Volume 15, Issue 2, 2018
Conceptual History: China, Asia, and the Global
The Concept of “Self-Government” across Cultures
From the Western World to Japan and China
This paper focuses on the change of the meaning of “self-government” after it was introduced from Western world into East Asia in late 19th and early 20th century. By surveying the process of translation and dissemination of the concept “self-government” as well as the institutionalization of local self-government in Japan and China, the author points out that in Meiji Japan, the meaning of the word “self-government” underwent significant changes from “freedom” which means anti-authoritarianism that was transmitted in the English word “local-government” to sharing the responsibility of national administration as embodied in the German word “Selbstverwaltung” along with the establishment of Prussian modeled local self-government system. In late-Qing China, on the other hand, the term “local-government” was accepted as “self-reliance” as a way to achieve national prosperity and independence by enhancing individuals’ capacity, or “provincial autonomy” as a step to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Qing government enacted a set of “self-government” laws with reference to Japan’s system, but it turned out to be the same as its traditional counterpart enforced by local elites to offer public services under the profound influence of the Confucian tradition of xiangguan(local heads) in ancient China instead of incorporating the local elites into the state administrative system.