there was no nation. Fourth, regarding the purpose of the nation, although Bluntschli attempted to maintain a rough balance between the nation for itself and the nation as an instrument of the people, "composed of each individual," fundamentally his tendency was toward a clear concept of the nation for itself. "The national purpose occupies the first place, and each individual is a tool to accomplish that purpose." These views of the nation in the end led to Liang's shift toward believing that for China's concrete situation, "enlightened despotism" was even more suitable than constitutional monarchy.
We can clearly see now that the true reason that Zhang Taiyan criticized the nation from the perspective of the individual was his thorough denial of the view that the nation was of supreme political value. The nation did not have its own
It is worth noting that the debate between Liang Qichao and Zhang Taiyan over nationalism began as early as 1903. In 1907, when Zhang returned to the issue of the nation, the issue of nationalism had even more immediate political implications. This occurred not only because the debate between Minbao and the reformist newspapers Xinmin congbao and Zhongguo xinbao involved acute conflicts between the political groups advocating revolution and reform; it occurred also because during the period between 1905 and 1907 the preparations for constitutional reform were no longer matters for debate among intellectuals or social groups, but matters of practical decision for the Qing government. At the end of 1905, the Qing government sent five high officials, Dai Ze, Duan Fang, Dai Hongzi, Li Shengduo, and Shang Qiheng, to Japan, Europe, and the United States to study constitutional government. Liang Qichao, then in exile, drafted a memorial of over two hundred thousand characters. In 1906 the Qing court announced its program for constitutional preparation: "Supreme power will be centralized at the court. The affairs of the state will be made public in popular discussion. In this manner a new and enduring foundation will be established for a new nation…. At present, however, the laws and institutions are not yet comprehensive, and the people's sagacity awaits enlightenment," and so the government would have to first lend a hand.
Archival materials on late Qing constitutional movement show that preparatory work for the initiation of a constitutional government was carried out extensively