Duma, yuan, and beyond Conceptualizing parliaments and parliamentarism in and after the Russian and Qing Empires

Ivan Sablin, Egas Moniz Bandeira, Jargal Badagarov, Martin Dorn, and Irina Sodnomova


In the early twentieth century, the Russian and Qing Empires, together with other Eurasian polities, became part of the global constitutional transformations,1 which included the introduction of new institutions - the State Duma (Gosudarstvennaia duma, 1905/1906) in the former and the Political Consultative Council (Zizhengyuan WsSK, 1907/1910) in the latter. Some hundred years later, the State Duma in Russia and the Legislative Yuan (Lifayuan aZ?i^) in Taiwan were generally accepted as vernacular variations of the globalized institution of an elected legislature,2 that is, a parliament. At the time when the two imperial parliamentary bodies were introduced, their names pointed to the etatist rather than popular connotations of the new institutions. Furthermore, the State Duma and the Zizhengyuan were often explicitly distinguished from the Western parliament, even though the latter as a generalized notion was undoubtedly the main point of reference during the attempted imperial modernizations. Seeking to expand the current debate on the conceptual history of parliamentarism by including nonEuropean histories,3 this chapter charts the genealogies of the two terms - duma and yuan - and positions them in the discussions of parliamentarism during the modernizations of the Russian and Qing Empires and during the postimperial settlements.

The parliamentary concepts and institutions in the Eurasian empires had a different history from that of their Western counterparts. The attention given to foreign experiences with parliamentarism during the imperial modernizations and the explicit aim of strengthening the imperial states, which were perceived as lagging behind their Western or previously modernized counterparts, may be seen as key aspects. In the case of the Russian and Qing Empires, the successful experience of inter alia political modernization of Japan was especially important. In both cases, the elite understandings of parliamentarism were state-centered. Even though they did not necessarily prevail, like in the case of the State Duma, the imperial elites sought to create not an institution of dissensus, that is, a parliament in the Western sense of the word,4 but a new institution for receiving local

DOI: 10.4324/9781003158608 information and managing the populace, along a bureaucratie rationalizing logic. In the Russian Empire, the Tsarist administration feared a constituent State Duma, rushing with the adoption of the Fundamental Laws before the assembly’s convocation. In the Qing Empire, the Zizhengyuan, itself a provisional precursor of a parliament, was also supposed to operate on the basis of the previously adopted legislation.

Another key difference between most Eurasian empires (for instance, Russian, Qing, and Ottoman) and Western states, which often had empires of their own, was the representation of dependent groups or territories in the parliamentary bodies of the former. In the practical implementation of parliamentary ideas in the Russian and Qing Empires in the early twentieth century, the non-Rus-sian and non-Chinese constituencies were included in the State Duma and the Zizhengyuan. The very creation of these institutions, which were interpreted as imperial (pre)parliaments, undermines the idea of a unidirectional transition from empires to nation-states. Furthermore, some sub-imperial parliamentary institutions, such as the Kuban Cossack Rada (see Oleksandr Polianichev’s Chapter 6 in this volume) or the planned Siberian Regional Duma, were explicitly connected to the projects of imperial modernization and reconfiguration, rather than its disintegration. Not just the imperial elites but also many oppositional intellectuals, coming from diverse backgrounds, often foregrounded the benefits of parliamentarism for the state rather than the people, which may be seen as a manifestation of their state-centered imperial nationalism. Indeed, the two concepts, duma and yuan, also had ethno-nationalist meanings. Russian conservatives, for instance, attempted to reinterpret the duma as a Russian national parliament, while Sun Yat-sen conceptualized the Legislative Yuan as a specifically Chinese political institution.

The two concepts must be understood in their respective dynamics. The two major schools in the history of concepts - the German Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history) and the Cambridge School of intellectual history - have helped to distinguish between temporal and relational aspects of these dynamics. Whereas Reinhart Koselleck, representing the former, focused on the temporal implications and changes in meanings, Quentin Skinner of the latter stressed that contextualized texts should be understood as political actions in the authors’ pursuit of specific objectives rather than mere reflections.5 The idea of the imperial situation, which can be defined as the “unstable balance in a composite society” with “conditional, fluid, and situational” social boundaries and, hence, social categories, have helped grasp the Russian and Qing contexts as themselves being dynamic.6

The chapter studies duma and yuan in the context of the concrete imperial situations and the respective conceptual histories and political mythologies, that is, myths and their interpretations connected to these terms. The main sources for the study are the writings of Russian and Chinese politicians and intellectuals. Although the trajectories of the two terms were different, the conceptual language initially developed through the reception of Western institutions in both cases. In both cases, however, this reception was critical, and the ultimate use of vernacular (rather than directly borrowed) terms demonstrates that the adoption

Duma, yuan, and beyond 15 of a seemingly global form of organizing authority7 entailed its significant transformations along the logic of the Russian and Qing bureaucratic approaches to governance.

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