Reformers Aim to Get China to Live Up to Own Constitution

An article in the New York Times looks at how intellectuals, activists, lawyers, journalists and others are using China’s constitution to call for political reforms. While the constitution has never limited the Party’s power or enshrined individual rights, implementing the document as it is written is seen as one means to opening up the political system:

A wide range of notable voices, among them ones in the party, have joined the effort. Several influential journals and newspapers have published editorials in the last two months calling for Chinese leaders to govern in accordance with the Constitution. Most notable among those is Study Times, a publication of the Central Party School, where Mr. Xi served as president until this year. That weekly newspaper ran a signed editorial on Jan. 21 that recommends that the party establish a committee under the national legislature that would ensure that no laws are passed that violate the Constitution.

After the end of the party’s leadership transition last November, liberal intellectuals held a meeting at a hotel in Beijing to strategize on how to push for reform; constitutionalism was a major topic of discussion. At the end of the year, 72 intellectuals signed a petition that was drafted by a Peking University law professor who had helped organize the hotel meeting. In early January, a censored editorial on constitutionalism at the liberal newspaper Southern Weekend set off a nationwide outcry in support of press freedoms.

Several people involved in the advocacy say their efforts are not closely coordinated, but that rallying around the Constitution was a logical first step to galvanize reform.

“We have a common understanding that constitutionalism is a central issue for China’s reform,” said Zhang Qianfan, the law professor who drafted the petition. “The previous reform was preoccupied with economic aspects. But we learned from the experiences of the recent two decades that economic reform can go wrong if it’s not coupled with political reform, or constitutional reform actually.”


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