Every man a king

After studying at an Anglican university in Hong Kong and then becoming the first East Asian to be admitted as a barrister in England, Wu Tingfang served as the Qing Dynasty’s minister to the United States, Spain, and Peru around the turn of the last century. His 1914 book comparing American and Chinese cultures is a fascinating, moving, and at times amusing read; it was written in part to counter the era’s entrenched discrimination against Chinese immigrants. I particularly enjoyed his bafflement at the Americans’ boast of calling their president, simply, “Mr.”; he argues (in a playful but serious manner) for a more exalted title.

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[T]here are railroad kings, copper kings, tobacco kings, etc. It is, however, manifestly improper and incongruous that the people should possess a higher title than their President, who is the head of the nation. To make it even, I would suggest that the title “President” be changed to “Emperor,” for the following reasons: First, it would not only do away with the impropriety of the chief magistrate of the nation assuming a name below that of some of his people, but it would place him on a level with the highest ruler of any nation on the face of the earth. I have often heard the remark that the President of the United States is no more than a common citizen, elected for four years, and that on the expiration of his term he reverts to his former humble status of a private citizen; that he has nothing in common with the dignified majesty of an Emperor; but were the highest official of the United States to be in future officially known as Emperor, all these depreciatory remarks would fall to the ground. There is no reason whatever why he should not be so styled, as, by virtue of his high office, he possesses almost as much power as the most aristocratic ruler of any nation. Secondly, it would clearly demonstrate the sovereign power of the people; a people who could make and unmake an Emperor, would certainly be highly respected. Thirdly, the United States sends ambassadors to Germany, Austria, Russia, etc. According to international law, ambassadors have what is called the representative character, that is, they represent their sovereign by whom they are delegated, and are entitled to the same honors to which their constituent would be entitled were he personally present. In a Republic where the head of the State is only a citizen and the sovereign is the people, it is only by a stretch of imagination that its ambassador can be said to represent the person of his sovereign. Now it would be much more in consonance with the dignified character of an American ambassador to be the representative of an Emperor than of a simple President. The name of Emperor may be distasteful to some, but may not a new meaning be given to it?


Originally published at culture-making.com.

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