Chinese federalism refers to political theories which argue that China's central government should share sovereignty with regional entities, under a form of federalism. Such proposals were made in the early twentieth century, in connection with the end of the Qing dynasty; as well as recently, with a view to providing checks against the power of the central government, as well as settling the relationship between the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other potential political entities.
Wu Bangguo, who used to be the official number two in China's leadership structure, said in 2011 there will be no federal system in China. "There would be no separation of powers between the different branches of government and no federal system" he said. "It is possible that the state could sink into the abyss of internal disorder."
The Revive China Society, founded in November 1894 by Sun Yat-Sen, was among the first to suggest that a future Chinese government should be established on federal lines—a feeling expressed in the organisation's oath, "Expel the northern barbarians, revive Zhonghua, and establish a unified (hézhòng) government". The term hézhòng, literally meaning "many unified as one", refers to a federal structure such as the United States of America.
During the Xinhai Revolution (1911), fourteen provinces proclaimed independence from the Qing dynasty and reunited as the Republic of China. But when the Guizhou Provincial Consultative Council proclaimed independence, they asked to build the Great Han Federal Democratic Republic. Prior to January 1912, one semi-official translation of the country's new name used by revolutional Shanghai Military Government was the United Provinces of China. Sun Yat-sen's title in 1912 was "President of the Provisional Government of the United Provinces of China". Chinese federalists from this period often used "United Provinces" instead of "Federation" or "United States" because "states" suggested a more independent arrangement than "provinces." In other words, they wished to avoid the impression that federalism implied separatism.
Proposals for a federal Chinese state were first advanced in the 1920s, but these proved unpopular. These often used the phrase United Autonomous Provinces as the name of the intended system. Hunan was the center of this movement. The young Mao Zedong even advocated the formation of a "Republic of Hunan" during that period. But many intellectuals, including Sun Yat-sen, argued that these proposals would limit the ability of China to fight off external invasion and would legitimize the rule of warlords.
After Chinese Communists established the Chinese Soviet Republic in Jiangxi, they aimed at a political system modeled after the union republics of the Soviet Union. According to their plans, China was to be a Soviet federal republic with several autonomous republics (such as Mongolia, Turkestan, and Tibet). During the period of the Long March they established a small autonomous republic for Tibetans in Sichuan. In Shaanxi, however, they changed their nationality policy, abandoning their plan to establish autonomous republics (as in the Soviet Union) in favor of autonomous regions. The first of these to be created was Inner Mongolia in 1947.
When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, it was divided into six semi-independent greater administrative areas. The central government was transferred from the People's Government of North China and just controlled northern China and Inner Mongolia. Other greater administrative areas had more autonomy. This autonomy had ended completely by 1954.
More recently, some economists have argued that during the process of Chinese economic reform that the People's Republic has evolved into a de facto federal state in which provinces have wide discretion to implement policy goals which are set by the PRC central government and in which provinces and localities actively compete with each other in order to advance economically. According to a 2004 study conducted by Bo Zhiyue, Chair of the Department of International Studies at the St. John Fisher College, provincial authorities have greater institutional power than central institutions. Bo concluded that after the 16th Party Congress, due to personnel transfers between the provinces and the centre, the central authorities emerged more powerful, but was still shy of outpowering the provincial authorities on his power index score.
"A Federated Republic. A democratic China should seek to act as a responsible major power contributing toward peace and development in the Asian Pacific region by approaching others in a spirit of equality and fairness. In Hong Kong and Macao, we should support the freedoms that already exist. With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification. We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish. We should aim ultimately at a federation of democratic communities of China."
As of late 2010, Charter 08 has already been signed by more than 10,000 people both inside and outside China.
A Federal Republic of China is a proposed future federal republic encompassing mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. This "Third Republic" (following on from the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China) is proposed by supporters of the Tibet independence movement, although it would not in effect create an independent Tibet. Yan Jiaqi, writing for the Tibetan government in exile, has written that:
"It would be a federation with the characteristics of a confederation. Federal China would consist of two kinds of republics: 'loose republics' such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang: and 'close republics' consisting the rest of China."
According to Yan:
"They would differ from the existing federal countries in their defence, taxation and legal systems"
This model, however, in which the close republics would have an arrangement based on the United States of America, and the loose republics more on the European Union, is not agreed upon by all advocates of a Federal Republic.
Another concept is that of a United China or a United States of China. First devised in the early 1920s by Chen Jiongming, it was modeled closely after the United States of America. Given the political, social and linguistic realities of China in the warlord period, Chen Jiongming believed that a federalist approach was the only feasible way to eventually establish a united, democratic republic. Beginning with Guangdong as a model state, he wanted to organize a "United States of China in the manner of the American experience" through negotiation with federalists from all parts of the country (New York Times June 27, 1922).
This usage was popularized after Chinese president Jiang Zemin in 2001 made a comment that a united China can adopt a new national name and flag. Large economic ties between China and Taiwan have also motivated the occasional informal use of the term to describe a united China.
The introduction of Special Economic Zones since the 1980s have led to the development of several distinct regional economies within the People's Republic of China, such as the Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta, and the Bohai Rim. Several of these regions have economies the size of small developed nations. Some scholars who use the term United States of China argue that during the process of Chinese economic reform the People's Republic has evolved into a de facto federal state in which these economic regions have wide discretion to implement policy goals which are set by the PRC central government and in which provinces and localities actively compete with each other in order to advance economically.
The concept of a United Republics of China first appeared in the fantastic "Outline of (the) Post-War New World Map". Published in Philadelphia in early 1942, this map - created by Maurice Gomberg - shows a proposal to re-arrange the world after an Allied victory against the Axis forces. In the map the United Republics of China (URC) includes most parts of present-day China, Korea, the erstwhile French colony of Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), Thailand and Malaya. Otherwise, North Manchuria and Mongolia belong to the USSR; Taiwan and Hainan become territories of the USA.
In 2004, Lin Chong-Pin, former deputy Minister of Defense of the ROC, said that a think tank in Beijing or Shanghai gave a proposal for United Republics of China. None of this proposal has become public. But in the same years the officials and think-tanks of the PRC have often shown an interest in the 1964 merger of mainland Tanganyika and the archipelago of Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. As Zanzibar has its own president, government, parliament, autonomy, etc. and the president of Zanzibar served as the vice-president of Tanzania until the first Multiparty elections in 1995, Tanzania may have provided an examplar of Deng Xiaoping's proposals for "One country, two systems" in China in the 1980s.
In 2011, Li Yi-hu, director of Institute of International Politics, University of Peking, said that Tanzania and Zanzibar, the model of "One country, two constitutions", could be referring to "One China, two constitutions". In February 2011, China Review News published an article about the Tanzanian style of Chinese reunification.