Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Complications of rule of law

Running a country as huge as China in an authoritarian way is a massive project. Then, trying to create a rule of law on top of that authoritarian system is complex.

This example of semi-official officials is a good example of both.

Death of Watermelon Vendor Sets Off Outcry in China
It started Wednesday morning as a squabble between an unlicensed watermelon vendor and the widely despised urban management agents who prowl China’s streets looking for scofflaws. Words were exchanged, blows were landed and in the end, the vendor, Deng Zhengjia, 56, lay dead on the pavement in Linwu, a city in central Hunan Province, as angry bystanders photographed his body with their cellphones…

Deng Zhengjia's ID badge
Mr. Deng’s death has once again drawn national attention to China’s army of urban management officials, known as chengguan, who occupy an awkward and ill-defined place in the government’s apparatus to maintain stability. More powerful than private security guards but lacking the authority to make arrests or carry weapons, chengguan have for many Chinese become the most visible face of the government’s authoritarian impulses.

Responsible for dealing with sanitation complaints, unlicensed construction and illegal peddling, they often seize goods with impunity, beat those who resist and issue what critics describe as arbitrary fines…

On Friday, hackers took over the Linwu government Web site, inserting the message “What is unjust is doomed to destruction, we will take back our country!”…

The ruling Communist Party’s expansive security system is well equipped to ensure that such episodes do not set off wider unrest. But the popular outrage can only complicate President Xi Jinping’s efforts to reduce the animosity that many Chinese feel toward party functionaries and law enforcement officials…

Known as the “mass line campaign,” it seeks to address extravagance and corruption among party officials and reduce behavior that “divorces the party from the masses,” according to the state news media…

As with previous instances of chengguan violence, in this case the state-run news media have tried to manage public ire by allowing relatively untrammeled coverage of the episode and running commentaries that castigate those involved in the violence, although they stop short of calling for a substantial overhaul of the system. “Condemn Violence, Not Chengguan System,” said a headline in Global Times, a populist tabloid owned by the party-run People’s Daily…

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