Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, December 04, 2015

Hide the constitution

It's Constitution Day in China. Just in time to ban a book analyzing the Constitution.

On China’s Constitution Day, Book on Constitutionalism Largely Disappears
China held its second-ever National Constitution Day on Friday, when citizens are supposed to renew their loyalty to the Constitution that both enshrines the Communist Party’s power and promises freedom of expression and other rights — so long as that power is not challenged.

The limits of those freedoms have been underlined by the disappearance from many bookstores of a new book about China’s tortuous history of constitutional transformation by one of the country’s pre-eminent historians.

The book, “Out of Imperialism,” by Qin Hui, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, has garnered considerable attention since it appeared this fall. Mr. Qin is a well-known thinker with liberal views, and there was an avid readership for his book, an examination of how China broke free from the Qing imperial order only to see the promise of constitutional democracy fall apart in the early 20th century.

[A] cashier at Sanlian, one of Beijing’s most popular bookstores… [said] “Several days ago we were told not to sell it anymore, so the books are all gone now.”…

In his book, Mr. Qin revisits a core question in Chinese history: Why did the mighty Qing dynasty decline so rapidly, then collapse in the face of Western aggression? And he asks why, after that collapse in 1911, a Western-style constitutional order did not take hold, despite the widespread admiration for such changes…

But the book was still available in some places. On Friday, about a dozen copies were on sale at All Sages, a bookstore in Beijing’s university district. “I don’t know if anyone has received an order to remove it,” a cashier there said. “But we don’t have many left.”…

Last year, China designated Dec. 4 as National Constitution Day to commemorate the date in 1982 on which the current Constitution was adopted. In 2012, to celebrate the document’s 30th birthday, Xi Jinping, who at that time had recently become the Communist Party’s general secretary, delivered a speech, saying, “Rule of the nation by law means, first and foremost, ruling the nation in accord with the Constitution.” He added that the party would act within the framework of the Constitution and the law.

Still, this has been a difficult year for those who have tried to hold the state to these promises, as scores of human rights lawyers have been detained. In October, an exhibition of a copy of one of history’s pivotal documents establishing restraints on power, the 13th century Magna Carta, was abruptly moved from Renmin University in Beijing to a more restricted space in the British ambassador’s residence.

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