De Togni, Monica
Dept. of East Asian Studies, Universit� Ca� Foscari di Venezia, Venice, Italy
Organs of self-government: local assemblies in Sichuan at the end of the Qing dynasty and at the beginning of the Republic
Panel: Modern History
The following represent some reflections resorting during my research on the participation of the local notables in the political life - politics in its broader meaning of managing of the res publica - in the Sichuan province at the end of the Qing dynasty and at the beginning of the Republic.
The sources are mainly local gazetteers (difangzhi 地方志), periodicals published in the province during the years considered, and documents from the Sichuan Provincial Archives and from some of the county archives of the province, among others Shehong 射洪, Mianzhu 綿竹 and Naxi 納溪. Local gazetteers and periodicals do not deserve much attention, being widely known, whereas the archival documents deserve some attention. Sometimes they seem almost survivors: they escaped fortuitous or intentional fire (i.e. you may avoid to look for documents anterior to 1933 in the archives of Xuanhan 宣漢 county: they have been burn up before the arriving of Zhang Guotao 張國燾, all of them but the land deeds), stood clear of the floodings that stroke Sichuan several times since the beginning of the century, or they survived to the negligence of the employees that let molding a part of the archival stocks. Consequently, sometimes they provide us with discontinue, even sporadic, data. Notwithstanding, I think that they constitute a voice that we can listen to, an interlocutor to pay attention to, also because most of the archival documents used in this research have not been seen, until now, by Chinese nor Occidental scholars.
The definition of local self-government (difang zizhi 地方自治) is one of the outcome and responsibility of the wide reform program initiated by the Qing during their last years in the attempt to keep up the rein of the power and to give a new ground to their authority, which was seriously damaged by the choices of the empress dowager Cixi 慈西 and by the concessions to the foreigner.
The local assemblies represent an issue of the re-definition process of the State. As it is custom for Chinese, they tried to find some historical antecedents to these governmental organs dating they back to the Zhou 周 and Han 漢 dynasties. But the reference point for the introduction of this form of government was mainly Gu Yanwu 顧炎武, to whom several occasional references can be found underlining the necessity that the running of the local affairs was entrusted to the local elite.
A memorial written by the censor Xu Dingchao 徐定超 in the month of October 1906 is exemplary in this sense. Xu wrote about the �institution of the village officials� (she xiang guan 設鄉官): �Gu Tinglin said: �The government of China is based on the head-village, and has at its apex the Emperor. From the ancient times until now, when the petty officials were the larger number, then the State was flourishing; when the high officials were the larger number, then the State was in decline�. (Gu Tinglin yue: Tianxia zhi zhi, shi yu lixu, zhong yu Tianzi. Zi gu yu jin, xiaoguan duozhe qi shi sheng, daguan duozhe qi shi shuai 顧亭林曰：天下之治，始於里胥，終於天子。自顧及今，小官多者其世盛，大官多者其世衰). Few lines below, we discover that, at present, the petty officials should be the elected who have �to be choosen among the distinguished, talented and recognized people� (you minjian gongju caiwang zhuozhu zhi ren 由民間公舉才望卓著之人). The censor asserts that �if we prepare a constitution without starting the work from the local self-government, in the end the constitution will not have a single day of effective enforcement� (ran yubei lixian er bu cong difang zizhi rushou, ze lixian zhong wu shixing zhi yiri 然預備立憲而不從地方自治入手，則立憲終無實行之一日). It is striking the manner in which this censor approaches the local self-government and the bureaucracy. In his way of considering the �institution of village officials� (she xiang guan 設鄉官), there seems to be an attempt to formally acknowledge through its institutionalisation a situation already existing, namely the participation of the local elite in the governance of local affairs.
Indeed, the elite was already taking part in the running of the State at the local level in a more or less informal way, for instance, among the many activities, in the management of the �the three-fees bureau� (sanfeiju 三費局). This bureau was established at the beginning of the reign of Guangxu with the consent of the governor-general of Sichuan, Ding Wencheng 丁文誠, in the aim of managing the funds needed to the investigations, to the arrest and the transfer of the criminals from a tribunal to another while dodging the abuses of the runners (yayi 衙役). The local assemblies, one of the tools for the implementation of the local self-government, look like another institution where it is recognized to the notables the role of assistant to the officials. It seems an admission that the imperial bureaucracy structure, unchanged since the beginning of the dynasty, was no longer able to fulfill the expectations of an enormously increased population. Indeed, it is quite difficult to imagine 20,000 civil officials able to run a country of 400,000,000 inhabitants.
The words of the censor Xu Dingchao on local self-government are an exemple of the spreading of the idea that the constitutional reform had the difang zizhi as its foundation (jichu 基礎). This concept is expressed all over the commentaries on this subject, both in memorials to the throne and commentaries in periodicals as the Sichuan guanbao 四川官報. From this awareness it can also be ensued the fact that the scheme for the introduction of the new type of State does not follow the administrative order. In fact, the constitutional reform program to be carried out in nine years which was promulgated in the eighth month of the thirty-fourth year in the Guangxu reign (27/08/1908) envisaged in the first place, during the 1909�s summer, the election of the provincial assemblies, followed in the years 1910-1912 by the election of the city (cheng 城), township (zhen 鎮) and village (xiang 鄉) assemblies, and only later on, in 1913-1914, by the election of the assemblies in the administrative seats of county (xian 縣), department (zhou 州) and sub prefecture (ting 廳).
In January 1909, the Regulation for the local self-government of cities, townships and villages was promulgated (cheng zhen xiang difang zizhi zhangcheng 城鎮鄉地方自治章程), and in February 1910 the Regulation for the local self-government of prefectures, sub prefectures, departments and counties (fu ting zhou xian difang zizhi zhangcheng 府廳州縣地方自治暨選舉各章程). The task to manage and oversee the development of the self-government was entrusted to the provincial assemblies, as organs of coordination. In order to spread the needed knowledge, this issue was attained also through the creation of the schools for the self-government aiming at training the specialists who would return to their home villages and there set up the Centres for local self-government (the zizhi yanjiusuo 自治研究所, which where regulated in May 1909). In those centres, the specialists trained in the schools were to gather the populace and explain the new form that the State shall take and the new concepts involved.
Thence, it was decided to build the structure from its ground. It is not astonishing that the first organs to be created were the assemblies at the village, township and city level, continuing only in a second moment with the assemblies of the prefecture, sub prefecture, department and county level. Moreover there was no electoral pyramid from an elected assembly to the other, i.e. the members of each assembly were elected independently. On the contrary, the electors being the same for both levels of assemblies, the task of counting them in a census was much easier to be achieved in a limited territory as cities, townships and villages by the local officials who were better acquainted with the local situations.
The 1909�s Regulation envisaged that they must be Chinese citizens, males, twenty-five years old (sui 歲), residing from at least three years in the constituency, and paying annual taxes for at least two yuan 圓. Exceptions were admitted: the dwellers particularly respected because of their morally correct behaviour and enjoying the trust of the population could be electors, even if they had not been residing in the constituency for at least two years or if they did not pay the expected amount of taxes. This could happen after preventive deliberation of the city, township or village assembly concerned. It was also provided that those paying the highest sum of taxes were also allowed to vote even if not yet twenty-five and had been dwelling in the area for less then three years. It is clear that there was the will to respect the local habits and to make accepted the assemblies, these new organs, admitting among the elected also who was not wealthy, but was respected inside the community, as well as the local powerful persons paying the most elevated taxes. These modifications and arrangements seem to be measures aiming at reducing to a minimum the dissensions between notables and officials.
Of these dissensions we find explicit reference in the commentary introducing the Regulation for the local self-government of cities, townships and villages, as well as some explicit statements expressing the wish that, through the assignment to the people of the local affairs managment while maintaining to the officials the overseeing power, the disagreements between these two groups would come to an end.
The compilation of the elector� registers raised strains, since the suspicion arising from the request to make known one�s financial and fiscal situation was widespread.
The elections themselves were an occasion to further quarrel. There is an example of it in some documents I found in the archives of Ba 巴 county (Chongqing 重慶), held at the Sichuan Provincial Archives. In those documents, a wealthy and powerful person of Zhigong 至公, a village of Ba county, is described as appearing furious at a session of the village assembly because he had been requested some contribute for the enforcement of the local self-government.. He, who never paid taxes, thanks to the connivance of the clerks, was supposed to give contribution! He inveighs against everyone: the assembly was a robber�s den, and the president of the assembly was rewarded with the title of robber� chief. The county magistrate was informed of this fact by the assembly itself, and convened the well to do to the yamen 衙門 to inquire the reason of his conduct. Here is a man who took advantage of his social position to extend the privileges connected with his social status beyond the rules: not even the shenshi 紳士 - the notables-literates - were exempted from the land tax, and this well to do does not seem even to own any imperial examination degree. The illicit extension of a rule was possible likely because he had abused his influence at the local level over the runners entrusted with the collection of taxes.
In general, we have a scanty knowledge of the elected at the local assemblies. The local gazetteers and the documents that I collected in the county archives do not provide many immediate data. It is necessary to gather the some pieces of informations disseminated here and there in these two sources. However, it is doubtless that the elected were mainly well-off, since the suffrage was on revenue or wealth basis and the required census raised following the territorial administration sequence. Besides the 2 yuan paid on taxes to be elector in the prefectures, sub prefectures, departments, counties, cities, townships and villages, in order to participate to the poll for the provincial assemblies it was necessary to be in possession of 5.000 yuan of movable goods or real property. Anyway, to be an elector for the provincial assembly it was enough to be a degree-holder, traditional or of the new schools. The two requirements - wealth and degree - were not necessarily present at the same time.
With regards to the education level of the electors, there is no doubt that they were not illiterates, since it was explicitly required in the regulations. But this did not necessarily entail that they were shenshi. How many people had an education without getting through the imperial examinations of the lowest level? Were they among the elected? In which percentage? Among the elected was there anyone who had only the respect and the trust from the population? The answer to these questions and a thorough acquaintance with this group are among the issues which at present I found the most difficult to achieve because of the fragmentary quality of the documents held and collected in the archives. This is also one of the cores of this research, and one which is more necessary to solve aiming at understanding the perception at the local level of the institutional changes projected from the centre of the empire, and later of the Republic. In the �70s, Keith Schoppa already asserted the need to revise the composition of the local elite that, at least in Sichuan, should not be intended as consisting only of degree-holders. This statement has been reinforced by Roger Thompson in the �90s, drawing the attention on the fact that 40% of the electors for the provincial assembly in a roll of Huichang 會昌 county, in Jiangxi 江西 province, appeared not to be degree-holders. The same percentage corresponds to a sample of elected and electors of the Sichuan province, still it is premature to assert that 40% of the local elite at the beginning of the 20th century was consisting of no degree-holders.
However, it is noteworthy that in most part of the local gazetteers the list of the elected is incorporated in the same section of the graduated at the imperial examinations. As if it was to include all the elected in the socially dominant group thus giving a social recognition also to those who had an economic position, but did not succeeded in entering the shenshi. As if it would co-optate the support of all the elected to the imperial government beside those who upheld the government, the shenshi, because of the mentality acquired through years of studying the Confucian texts and their commentaries. And as if it was trying not to make too much alien these reforms which would upset the traditional conception of authority and the basis itself of this authority.
The elections supplied the members for the constitution of the self-government organs, that is the assemblies (yishihui 議事會) and the boards (dongshihui 董事會 in the cities, townships, xiangdong 鄉董 in the villages, and canshihui 參事會 in the prefectures, sub prefectures, departments and counties).
The assemblies were consultative organs meeting once every season of the year in the cities, townships and villages, and once a year in the prefectures, sub prefectures, departments and counties. They deliberated upon a multiplicity of affairs which defined the self-government in the fifth article of the Regulation for the local self-government of cities, townships and villages:
- Education and schools;
- Health and sanitary matters;
- Prevention of the production and use of opium;
- Public works;
- Support for production activities;
- Support to the people without resources, and assistance in case of famine;
- Participation in public enterprise, such as tramway, public lighting, current water;
- All the matters that, following the local custom, were managed by the notables.
But they had not jurisdiction on matters of competence of the national government. Moreover, the assemblies had competence to draw up agreements fixing for the territory under their jurisdiction some of the characteristics of the self-government, the fines and punishments for those who infringed regulations and agreements. Their main deliberative activity concerned the budget of the self-government and of the other bureaus of the administration.
The boards were the permanent organs of the local self-government. They had to find out the solutions to carry out the resolutions of the assemblies.
The quite complex work of this structure was further complicated by the strict control of the local officials. Among others, the legislators had entrusted the officials with the duty of replacing the assemblies of prefectures, etc. in their role of definition, control and support towards the assemblies of cities, etc., while the assemblies of the higher level (prefectures, etc.) were not constituted. It was a matter of intervening in the possible disputes between the assemblies and the boards, i.e. with regard to unlawful behaviour.
Even though the elected had jurisdiction only on the matters out of the officials management, and though they had a role subordinate to the officials, that being repeatedly stated, the intervention sphere of the officials and that of the assemblies had some intersections, and in some cases the elected escaped a tight control and intervened also in outside fields.
Thus, we find city, township and village assemblies constituted already since 1909, and shortly afterwards there were prefecture, sub prefecture, department and county assemblies. So the elected became a reference point for the population in case someone had a claim to submit to the officials. An example is the case in which the inhabitants of Yushikou 魚市口, a village in Ba county, addressed themselves to the city assembly (chengyishihui 城議事會) to obtain the transfer of the execution field settled in their quarter.
In this role of reference point, the assemblies also crossed their competences with regards to the questions of public order. Stating explicitly that they were conscious of acting outside of the regulation, the elected believed to be entitled to intervene in this field because they were the representatives of the people, responsible in front of them and should thus respond to the pressing demands coming from the people.
Even after the order given by Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 to dissolve the local assemblies in the February 1914, there are signs of persistence of some assemblies. New elections had to be organised following the new Proposed regulation for the local self-government (difang zizhi shixing tiaoli 地方自治試行條例) promulgated the 29th December 1914. It would have divided the territory in districts (qu 區) substituting the former partition in cities and counties. These new rules curtailed the people participation, first of all increasing the census required to be elector up to 10 yuan of paid taxes, or to 5.000 yuan of real property owned. The power of control was wielded by the county magistrate who decided about everything, from the assembly address to the refunds of the expenses meet by the elected during the sessions. There was no higher organ to whom submit a dispute for arbitration. There were only competent superior exerting a power of supervision and control almost absolute.
But since 1916, there are no signs of these new assemblies, in the documents of the following years I found only county assemblies (xianyishihui 縣議事會 and xiancanshihui 縣參事會). These assemblies had the same presidents as the ones of the year 1909, and it seems well founded to suppose these assemblies to be the same of the first implementation of the self-government.
After 1916, the assemblies were involved in all kind of local matters: schools, financial management, police, support to the local production, relations and troubles with the soldiers, and brigandage. Still, they participate also to the political activity of the country, as shown by their opposition to the dissolution of the national Parliament at the beginning of 1918.
Though it is difficult to analyse in details the decision-making process at the local level because of the sources conditions, there is evidence of the participation of the elected to the political debate on self-government and local politics, sometimes restrained, sometimes more bold. Even if their power did not always appear effective, it is possible to recognize in the manner of expressing their opinions and in their participation, that they played an active role in the local political life. The political habits were changing, the perception of the power and of the elite role had been changing since the beginning of the reform program.
 The research comes to a Ph.D. dissertation at Ca� Foscari University, entitled �Il governo locale in Cina (1909-1914). Funzionari, elezioni e assemblee nel Sichuan�.
 This information comes from the archivists in Xuanhan, with whom I have spoken while visiting the archives.
 On the problems met in the preservation of local archival documents see also Ye, W., Esherick, J. W., Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide, Berkeley: California U.P., Institute of Asian Studies, 1996, pp. 9-10.
 About the effects of Cixi�s choices on the authority of the Qing dynasty, see Bastid-Bruguire, M., �Official Conceptions of Imperial Authority at the End of the Qing Dynasty�, in Schram, S. R., ed., Foundations and Limits of State Power in China, London: SOAS, Hong Kong: The Chinese University, 1987, pp. 147-185.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., Qingmo choubei lixian dang�an shiliao (清末籌備立憲檔案史料, Archival and historical materials on the late Qing constitutional preparations), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979, pp. 164-169.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 168-169.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 169.
 In the Ba county, this bureau appears to have been created in the year 1859 by the county magistrate on the proposal by some local shenshi, inspired by similar offices existing in neighbouring counties. See Reed, B. W., �Gentry Activism in Nineteenth-Century Sichuan: The Three-fees Bureau�, in Late Imperial China, xx, 2, 1999, pp. 99, 112; Zhou Xun 周詢, Shuhai congtan 蜀海叢談 (Collected talk about Sichuan), Taibei: Wenhai, 1966, juan 卷 2, 44a.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 61-68.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 724-741.
 Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1910, 6, zouyi 奏議 1a-9a. In the final version of this Regulation, were included also the prefectures, since, as it is explained in the introduction to the Regulation itself, in the border provinces and in the Three oriental provinces (Dongsansheng 東三省)� often the new prefectures actually corrisponded to departments or counties and did not have only an administrative function of supervision as it was in the rest of the country.
 For this Regulation see Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1909, 14, zouyi 奏議 1a; or Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 745-749.
 The articles 15-20 define the requirements to be elector; here the reference is to articles 15, and 16, see Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 730-731.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 725.
 These strains have been illustrated by Chang, P.-Y., �Provincial Assemblies: The Emergence of Political Participation, 1909-1914�, in Chinese Studies in History, xvii, 3,1984,� p. 10 . They are also evident in two articles published in the Sichuan guanbao. The first, �Should not resign the right to vote� (Shuo xuanjuquan buke paoqi 說選舉權不可拋棄), was written to stimulate the adhesion to the poll for the provincial assembly. The second, �Notice written in the vernacular of Shi, magistrate of the Chengdu county on making the arrangements for the self-government and surveying of the electors� (Chengduxian zhixian Shi chouban zizhi diaocha xuanmin baihua gaoshi 成都縣知縣史籌辦自治調查選民白話告示), was purposely addressed to the electors of the local assemblies to incite them to register themselves for the local polls. Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1909, 12, yanshuo 演說 1a-b; 28, yanshuo 演說 1a-b.
 Sichuansheng dang�anguan (四川省檔案館, Sichuan Provincial Archives), Qing 清 6, Xuantong 宣統 1.49.
 Thompson, R., China�s Local Councils in the Age of Constitutional Reform, 1898-1911, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard U.P., 1995, p. 140.
 It is stated at the art. 17 of the 1909�s Regulation, and implied in the art. 8 of the 1910�s Regulation. See Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 730; Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1910, 6, zouyi 奏議 3a.
 Schoppa, R. K., �The Composition and Functions of the Local Elite in Szechwan, 1851-1874�,, in Ch�ing-shi wen-t�i, ii, 10, 1973, pp. 7-23.
 Thompson, R., op. cit., pp. 68, 139.
 The survey on this topic is still being investigated and it will yield clearer results soon.
 See art. 8, and 9 in the 1909�s Regulation: Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 729; art. 4 in the 1910�s Regulation Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1910, 6, zouyi 奏議 2b-3a.
 See art. 43 in the 1909�s Regulation: Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 733; art. 25 in the 1910�s Regulation Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1910, 6, zouyi 奏議 4a.
 Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., pp. 728-729.
 See art. 6, and 7 in the 1909�s Regulation: Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 729.
 See art. 36 in the 1909�s Regulation: Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 732-733; art. 21 in the 1910�s Regulation Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1910, 6, zouyi 奏議 4a.
 See art. 68 in the 1909�s Regulation: Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 736; art. 45 in the 1910�s Regulation Sichuan guanbao 四川官報, 1910, 6, zouyi 奏議 5b.
 See art. 110 in the 1909�s Regulation: Gugong bowuyuan Ming Qing dang�an bu (故宮博物院明清檔案部), ed., op. cit., p. 741.
 Sichuansheng dang�anguan (四川省檔案館, Sichuan Provincial Archives), Qing 清 6, Xuantong 宣統 2.187.
 Sichuansheng dang�anguan (四川省檔案館, Sichuan Provincial Archives), Qing 清 6, Xuantong 宣統 3.392.
 Sichuansheng dang�anguan (四川省檔案館, Sichuan Provincial Archives), Min (民, Republic), Baxian xianshu (巴縣縣署, Administration of Ba county), 193.15, pp. 3-14.
 These points are not drawn from a list in a regulation, but they derive from a rough index of the content in the documents I found on the activities of the local assemblies.
 Shehongxian dang�anguan (射洪縣檔案館, Archives of Shehong county), 2.8 p.32.