Allied Committee: Common Voice Vol. 1 1988 Challenges to Political Legitimacy : Some Real-Life Case-Studies

Common Voice

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Common Voice: Volume 1 1988

Challenges to Political Legitimacy: Some Real-Life Case-Studies

Khantinser Kunggur

Today many scholars are trying to study the theories of individual and social change. Some of them have reached theories that could explain certain social phenomena in a quite logical and practical way. This paper is based mainly on the study of social influence and its relationship to individual and social change, a series of studies made by prof. Herbert C. Kelman of Harvard University and others.

I shall analyse certain contemporary social movements to exemplify their theories and present my opinions. Two cases adopted for this purpose are as follows:

  1. The hostile attitude of the Tibetans towards the current Chinese Communist regime--the People's Republic of China.
  2. The emergence of the Manchu Association as a modern ethnic group in Taiwan, Republic of China.

I shall analyse these two cases, through a social psychological approach. I have chosen them for my study, not only because of my personal involvement with them, but also because of their unique respective characteristics.

Some questions
1) What are the reasons behind the hostile attitude of the Tibetans towards the current Chinese regime?

It is well known that the Tibetan people have been trying to get independence from China for a long time. Many Chinese, however, believe that Tibet is part of China, since Tibet was part of the Ch'ing-Dynasty (A Manchu ruled Dynasty; the Ching Dynasty began in the early seventeenth century, contemporary with the American colonies, and lasted until 1911). So, most Chinese believe that Tibet should continue to be part of China.
About three years ago, the brother of the Tibetan religious and political leader, the Dalai Lama, Prof. Thubten Jigme Norbu visited Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, during his stay in Taiwan, at one point he corrected a high-ranking Chinese official's statement about Tibet. He said he should remind them that he was not Chinese, that Tibet is not part of China, and his beloved country was actually under foreign occupation. He said that Tibet had been part of the Manchu Empire, just as China proper had, but said that at the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty, Tibet became an independent state. In sum, he denied the legitimacy of any government other than a Tibetan one in Tibet.

Why do the Tibetans concede that they were part of the Ch'ing Dynasty, but have changed their attitude now?

What is the possible reasoning behind their challenging of the current Chinese regime?

2) The emergence of the Manchu Association as a modern ethnic group in Taiwan, Republic of China.

As this paper mentioned in a previous section, the Manchus were the ruling class in the Ch'ing Dynasty, but soon after the end of the Ching Dynasty in 1911, the whole of China was trapped in a period of chaos, from monarchy to warlordlism followed by the Sino-Japanese war and finally the civil war ending in 1949.

No one in China could escape from these disaster, and of course the Manchus were no exception, but they were in a more difficult situation than the Chinese, because they were the group that was usually held responsible for anything that went wrong before 1911, very much like the "Gang of Four" in the Cultural Revolution period of China. Moreover, most of them have assimilated with the Chinese, and have not only forgotten their own Altaic language, but have also adopted Chinese culture. In short, you can hardly identify a person as a Manchu unless he identifies himself as one.

Why did there suddenly emerge a Manchu Association in 1981?

Is there any challenge to the legitimacy of government also?

My analysis

1) The Tibetan case

Beyond its historical relationship as a tributary state in the Ching Dynasty, Tibet is actually in a quite different condition. The Tibetans have language, custom, social norms, history, culture and religion different from those of the Chinese. In history, they have always been a people with self esteem, even in the Ch'ing Dynasty. The Tibetans kept their culture, social system, religious beliefs and practices, and military, so long as they paid loyalty and tribute to the Ch'ing Government, and they had the privilege of sending missionaries to Mongolia, Manchuria and Peking, where they received honourable receptions.

Thus the positive attitude and action of the Ch'ing regime presented an irresistible opportunity for the Tibetans to become involved in the national system, both sentimentally and instrumentally. Sharing similar religious beliefs and ideas, the Tibetans also ideologically integrated in the Manchu Empire.

But when the Red Chinese Army occupied Tibet in 1959, the Chinese Communist regime imposed their ideas and system on the Tibetan people, ideas formed in China proper under very different social conditions. The Chinese Communist regime also destroyed many Tibetan traditions, obviously without their invitation. So, except for the vast number of Chinese Communist troops in Tibet, we can find very little reason for the Tibetans to commit themselves to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist regime.

This explains the extremely hostile attitude held by the Tibetans towards the Chinese Communist regime today.

2) The Manchu case

In 1981, just one month before the organisation of a Manchu Association, Miss Pamela Crossly, a then Ph.D. candidate in Chinese History from Yale University, in Taiwan, Republic of China, asked a Chinese official, who was also a historian in Taiwan, about the situation of contemporary Manchu. The official replied that Manchus no longer existed in China because they had all assimilated with the Chinese. Miss Crossly told me all this (I was the Secretary General and a member of the Standing Board of Directors of the newly organised Manchu Association then). She was subsequently invited to meetings held by the Manchu Association. After attending our meetings, she said she accepted the existence of the Manchu people, and showed sincere respect to the Association.

The Manchu Association in Taipei, after almost 70 years silence in China, now functions as a cultural promotion organisation. As I mentioned earlier, unless a Manchu identified himself as a Manchu, it was very difficult to tell his identity. Even so, in the past 70 years, they have suffered somewhat different treatment, not in everyday life, but in education, in history textbooks, from grammar school to college. The Chinese not only hold the Ch'ing Dynasty responsible for social wrongs but also ascribe many ills to the Manchu. While they emphasize the Chinese culture, they claim that the Manchu, Mongolian etc are barbarians, and have no culture. This kind of attitude and statement makes Manchus feel ashamed of their own culture, and feel that their culture was merely a substandard version of the Chinese culture. This also puts Manchus in a very embarrassing situation, with a choice of either hiding themselves in the crowd but letting their offsprings receive education humiliating their ancestors, or speaking out with possible inconvenience in real life.

On the other hand, Manchus feel proud of their historical involvement with China in the past 1OOO years in three dynasties. Under the Manchu rule, China enjoyed rather a long period of stable and prosperous life and many great cultural achievements made in the preceding Ch'ing Dynasty.

This dilemma was finally settled by some Manchus through organising the Manchu Association in Taipei, Taiwan, for the following reasons:

1) As time has gone, the hostile attitude held by Chinese has lessened.
2) With over 30 years stability, people acquired extra interests and economic conditions to be able to do this kind of social work.
3) It is hard for a man to tolerate unfair judgements on his culture and ancestors, especially when he has reached a certain social status in the society he considers himself integrated in.

So as to fit better into the social system, Manchus have to clear this out. They organised to protest in a hope through the protests the political authority may change its attitude towards Manchus and correct its historical criticisms, and release Manchus from the suffocation of inconsistent relations between their ideological, role-participation, and normative integration. If not, there will always be a missing element in every Manchu's commitment to the national system.


Kelman, H.C. The role of action in attitude change. In H.E. Howe, Jr., and M.M. page (Eds), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 1979. Beliefs, attitudes and values. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1980.

Kelman, H.C. Three processes of social influence. In Public Opinion Quarterly, 1961, 25, 57-58

Kelman, H.C. The rights of the subject in social research: An analysis in terms of relative power and legitimacy. American Psychologist, 1972, 27,

Kelman, H.C. Patterns of personal involvement in the national system: A social psychological analysis of political legitimacy. In J. Rosenau (Eds), International politics and foreign policy: A reader in research and theory. New York: Free Press, 1969.

Kelman, H.C. A Social-Psychological model of political legitimacy and its application to lsraeli Palestinian relations. International Interactions. 1979, 99-122,

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