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Power by Design

Power by Design: Constitution-Making in Nationalist China

Suisheng Zhao
Copyright Date: 1996
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    Power by Design
    Book Description:

    First established as a cabinet system in Guangzhou in 1925, the Nationalist Government of China was replaced three years later by a presidential system under a unified Nationalist government in Nanjing. The cabinet government was restored in 1931 and existed until the presidential system was again installed by the 1936 constitution. Why did presidential and cabinet systems exist alternately during this formative period of the Nationalist government? Why was the presidential system finally adopted in 1936? Suisheng Zhao answers these and other questions fundamental to understanding authoritarian regimes in this pioneering study of the design of the Nationalist Government of China from 1925 to 1937. although scholars of comparative politics have shown great interest in the institutional choice between parliamentarianism and presidentialism in democratic countries, they have paid little attention to the study of constitutional frameworks in authoritarian settings. By offering a clear and original re-interpretation of the history of this power struggle between Chiang Kai-shek and his rivals over institutional design, Zhao challenges the conventional wisdom that has underestimated the importance of formal institutions in non-democratic regimes.Borrowing ideas from public choice theory, Zhao proposes that political actors who design governmental institutions are diven by power-maximization strategies just as business firms are driven by wealth-maximization strategies. Constitution-making reflects the underlying distribution of power among authoritarian leaders, who attempt to design political institutions that will consolidate their personal power and position. Thus, Zhao argues, if political actors possess more power resources than their rivals and anticipate themselves becoming dominant, they will choose the singular leadership of the presidential system. If they are in a weaker position and do not anticipate becoming dominant, they will prefer the collective leadership of the cabinet form of government.Notable for its persuasive integration of political science theory and the historical evidence, Power by Design is an insightful re-interpretation of Chinese history that will be welcomed by scholars of modern China and those interested in the consequences of the nationalist politics that continue to reverberate in contemporary Chine, as well as by comparative political scientists studying constitution-making and institutional design.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6398-2
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Romanization
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: Institutional Design in Authoritarian Settings
    (pp. 1-19)

    There is a growing comparative politics literature that explores the political consequences of alternative constitutional designs and analyzes the processes of constitution-making. This literature evinces great interest in the institutional choice between parliamentarianism and presidentialism in democratic countries.¹ Little attention, however, is devoted to the study of different constitutional frameworks in authoritarian settings. Indeed, there is a general tendency to ignore constitutional and institutional issues in the study of authoritarian regimes. Because of the difficulties in determining the relationship between individual leaders’ power positions and their institutional incentives in authoritarian countries where there are noncompetitive elections or no elections at...

  7. Chapter 2 The Rise of Constitutionalism
    (pp. 20-37)

    Ever since the constitutional form of government was introduced into China in the early twentieth century, one of the central controversies among politicians was the choice between the presidential and the cabinet systems. While the institutional approach of studying politics has been developed largely by students of Western democracies and advanced economies, it is not difficult to find seasoned politicians throughout modern Chinese history who have deemed it more convenient to take advantage of political institutions than to totally ignore them. Chinese politicians have exploited the presidential system for the purpose of “rule by one,” but they have also made...

  8. Chapter 3 Power Resources and Authority Relationships
    (pp. 38-56)

    In the preceding chapter we saw how the various versions of the Organic Law and the constitution distinguished the institutional arrangements of the presidential system from the cabinet system and help to explain their alternating predominance during the formative period of the Nationalist government. Such volte-faces took place to a great extent because of political maneuvering among the KMT leaders contending for power. Each of these leaders had his own preferred form of government institution—a preference determined by his relative power position. But how can we determine the relative power positions of different political leaders? The political science literature...

  9. Chapter 4 Relative Power Positions of the Major Players
    (pp. 57-73)

    Having elaborated the three power resources in the context of authority relationships in the Nationalist regime, we can now compare the relative power positions of the KMT leaders by examining their power resources. Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei, Hu Hanmin, and Sun Ke were the major players in the constitution-making game of the Nationalist government during the period 1925–1937. They owed their eminence to the possession of different power resources and competed with one another for leadership of the KMT regime. Table 4 illustrates their relative power positions in accordance with their different resources.

    We cannot compare these leaders simply...

  10. Chapter 5 Institutional Preferences of the Major Players
    (pp. 74-86)

    This book began with two assumptions—that the institutional preferences of political actors are shaped by their relative power positions and that institutional design is determined by the power contest among leading political contenders. If a political player possesses more power resources than his rivals and anticipates becoming dominant in the regime, he will prefer the presidential form of government; if a political player possesses fewer power resources and is in the weaker position, he will prefer the cabinet form. According to this logic of institutional design, Chiang Kai-shek—who possessed more power resources than any of his political rivals...

  11. Chapter 6 The Succession Struggle: From Cabinet to Presidential Government, 1925–1928
    (pp. 87-105)

    The first chapter proposed that the design of government institutions is an outcome of struggle for the position of power from which such a choice can be made. Indeed, the interplay between power and preference is at the heart of constitution-making in Nationalist China. Having established the positive relationship between a political leader’s power position and his institutional preference in the preceding chapter, we can now move to the next step of the empirical study: examining the actual designs of the Nationalist government in the context of the power struggle among the four leading players.

    This chapter analyzes the initial...

  12. Chapter 7 The Grand Anti-Chiang Coalition: From Presidential to Cabinet Government, 1928–1931
    (pp. 106-125)

    The change in institutional design of the Nationalist government from the cabinet to the presidential system during 1925–1928, as we have seen, was an outcome of the succession struggle in which Chiang Kai-shek defeated his rivals. In light of the theoretical concerns of this book, this change showed that constitution-making reflected the underlying distribution of power. The adoption of a particular institutional design was made not because it provided a lasting solution to the political problems of Nationalist China but because the political leaders in control decided that such a design best served their ambitions. The change in the...

  13. Chapter 8 The Destruction of Chiang’s Major Rivals: From Cabinet Back to Presidential Government, 1931–1937
    (pp. 126-142)

    International relations theory relies on the concept of balance of power to account for recurrent patterns of alliance as well as the causes of war. Such logic has also been employed by comparative political scientists to explain patterns of coalition formation in domestic politics.¹ The essential logic, summarized in much of the discourse on power balancing, is the frequent tendency in politics for the emergence of strong actors to induce self-interested cooperation among those threatened by their competitor’s prospective dominance. This was the case with the formation of the grand anti-Chiang coalition in 1930–1931. It was because the coalition...

  14. Chapter 9 Conclusion: A Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 143-156)

    This book, as stated at the outset, is not merely a political history of Nationalist China. The design of the Nationalist government during its formative period from 1925 to 1937 has been introduced here as a case study to explain the political logic of institutional design in authoritarian settings. As we have seen in the preceding chapters, the form taken by government institutions in the authoritarian setting of Nationalist China was not, as the conventional wisdom holds, an issue of little importance. Because the constitutional movement was championed and the Western constitutional form of government was introduced as the legitimate...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 157-198)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 199-210)
  17. Index
    (pp. 211-217)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 218-218)