This chapter describes the Chinese emperorship, which was a curious construction that combined the principle of the monarch's limitless power with multifarious attempts to prevent this power from damaging the sociopolitical fabric. This coexistence of two conflicting impulses was maintained through a subtle and yet discernible bifurcation between the monarchy as an institution and the monarch as an individual. Institutionally speaking, the emperor was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—in other words, all but divine. Personally, however, it was tacitly recognized that his abilities might be limited and his morality flawed, and that his individual input in political processes should therefore remain circumscribed. Nonetheless, amid continuous tension, the Chinese variant of “checks and balances” proved to be viable enough to survive for more than two millennia, occasional malfunctions notwithstanding.
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