5. A Critique of the Parliamentary System
Against the backdrop of late Qing reformist state building, which used the Western nation-state as its blueprint, Zhang held a sharply critical attitude toward the government's use of parliaments and local self-governing bodies to expand state power into grassroots society. Many scholars have analyzed in detail Zhang's critique of the parliamentary system; I will not repeat their findings here. What I do wish to emphasize is that Zhang's criticisms of the parliamentary system were directed against the state's use of the system to carry out social mobilization. First, he pointed out that parliamentary polities were another form of feudalism; their most important defect was that they employed status hierarchies to organize society. Second, Zhang perceptively realized that the consultative bodies established in districts at all levels in China not only would be extremely difficult to operate (especially because of the contrast between the large population and limited numbers of representatives, the huge territory, and the voters' educational level), but even more important, the purpose of establishing parliaments was to exercise control at the
Third, Zhang believed that the parliamentary system legitimized the special privileges of representatives (local magnates), which clashed with the principle of economic equality within the principle of the people's livelihood. Zhang offered a series of idealistic political proposals that would "check official [power] and extend [that of] the people." On the surface, his proposals resemble Sun Yatsen's "Principle of the People's Livelihood." In content, however, they were considerably different, as they were rooted in Zhang's critical stance toward capitalism. For example, his plan for "equal distribution of land" was not limited to paddies and swamps but also included mountain and forest preserves and even cattle, clearly indicating his seriousness in attacking the movement of capital. This was precisely the opposite of Sun's proposal of developing state capital in order to develop a capitalist economy. In Wuchao falü suoyin (Index to the laws of the five dynasties) and other works, Zhang expressed particular admiration for the traditional idea of "revering agriculture and restraining commerce." He advocated "universal laws" debasing trade and attributed social disorder to "the esteem for merchants." Seen alongside his opposition to new industries and technology expressed in "Wuwu lun," such views clearly betray antimodern sentiments.
It will be recalled that Zhang's denial of the nation emerged from the perspective of the individual. This perspective, however, did not develop at all the economic idea of private property. On the contrary, whether on the level of political rights or economic rights, the individual was closely linked with the concept of equality and not the concept of rights. In the area of economic property rights, his proposals for "equal distribution" of land and the "public establishment" of factories both embodied a principle of "publicness" (gong). If we consider that the particular characteristics of his concept of the individual developed in opposition to the worldview of public principle (gongli), then on the concrete sociopolitical and economic levels the links between the concept of the individual and the value of publicness (gong) deserve special attention. This aids us in understanding why his critique of universality was also rooted in universality.