Voter Education: Provincial Autonomy and the Transformation of Chinese Election Law, 1920-1923

Joshua Hill, Ohio University
Political cartoon critical of election corruption. Source: Shenbao, March 5, 1921.
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Beginning in 1909, mainland Chinese governments routinely held elections, and lawmakers devoted considerable resources to writing and revising election laws. The earliest elections, held under the late Qing and the early Republic, utilized laws based on restricted electorates and indirect voting. By contrast, election laws designed during the provincial autonomy movement of the 1920s and the post-1927 Nationalist government featured direct voting in elections with (near-)universal adult suffrage. Each of these two systems of electoral law incorporated different elements of foreign electoral practice with concerns and ideas that arose from the experiences and ideals of late imperial Chinese political thought. The transition between these two systems highlights the surprising influence of the short-lived provincial autonomy movement on the legal structures of the centralized one-party states that followed.