Conservatives counter demands for constitutional rule in China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Chinese conservatives have come out to argue against the adoption of "constitutional rule", a term increasingly used by liberals to demand the realisation of basic human rights guaranteed in the Chinese constitution.

The nationalistic Global Times in an editorial on Wednesday called such demands "empty political slogans" made by "a group of misled intellectuals".

These intellectuals wanted to "change China's course of development", the paper argued.

"If the entire Western world together can't muster the might [to change China's course], then a small group of domestic dissenters will be even less able to do so."

Even though the Chinese constitution in theory guarantees freedom of speech, the press and to demonstrate, and the right to elect and be elected, human rights organisations say such rights are consistently cracked down upon.

Many lament that courts cannot invoke the constitution to protect the civil and political rights of citizens. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has attempted to cite rights guaranteed in the constitution in his trial for "inciting subversion of state power" that led to an 11-year prison sentence in 2009.

When the liberal Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Weekly called for a realisation of a "constitutional dream" in its traditional New Years editorial in January, censors replaced the text with a more muted version, triggering a rare public strike by journalists. 

Democracy activists are often seen holding placards with the Chinese characters for "constitutional rule" in photos shared on microblogs.

The editorial in the Global Times, which ranks among the most widely read dailies in China, comes a day after a Beijing law scholar Yang Xiaoqing wrote an article with similar reasoning for the Communist Party's bi-weekly Red Flag Magazine.

Citing Marx and Engels, the Renmin University professor repudiated what she called the "old Western" understanding of constitutional rule as an oppressive tool of the - in Marxian terms - capitalist stage of development.

Those with capital use the constitution's allure to trick those who have nothing into believing that they lived in a fair system, she argued in ideologically orthodox terms. Citing Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, she predicted chaos for China if the country were ever to come under constituional rule. 

In contrast to that chaos, Yang offers a vision of a "Chinese contribution to humanity in regards to constitutional rule" in which China's People's Congresses under the leadership of the Communist Party are truly representative of the nation's people and are able to supervise the judiciary.

While a few people supported her comments, they have predominantely been mocked on microblogs, with thousands of people sharing her photo. Lei Yi, a Beijing-based historian, sarcastically wrote in a microblog post that he was reminded of Stalin and Pol Pot. 

President Xi Jinping has repeatedly called for more respect of the constitution since he assumed the leadership of the Communist Party in autumn. "No organisation or individual should be put above the constitution and the law," he reportedly said at a Politburo seminar in February.

 

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