An Analysis of Personal Rights of Chinese Farmers – Zhang Yinghong
Personal rights, according to Chinese dictionary, refers to the life, health, movement, reputation, etc. of an individual, the civil rights that cannot be separated with the citizen him/herself but not directly related to economic interests, such as properties or material belongings.
Due to the man-made two-world social structure in modern China and its ramifications, personal rights of farmers have been encroached upon as a social tendency, and laws and regulations that are supposed to protect these rights are suffering shocking malfunction.
Personal rights have been inked into Chinese constitution since the founding the People’s Republic, but under the influence of long-standing left-ism, Chinese citizens’ personal rights haven’t been sufficiently protected by law. Coupled with common political movements, violations of personal rights were never unusual, then leading to the tragedy of massively stampeding on personal rights during the Cultural Revolution.
In the legal academia, the study of farmers’ personal rights is a gap, reason being that legal scholars usually don’t pay much attention to farmers and peasantry, or that rural scholars don’t have a solid educational background in law.
Three of the greatest threats to farmers’ personal freedom are: government violence at the grass-root level, detention and deportation system in cities and labor reeducation regime.
Our observation of the transitional period (after opening-up) on the under-protection of farmers’ personal rights has found the following characteristics:
1. The state unwillingly poses new threats against farmers’ personal rights while simply pursuing economic development strategy and goals;
2. The conflict between a speedy action on market economics and a tardy reform on the planned-economy-era system has led to a lagging of protection for farmers’ personal rights;
3. The double drive for political achievement and economic interests and consequential violent governance of grass-roots level directly violates the personal rights of farmers;
4. The flawed systematic design and an alliance of vested interest groups have stifled or jammed up the channels for farmers, after burned, to seek compensation or justice.
The under-protection of farmers’ personal rights has become a major social issue for transitioning China. Compared with other social classes, farmers’ rights are more readily violated. Violators are usually a dan wei, organization or agency and they are mostly not penalized in a legal manner. And the cost for farmers to seek a redress or compensation is too high, and result mostly ineffective. An outcome being: a dropping social justness and a surging of public discontent.
We try to categorize the relationships between the central government, the locals and the farmers into three models of gaming:
In the pyramid model, the central government sits on the tip. Farmers form the bottom foundation. The local governments are sandwiched in between. In the three-bar model, the three groups are respectively three horizontal bars, with the central at the top and farmers at the bottom. In the triangular model, the three parties are interconnected to one another.
From feudal societies to the first decades of the People’s Republic, China was a pyramid model. Even the new China has a constitution, it’s but a sheet of invalid paper and doesn’t have actual political or legal significance, thanks to ultra-leftist mentality and pan-political movements. In this period, even President/Chairman Liu Shaoqi couldn’t protect his own life and personal rights, let alone the average Joes. That was a historical catastrophe, national disaster and state tragedy.
Then in 1978, the Party shifted the sail and loosened up on the economy and farmers. Politically, farmers were freed from the fetters of communes. The land contracting arrangement made it possible for farmers to have enough to eat. They no longer needed to report everything in the morning and evening to the Party. The early and mid 1980s saw an unprecedented liberalization of farmers’ personal rights and is the period since 1949 when farmers had the best mood.
Into the 1990s, however, all sorts of interest groups formed and reform entered an era of interest gaming. With a variety of social conflicts heating up, the problem of farmers, agriculture and countryside have become one of the most thorny social issues. In this interest gaming, farmers have fallen to become the greatest loss-making victim group and slipped into the rock bottom of the 10 classes in terms of social and economic status.
The relationships between Beijing, local governments and farmers have transformed from a pyramid into a three-bar model, meaning the three groups were no longer an overall interest wholeness, but becoming relatively independent interest entities. But in this three-bar model, local governments are the one connecting the top and the bottom and is the pressure conductor.
In the current starving-development model, GDP has seen rapid growth, but at a cost of ecological degradation and grass-roots violent governance that are seriously encroaching upon farmers’ rights.
What’s worse, in the three-bar model, farmers don’t have an equal footing in the game. They usually play with the rules set by upper two bars and have no choice but to accept. Sometimes they even don’t have the rights to know the rules, like some local governments levying taxes abolished by Beijing. And they don’t have a channel to have a fair dialogue with local governments. Faced with an injust gaming, farmers cannot quit either. But when they go to the cities to find work, they also face the risk of being deported and other harms posed by a migrant workers system.
Living in this period with persona rights and other rights being violated, farmers “struggling by the law” has becoming a phenomenon in Chinese society.
In social transitioning period, the protection of farmers’ personal rights relied on not only a bettering legal system, but also a systematic reform. [Full Text in Chinese]
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