'Is it Unconstitutional to Criticize the Communist Party?'

A commentary by Bao Tong
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china-xingtai-students-constitution-day-dec4-2014.jpg Students read China's constitution on the country's first national Constitution Day in Xingtai in southern Hebei province, Dec. 4, 2014.
Xinhua News Agency

I don't read the Global Times, but it ran an editorial by a Mr. Liu Di that caught my attention.

According to this newspaper, the constitution has some specific functions:

1. It is a functional law which can be relied upon for judgments and sentencing, similar to the body of criminal and civil law. So, anyone acting unconstitutionally can be sentenced to so many months or so many years in jail, according to the preamble.

2. It has the function of prohibiting citizens from publishing statements that are inconsistent with the constitution.

I think that the author of this article is a constitutional illiterate. Perhaps this stems from the notion of "Chinese characteristics."

But Liu Di should take heed of the testimony of veteran revolutionaries from 70 years ago, as I'm sure the Global Times can't regard them as "hostile foreign forces" or "a small minority of radicals," can it?

Charter 08 is given as an example of [the ideas of] "a small minority of radicals: "A typical example is 'Charter 08,' brought out by Liu Xiaobo and others in 2008. This 'charter' is in serious conflict with China's constitution and represents openly unconstitutional behavior."

"Liu was sentenced to prison for this, but some have always said he is a 'prisoner of conscience,' and he has a lot of support among Western powers who awarded him the [2010] Nobel Peace Prize."

Liu Xiaobo's prison sentence is an abiding mystery. The Global Times may think that it proves there are no speech crimes in China, but speech can never be in conflict, serious or otherwise, with the constitution. So, in fact, it proves that speech crimes do exist.

‘Earnest warnings’

We should thank the Global Times for this article and its earnest warnings to "a minority of radicals," whose insistence that it is a matter of individual freedom openly to oppose the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party lies at the root of such criminal and unconstitutional behavior.

I don't know what the article means when it talks about opposing party leaders. Could it mean that they are above criticism?

Could the Global Times please tell us whether criticizing party leaders is the same as opposing them? Is criticizing party leaders like [former security czar] Zhou Yongkang, or [late supreme leaders] Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong the same thing as opposing them?

Is criticizing the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] or the party's pro-Soviet internationalist or isolationist policies the same thing as opposing the party's leaders?

Is criticizing a boundless and infinite system that breeds rampant corruption, limits citizens' rights to vote and to stand for election, and refuses to publicize details of officials' private wealth, or the principle that the party leads in everything, the same thing again?

If it is unconstitutional to criticize the party, then is it anti-party and unconstitutional to suggest that President Xi [Jinping] take a bath?

Or to agree with his father’s, Xi Zhongxun’s, view that different opinions should be protected? Or would this be protecting those who oppose the party and violate the constitution?

The Global Times can't see its own power to unify thinking and wipe out contradictions, so it wraps it up by saying that there are mechanisms within society for dealing with discrimination, and authoritative bodies that can make a final judgment [where differences arise].

"Any further disagreement can be settled by a legal interpretation from the standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC)," the article says.

Interpreting the truth

I trust that the NPC standing committee will do so in a way that the needs of the many take precedence over the needs of the few. But I'm not convinced that it has the power to interpret the truth in such a manner.

The history of humanity and the much shorter history of the Chinese Communist Party should remind people everywhere that the law and the truth aren't always the same thing.

Society doesn't exist without contradiction and disagreement. If everyone thinks the same thing, then public opinion ceases to matter.

As for those "mechanisms for settling disagreements," they can never work by silencing people, only by allowing people to speak freely and without fear by decriminalizing speech.

No society on earth arrives at a clearer truth by silencing people, or through legal interpretations. They arrive at a clearer understanding of the truth through dialogue and debate.

As Deng Xiaoping rightly said: "The sky won't fall in if you let people talk."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.


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