One of the greatest themes in the history of social institutions is the comparative study of administrative bureaucracies. Far from being of purely academic interest, nothing could be more vital for us today, since all societies on both sides of the more and more mythical ‘iron curtain are moving in the direction of more and more powerful bureaucracies. This trend is impossible to reverse, for it is necessitated by the very dependence of modern life on highly organized technology, but what everyone wants to know is how this unavoidable bureaucracy can be humanized and made to work in the interests of the people rather than those of particular influence groups or the apparatus itself. Socialist legality was not able to prevent the horrifying oppression of the Stalin period, which had not the justification o f the built-in anti-morality and the racial diabolism of the Nazi-Fascist states, but in lesser degree the powers of government are often felt to be oppressive in the capitalist democracies, as witness the American withdrawal of citizens’ passports, or such cases as the Stansted dispute in the United Kingdom. The ombudsman system of the Scandinavians has been one attempt to answer this problem, but it is far from solved, and probably no tag is destined to be more long-lived than Acton’s ‘all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts abso lutely’. Why not have a look, therefore, at the structure o f the world’s oldest bureaucracy, that of traditional China, to see if any
‘checks and. balances’ were built into that system, so extraordinarily successful that it lasted well over two thousand years, and still lives on in transmuted form in the People’s Republic of the present day ?