Biking across China in 5 months: lofty goals for worker promoting constitutionalism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 11:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 7:40am

Jumping on his bike, a 27-year-old construction worker in eastern China plans on pedalling across the country to promote rule of law - which he believes the nation urgently needs.

Zhang Hao, originally from Shanxi province, said he recently realised he had been brainwashed by Communist Party propaganda after poking around online. Since then, he has decided to make things right and enlighten his compatriats with an issue that “matters to every Chinese”.

After telling his parents he was going on holiday, Zhang quit his construction job in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and took off on his bike on June 17.

He carried only a tent and a red banner that read: "China's constitutionalism calls for national participation."

More than a month into his journey, Zhang told the South China Morning Post that he was shocked by how little people knew about the meaning of “constitutionalism” or what the constitution is in general.

“Many people who appeared educated were clueless and asked me what it means,” he said. In most cases, locals did not seem to care about his message.

Zhang would usually stop in front of local landmarks, hold the banner and have his photo taken. Some pictures from his adventures have been posted on his microblog. But he was disappointed he was not raising as much awareness as he had hoped.

This prompted Zhang to consider other methods such as passing out pamphlets, he said, so people could better understand his campaign.

If Zhang’s itinerary works out as planned, he will be travelling to Shandong, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Henan and by the end of October, Anhui province. 

The journey has been peaceful and safe so far, he said. Zhang added that he had not heard from police, but he was prepared if they confronted him. Some lawyers he talked to already offered to represent him if he were to be arrested, he said. 

On Weibo, a post about Zhang’s ambitious trip went viral over the weekend before it was quickly censored. Many praised Zhang for acting on his thoughts, instead of only talking about them.

“I support young people who engage in spreading the knowledge and importance of  constitutionalism,” prominent Peking University law professor He Weifang said during an interview with the Post. But He cautioned that instead of promoting a certain slogan, they should focus on the details of constitutionalism, such as separation of powers, judicial independence, free media and local autonomy.

Commentators across the ideological spectrum in China have been debating the meaning and importance of constitutionalism in recent months.

While liberal reformers and scholars say adopting consitutionalism will lead to separation of powers and a more democratic system, conservatives dismiss constitutionalism as a "Western" political idea. A Communist Party publication recently claimed that the “Chinese dream”- President Xi Jinping's trademark propaganda slogan - trumps the constitution.