Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Caging power

While the new Party leader in China can't say "rule of law," he did talk about keeping power within a "cage." Perhaps Chinese dissidents should talk about cages rather than constitutions.

Reformers Aim to Get China to Live Up to Own Constitution
After the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the surviving Communist Party leaders pursued a project that might sound familiar to those in the West: Write a constitution that enshrines individual rights and ensures rulers are subject to law, so that China would never again suffer from the whims of a tyrant.

The resulting document guaranteed full powers for a representative legislature, the right to ownership of private property, and freedoms of speech, press and assembly. But the idealism of the founding fathers was short-lived. Though the Constitution was ratified in 1982 by the National People’s Congress, it has languished ever since.

Now, in a drive to persuade the Communist Party’s new leaders to liberalize the authoritarian political system, prominent Chinese intellectuals and publications are urging the party simply to enforce the principles of their own Constitution.

The strategy reflects an emerging consensus among advocates for political reform that taking a moderate stand in support of the Constitution is the best way to persuade Xi Jinping, the party’s new general secretary, and other leaders, to open up China’s party-controlled system. Some of Mr. Xi’s recent speeches, including one in which he emphasized the need to enforce the Constitution, have ignited hope among those pushing for change…

Through the decades, party leaders have paid lip service to the Constitution, but have failed to enforce its central tenets, some of which resemble those in constitutions of Western democracies. The fifth article says the Constitution is the supreme authority: “No organization or individual may enjoy the privilege of being above the Constitution and the law.” Any real application of the Constitution would mean severely diluting the party’s power.

It is unclear whether the latest push will be any more successful than previous efforts…

Deng Yuwen, an editor at Study Times, said he had so far only seen talk from Mr. Xi. “We have yet to see any action from him,” Mr. Deng said. “The Constitution can’t be implemented through talking.”

And since taking power, Mr. Xi has appeared more concerned with maintaining party discipline than opening political doors. In remarks made during a recent southern trip that have circulated in party circles, Mr. Xi said China must avoid the fate of the Soviet Union, which broke apart, in his view, after leaders failed to stick to their socialist ideals and the party lost control of the military…

Nonetheless, talk of constitutionalism has become daily fare on literati Web sites like Gongshiwang, a politics forum. Typical was a Jan. 24 essay that ran on the site by Liu Junning, a political scientist, who seized on Mr. Xi’s most recent remarks on “caging power” and traced the concept to the Magna Carta and the American Constitution.

“Constitutional governance is restricted governance,” Mr. Lui wrote. “It is to tame the rulers. It is to shut the rulers in a cage.”
See also

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