Well, top respecting bottom and bottom respecting top is not impossible. The situation of the west is different. China has a huge system of local, provincial, and national wide exam since almost 2000 years ago. And basically all government officals have to go throuh national examination in the capital, and only the top can get in. As a result, the government is filled with scholars who do care about the people (or not).
Now, China is much larger than European countries. And emperor is the head of country, but not head of government. Power of top government officals are huge compare to the west because given the country size, they can have a good base to rebel against the royal family if the government get little respect. And since most officials arises from national examinations, together with the traditoin, anything that is seriously against "the good" will likely get strong opposition from many officals, from top officals to local officals. Let alone famous "colleges/schools" who do comment on all kind of policies.
This turns into a complex power game. On one side, they have to follow tradition/law at least on the surface and keep everything in harmony. On the other side, each groups with very different ideas have their own power "alliences" (we call them "party" in Chinese). That result in a situation very similar to what you see in today's parliments, parties picking on each other's fault, promoting their own ideas, etc. And in normal time, the final decision is most often made when most top officals reaches consensus. Or if one party gain majority offical support, which can add strong pressure on the emperor even if he oppose to a suggestion.
Here, the top is not neccessary respecting the bottom, but respecting the tradition, worring about their own "look" in history in the future, and affected by power of top officals/parties. But at least, because of confusious based system, they can't go too far in normal times. Chinese care a lot about how they appear in history, and want a name in history, giving pride to their family.
The bottom does not neccessary respect the top, but because all local government head are officals appointed by province or central governments, they also do not want their "bad decisions" to be known by upper officals, who want harmony in their area of control to make sure nothing block them from rising to upper level of governments. As a result, the power of the bottom is also quite powerful in normal times.
There are of course some problem with the system that was caused by reality situation of different times. But the bottom line is, there is usually a equilibium. Not neccessary by "respect", but by tradition, strong view of good or bad ruling in confusious, and government officals who arrises from national examinations.
That is why the idea of "elite government" is quite popular in Chinese cultural area. Even in democratic countries like Japan and Korea, this kind of cultural value is still embedded within voter's decision. One example is Singapore, which is always critizied by the west. Is totally not critizied by even democratic east asian countries. Why? Because it works, and it worked well before. Way better than democratic governments today in the good times. There is no absolute good between "elite" or "democracy". What you need is to identify the short falls o what you have right now and correct them with new ideas or pulling in ideas of other types of government to create your own combination that works.