November 7, 2014, by Tony Hong

The Constitution and Rule of Law

By Dr David O’Brien,

Assistant Professor, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham Ningbo.

Following last month’s 4th plenum meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee, China is to get a new day of celebration.

December 4th is now to be marked as ‘Constitution Day’ and according to official news agency Xinhua: “[n]ationwide activities to promote the Constitution will be held on the day…The day is set to enhance social awareness of the Constitution, promote its spirit, and strengthen its implementation”.

Huang Xianzhong, a member of the NPC Standing Committee was quoted in the report saying, “[t]he foundation of the Constitution lies in people’s heartfelt support and sincere belief…With a national Constitution Day, the Chinese society will show awe to the Constitution in a new and vivid way.”

“It is not only a commemoration day, but also a day of education and promotion for the Constitution that encourages the entire nation to respect the Constitution and safeguard its overarching role in China’s legal system”, Huang added.

The Constitution is a legal tool that guarantees people’s fundamental interests. Staff of state offices must keep in mind that power belongs to the people and shall be subject to the Constitution, said Xu Xianming, another member of the NPC Standing Committee said in the same report.

This new focus seems part of what is being officially described as “extensive and profound revolution” in the way China is governed.

According to the resolution published at the end of the plenum, everyone, including party members and the armed forces, “must regard the constitution as the fundamental guideline of their activities.”

Since coming to power President Xi has repeatedly stressed the need for China to improve its legal system and fully implement the rule of law.

In December 2012 just months after being appointed CPC General Secretary, in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Constitution he said,

“We must firmly establish, throughout society, the authority of the Constitution and the law and allow the overwhelming masses to fully believe in the law,” Xi said.

“To fully implement the Constitution needs to be the sole task and the basic work in building a socialist nation ruled by law.”

He added that the supervising system that ensures the Constitution is carried out is not well established, and occasional dereliction of duty has dented the authority of the country’s judicial system. Violations of laws and the lax enforcement of laws have also occasionally occurred.

At a meeting in August he stressed that “ensuring social stability is the basic task of the country’s political and legal work.”

“Therefore people’s demands of lawful interests must be properly handled; policies having a crucial impact on protecting people’s benefits must be improved; and the position of the law in solving conflicts should be strengthened”.

The 1982 version of the Constitution has been amended four times — in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004.

Notable amendments include those that emphasize the rule of law, the protection of human rights and the protection of citizens’ private property.

Article 35 of the Constitution for example says, “[c]itizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

Article 41 says citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary and no one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them.

However it was clear after the meeting that this Rule of Law will be Rule of Law with ‘Chinese Characteristics’.

“We absolutely cannot indiscriminately copy foreign rule-of-law concepts and models,” the Central Committee communiqué stated.

Yang Xiaojun of China National School of Administration told People’s Daily Online, that the party needed to “strengthen internal propaganda and education” to prevent any misunderstanding that the constitution was like a Western one.

In a significant move, just days after the plenum China’s top legislature the National People’s Congress adopted an amendment to the Administrative Procedure Law, aiming to expand the people’s right to sue the government.

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