The Hawker and The Property Law–How China Can be Ruled by Laws

CCTV recently reported that an unnamed hawker in City cried on the street after his goods and equipment were confiscated by the urban administrators. This event alone won’t cause much sensation. But it happened after the was passed at this year’s NPC meeting. People are asking whether the confiscation is in conflict with the spirit of the , which is supposed to protect private property.

Southern Metropolitan Daily published an editorial on this issue on Apr. 3. Below is a partial translation by CDT.

From the civil rights point of view, reclamation, demolition and relocation (ÂæÅÂú∞ÊãÜËøÅ) and urban law enforcement (ÂüéÁÆ°ÊâßÊ≥ï) are problems related to the protection of private property. From the perspective of the execution of government power, these issues raise the constitutional problem of whether the power of a government is checked. For the first time, the Property Law defines the limits of private property protection. But without a real checks-and-balances system, the law can’t harness today’s public power in China.

From the point of view of human legal history, the sanctity of private property can’t be automatically realized by defining property rights. Based on current conditions in China, institutional reins on public power, the placing of public power under legal constraints, and the protection of the Constitution against violations by organizations and individuals are necessary conditions for realizing the sanctity of private property.

It would be too narrow to interpret the Property Law as being just about the protection of private property. The public’s widespread anxiety over unchecked government power is inherently implied in both the nail house event in Chongqing and the unlicensed hawker event in Guangzhou. The current authorities put emphasis on governing according to law (‰æùÊ≥ïË°åÊîø) and building a modern government ruled by law (Ê≥ïÊ≤ªÁ§æ‰ºö). However, governing according to laws is not a problem of administrative procedure under the current rhetoric. First of all, it’s a problem of defining the limits of government power. How big a government’s power is and whether the power is checked are questions that can never be taken for granted. What China currently lacks is this fundamental institutional arrangement and checks and balances on power.

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