Liu Xiaoyuan: Taking a Stroll — The Chinese Way of Demonstration
May 4th was a special day. 200 residents of Chengdu City took a unique “stroll” in the city. They were not participating in a walk contest to memorize the May 4th movement, but to voice their objections to ongoing petrochemical projects. The “stroll” took about two hours and ended peacefully, according to participants.
This was the first “stroll” to take place this year after two similar “strolls” occured twice in China last year: Xiamen residents “took a stroll” to resist a chemical project, and Shanghai residents protested against a Maglev project in similar fashion.
Why do residents have to use the “stroll” method to express their opinions?
A citizen of China is entitled to freedom of speech, publication, association, assembly, and demonstration under Article 35 of the Constitution of People’s Republic of China. According to the article, a resident has the right to express his opinions in public and to demonstrate.
However, it’s not easy for Chinese citizens to put the law into practice. They have to apply to the authorities for approval before they can stage a demonstration, as stated in the seventh article of the Assembly and Demonstration Act.
It is regarded as illegal for a Chinese citizen to demonstrate without government approval. The government has granted very few approvals to demonstration applications since the legislation came out. Therefore, residents resort to “strolls” to legally express their opinions in public.
The “strolls” taken by residents of Chengdu, Shanghai and Xiamen reminded me of recent demonstrations against CNN and protests against Carrefour stores. Overseas Chinese can go out to the streets freely and express their dissatisfaction with CNN without having to take a “stroll.” their civil rights are protected by laws of the country they’re visiting.
The “strolls” inside China and the demonstrations overseas are both ways in which people have sought to express their opinions, although they were about different subjects.
“Stroll” is not an assembly or demonstration. It’s a unique way of practicing civil rights in China. I wish related government departments could allow the citizens a space for “strolling” and expressing their opinion, and more importantly, the government could respect citizens’ opinions expressed through the “strolls”.