• LOGIN
  • No products in the cart.

Why reforms always fail in Chinese history?

 2.jpg

Compared with the “revolutions” (peasant uprisings, armed rebellions, palace coups, etc.) that toppled dynasties in Chinese history, the goal of “reform” has been the exact opposite: to perpetuate the dynasty. Ordinary people have roughly the same impression of “revolution” and “reform” as instruments of “change.” But actually, in the 2000-year history of China, there has been one purpose for reform: avoiding change. Reform is used to keep the existing system in place. In Chinese history, “reform” and “revolution” alternated over time. Revolutions often succeeded, and so China became the country with the most peasant uprisings and dynastic changes in the world. But few reforms were successful.

同中国历史上起到改朝换代作用的“革命”——农民起义、武装叛乱、宫廷政变等相比,“改革”的目标正好同革命相反,是为了延续朝代。我们一般人印象中“革命”与“改革”都是为了“变化”,但中国两千年历史上的改革却只有一个目标:不变——维护体制不变的改革。中国历史上“改革”与“革命”相互辉映,一路赛跑。革命往往能够成事,中国因此成为世界各国中发生最多农民起义与朝代更迭的国家,改革却鲜有成功。

 

From a modern perspective, almost all reforms in Chinese history can be classified as “failures”: from Shang Yang’s reforms in the state of Qin to the rule of Emperors Wen and Jing in the Han dynasty; from Wang Mang seizing power to Wang Anshi’s Song dynasty reforms; from the Ming and Qing dynasty decision to shut China off from foreign contact to the Westernization movement during the late Qing… None of these movements can really be called successful. Worse, the reformers themselves generally met tragic ends.

从现代文明的角度与尺度来判断,中国历史上的改革几乎都可以归类为“失败”,从春秋战国时期各国为了生存而做的改变,经过商鞅变法、文景之治、王莽篡权、 王 安石变法、明清停止不前的“闭关锁国”到洋务运动等等,几乎没有一个可以称为成功,更有甚者,改革者的下场也都挺悲催的。

 

Why is this? To simplify, there are three common factors. First, as opposed to other reforms recorded in world history, almost all of China’s reforms were done purely for the benefit of the ruler (the emperor). The reforms adjusted the ruler’s policies on how to control the people, how to manage the four classes (scholars, peasants, artisans and merchants), how to exploit the peasants’ land, and how to fill the treasury with taxes. None of the reforms touched on philosophies of holding power, or the methods of governance, much less centered around public interests.

为什么会这样呢?简单概括三条共性:第一,与世界各国有历史记载的“改革”相比,中国历史上的改革几乎都是纯粹站在执政者(皇帝)立场上,对统治者如何控制民众、如何管理士农工商、如何剥削农民土地、如何征税充实国库的政策调整,几乎没有一次改革涉及到执政理念与执政者管理方式方法的,更无从民众利益出发的改革。

 

China’s reformers saw the interests of the common people as objects of reform, rather than reforming the regime in order to benefit the people. As a result, these reforms never touched the ruling dynasty, but only caused power struggles between the interest groups involved. Compared to revolutions (which are either loved or feared), the people were generally indifferent to “reform.” And reforms without public support fail utterly once they encounter counterattacks from interest groups and opposition parties. For the common people, the failure of the reforms was nothing to mourn.

正因为历次改革都是以老百姓的利益为改革对象,而不是为了老百姓的利益去改变自己改革政权,从来不触及王权,牵涉到利益集团时也多因为权斗,所以相对于让一些人爱一些人怕的革命来说,老百姓对“改革”基本都保持了不冷不热的态度。没有民众支持的改革,一旦遭到利益集团与反对派的反击,也就立马一败涂地了。对于民众来说,历史上的历次改革,死不足惜。

 

Second, many vigorous reforms in Chinese history had one thing in common: The reformers were not the highest ruler (the emperor). Many had been (provisionally) selected by the emperor to act as pioneers for the reforms — and as scapegoats when reforms failed. Reformers like Shang Yang, Wang Anshi and the late Qing Westernization school all suffered this fate. The people who held supreme power were usually governing from behind the scenes. They maintained a certain distance from the reform, which left plenty of room to maneuver. If the reforms succeed, those in charge will take the credit; if the reforms fail, they will sacrifice the reformers. Under these circumstances, the reforms would be half-hearted from the beginning — so much for “top-down” reforms. By contrast, the series of reforms conducted directly by Emperor Wu in the Han dynasty and by Tang dynasty emperors were more effective.

第二,中国历史上轰轰烈烈的改革都有一个特点,那就是改革者都不是最高执政者(皇帝),很多是被皇帝(临时)看重用来做改革的急先锋与失败后的替罪羊的,例如商鞅、王安石和洋务派等。掌握最高权力的“皇帝们”几乎都手持大权垂帘听政,同改革保持一定的距离,改革效果不错,成绩是他们的,改革不好,就牺牲掉改革者,进退自如。这使得所有类似的改革从一开始就三心二意,更不用说“顶层设计”了 。与此相反的是汉武帝与唐朝皇帝亲自掌管的一系列改革,成效也相对显著。

 

Third, all the reforms in Chinese history aimed to perpetuate the current system, rather than changing the existing regime. Some reforms failed, and the reformers were dismembered (like Shang Yang) or died in disgrace (Wang Anshi). But even then, leaders kept the parts of the reform policies that could help maintain the existing system, turning the reforms into cogs in the authoritarian machine.

第三,中国历史上所有的改革都是为了维系现有体制的“改革”,而不是改变现有体制的变革。有些改革即便失败,改革者被车裂(商鞅)与冷落致死(王安石),那些能够维系现有体制运转的措施也都被保留下来,为集权专制机器添加螺丝钉与润滑油。

 

Those reform measures that served to consolidate centralized authority often succeeded. For example, the state monopolies on salt and iron created by Guan Zhong in the 7th century BCE have a parallel today in the state oil monopoly. However, ideas like the separation of powers and equal distribution of wealth (which the common people cared more about) were often hijacked by  interest groups or abruptly halted by the emperor. As a result, vigorous reform movements in China, no matter how significant their policies were at the start, withered away. After a few decades, the reforms had been reduced to nothing but tools to help exploit the people and control the opinions of citizens.

以巩固专制集权为主的改革措施,往往会取得成功,例如管仲的盐铁专卖就延续至今,只不过变为“石油垄断”而已,但“分权让利与均富”等民间更期待的改革就常常被利益集团劫持或者被皇帝拦腰斩断。这使得历史上几场轰轰烈烈的改革,不管当初一些措施如何具有进步意义,十几年、几十年下来,改革的遗产就只剩下一些有利于剥削民众与控制国民大脑的糟粕了。

 

Of course, the biggest problem encountered by Chinese reform movements is that there’s no way to change the system itself, which has lasted for 2,000 years. All you can do is make it more perfect, more refined — and more evil. In this sense, all reforms in China’s 2,000-year history had no chance of succeeding, and we should be thankful they failed.

当然,中国历史上历次改革遇到的最大问题是延续了两千年的这个体制本身是根本无法改革与改变的,你能做的就是使之更加完善、更加精致,也更加邪恶。从这个意义上说,中国两千年历史上的那些改革是不可能成功,也不应该成功的。

 

Today, many scholars say that if Sun Yat-sen had not been in such a hurry to create a revolution, then the Qing dynasty’s constitutional reform could have succeeded. They have a rich scholarly imagination, but lack literary imagination: Can you imagine a scenario where, from the Qin to the Qing, institutional reforms succeeded? Everyone in China would have a “Manchu queue” and would kowtow every morning, yelling “Long live the Aisin Gioro clan!”

现在很多学者研究说如果孙中山不急于把革命搞成功了,清朝的立宪改革就有可能成功了。这些人学术想象力太丰富,却缺乏了文学想象力:你能想像秦朝到清朝的制度改革成功,我们今天每个人脑袋后都拖着一条大辫子,每天早上起来跪在地上跷着屁股对满人爱新觉罗氏跪拜且高呼万岁?期盼微服私访的皇帝弄大几个民女的肚子造几个“还珠格格”博得小民们由衷的爱戴?

 

Whether reforms can be successful is related to whether the system can change, and whether the authorities are willing to change the system to pursue a higher goal. Looking at China’s current reforms from the perspective of Chinese history, there’s good reason to be pessimistic. But we shouldn’t say that there’s no hope or no way forward. The reformers should learn from China’s history. Reform needs to be “top-down” and backed by the strong determination of the core leadership. At the same time, the reformers should begin by placing the people’s interests, the future of the nation, and national security as their highest goals. They should avoid only caring about the interests of those in power or the concerns of interest groups.

 

改革是否成功同体制能否改变,当局是否愿意改变体制来追寻更高的目标有很大的关系。从中国历史与周边国家的改革看中国今天的深化改革,有理由感到忧虑与悲观,但并不是说没有希望与出路。改革既要顺应历史潮流,也要有“顶层设计”,还要有一把手亲抓的决心与坚强的领导核心。改革者必须以人民利益、民族前途与国家安全为最高目标,避免仅仅从执政者利益出发,更不能为利益集团服务。

 

These things are precisely what China’s historical reformers did not do, and were not willing to do. If in the 21st century, rulers still hold the same thoughts and ideas as those reformers in history. If they do not boldly seek to reform the system for the benefit of the nation and the people but try to maintain the existing system, then they shouldn’t even try to reform. Otherwise, even if the reforms don’t fail, they will bring chaos, and could hasten the arrival of revolution.

这一点恰恰是中国历史上所有的改革者都没有做到,也不想做到的。如果进入21世纪的今天,执政者还抱着历史上那些改革者的思想与思路,不是为了民族与民众的利益去大胆地改变、改革体制,而是竭力去维护现有体制,那还不如不做,否则,改革即便不失败,也会带来混乱,最终会加速革命的到来。

2016-06-22

0 responses on "Why reforms always fail in Chinese history? "

    Leave a Message

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Copyright ©right 2017 Chinlingo Inc. All rights reserved.