If you're from a country like the United States where the Constitution is sacrosanct, it's hard to comprehend a burgeoning political movement in China that's demanding its leaders obey the country's basic law. Yes, China has a constitution, just like we do. No, the ruling Communist Party doesn't pay any attention to it. Which is funny, because it was the Communist Party leaders left over after the Cultural Revolution that wrote the China's constitution and insisted that it was essential for the future success of Chinese society that it be obey. But China's leaders have been systematically disobeying the document since it was written. If China's leaders did obey it, however, a number of those freedom-hacking aspects of Chinese society would not exist. After all, the Chinese constitution is supposed to guarantee everything from ownership of private property to freedom of the press and assembly. The Great Firewall of China, as such, is total unconstitutional.
This year, the arrival of the new administration helmed by Xi Jinping offers some hope. "Constitutions were something that strong states had; therefore, China had to have one," Sam Crane, a Williams College political science professor and expert on China, told The New York Times. "Thus, Chinese constitutions were not really effective in limiting state power and protecting individual liberties. That might be changing now." Evidence of the shift is coming not only from Chinese radicals, those journalists and activists who actually believe in democracy, but also from the Xi himself, who's argued in favor of enforcing the country's constitution in recent weeks. "The Constitution should be the legal weapon for people to defend their own rights," Xi said on the document's 30th anniversary. As one reform-minded newspaper editor said after the fact, though, "The Constitution can't be implemented through talking."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.