Category: Rule of Law

What is Going on With China’s Constitution?

By , September 17, 2014

China’s Constitution

Qian Gang over at the China Media Project took a hit for the team earlier this month when he read through the recently-published (and likely dull) volume of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s speeches.  As Qian notes, glaringly absent from “A Primer of Important Speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping” (“the Primer“) is Xi’s ground-breaking 2012 speech that proclaimed the importance of the Chinese Constitution in ruling China.

Bye, Bye, Bye: A Disappearing Constitution

In December 2012 – with less than a year in power – Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) commemorated the 30th anniversary of China’s 1982 Constitution with a speech extolling the virtues of that Constitution. In that speech, Xi explained that it is the Constitution which must be used to constrain the government and the Chinese Communist Part (“CCP” or “the Party”):  “[n]o organization or individual has the privilege to overstep the Constitution and the law.”  Appearing to upend prior leader’s commitment to the Party as paramount to the Constitution, Xi highlighted that “[r]ule of the nation by law means, first and foremost, ruling the nation in accord with the constitution; the crux in governing by laws is to govern in accord with the constitution” (emphasis added).

But the currently-published Primer excludes this speech.  Was this intentional Qian wonders?  As Qian points out in his post, in China, anything this important is intentional.  In a society long trained to be hyper-sensitive to a leader’s speech, back in December 2012, Xi’s speech seemed like a watershed.  An inspiration.  The editors at the Guangdong-based newspaper, Southern Weekend, sure thought so.  Only a few weeks after Xi’s 2012 speech, the editors sought to follow his lead, titling the paper’s 2013 New Year’s editorial “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism.”

Either the Southern Weekend editors read the tea leaves wrong or, more likely, not everyone in the CCP leadership supported Xi’s call for constitutionalism.  “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism” never saw the light of day.  Instead, Guangdong propaganda officials quickly stepped in, changing the title and watering down the article to one that was effectively a paean to the Party-controlled system of governance.

Hello, Is it Me You’re Looking For? The Constitution Re-emerges

President Xi Jinping of China

Xi Jinping says Hello Again to the Chinese Constiution

With the suppression of the original Southern Weekend New Year’s editorial and the exclusion of Xi’s 2012 speech from the recently-published Primer, constitutionalism would appear to be dead in China, right?  Wrong.  Just last week, in a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National People’s Congress (“NPC”),  Xi again raised the banner of constitutionalism, stating that the Constitution was China’s most basic document and that ruling the nation must be done in accordance with that Constitution.

Did Xi just not get the hint? Hardly. As Qian Gang, in a new blog post at China Media Project points out, what we are seeing is a rhetorical power play at the highest levels of the CCP.  Xi’s recent pronouncement demonstrates that he wants to continue with this idea that the Constitution is crucial to the CCP’s governance.  But then there are others – others that might have had influence on the final cut of speeches from Xi’s Primer – who are just not that into constitutionalism.   Likely demonstrating the power of this other group, the Global Times, a conservative government-run newspaper, ran an editorial in its English edition noting that “…the popularity of constitutional governance in the public sphere has only brought negative results in recent years. We propose replacing the concept with the rule of law” (the Chinese version of the editorial is slightly different, putting Xi’s concept of constitutionalism in a historical context).

If you are dying to know what happens to the Constitution in current Party rhetoric – does it stay or does it go – you only have to sit tight for a

Another CCP Plenary is to Occur in October with Rule of Law as the Topic of Conversation

month.  In October, the CCP will hold the fourth plenary session of the CCP’s 18th Central Committee and the central agenda item is rule of law.  As the CCP recognized in its announcement, the rule of law is “vital for the Party’s governance, people’s happiness and the nation’s stability.”    Expect the Xi camp to call on that rule of law through the Constitution; expect there to be opposition.  How public this battle will be is anyone’s guess.  Evidently the rhetorical use of the Constitution is causing divisions within the leadership.

But Does the Constitution Make A Difference in China’s Political-Legal System?

But Xi is far from a constitutional convert, at least not in the Western sense.  Even with this rhetorical debate at the upper echelons of the CCP, Xi’s constitutional dream is far from a free society that promotes individual’s civil rights.  Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral research officer at Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, explained this to China Law & Policy.  The State is merely a reflection of the society which it governs and according to Creemers, “the [Chinese] State is there to restore the Chinese nation back to its collective greatness.  One of the key ways in which the CCP justifies its rule is that it knows best how to generate [that] development.  In that sense, law should not be used to constrain the State in its search for national rejuvenation, but to consolidate the progress that has been made on the road towards it. In the economic realm, that means law very often is the outcome of years of policy experimentation, while in the criminal realm, it means vast powers for the State to deal with those who would oppose it, where necessary.”

What is Rule of Law in China?

Thus, even for Xi, use of the Constitution is very top down and is not necessarily that divergent from the official concept of “rule of law.”  The Global Times, in its Chinese version of the editorial makes that clear.  To the Global Times, constitutionalism should be constructed as a neutral term, more in line with what the CCP has determined is the rule of law (“宪政本来是个中性词,与依法治国混用未尝不可”).  China-watcher Shannon Tiezzi, in the Diplomat, perfectly put her finger on what this rule of law is:  “the rule of the CCP through the law. The CCP still controls the legal system, but uses it as one of many available tools to enforce edicts from the center.”

Xi, even with his rhetoric of the Constitution, follows that Party line.  Hence his focus on the idea that the Constitution guarantees that no Party member can act outside of the confines of that document (think Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, both powerful party members that have been taken down by Xi).  But that enforcement still emanates from the center; there is no place for grassroots to help with Xi’s crackdown on government corruption.  Activists Xu Zhiyong (pronounced Sue Zher-young), Liu Ping (pronounced Leo Ping), Wei Zhongping (pronounced Way Jung-ping), and Li Shen (pronounced Lee Shen) know this first hand.  In attempt to fight corruption, all publicly demanded that government officials disclose their assets.  All four have been sentenced to prison terms from three to six years under Xi’s rule.

For Xi, the elements of the Constitution that call for individual rights are to be ignored, which fits with Creemer’s  contention of the purpose

Chinese Rights Activist Liu Ping

Activist Liu Ping in a photo before she was sentenced to six and a half years in prison

of the State in China.  In fact, Xi’s reign has witnessed one of the largest crackdowns on human rights activists since likely 1989.  As the non-profit Chinese Human Rights Defender‘s has noted, since March 2013 – just three months after Xi’s Constitution speech – in addition to the four mentioned above, over 70 rights activists, lawyers and citizens have been detained, arrested, imprisoned or just “disappeared.”  Their crimes? Usually the minor charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” or “provocation and causing a disturbance,”  charges distorted by public security forces beyond their original meaning.  The real issue?  These activists often call upon the government to protect their constitutional rights.

Rule of law in China “is about delivering economic outcomes and a certain ideal of virtuous behavior by agents of the State” Creemer  stated.  Nothing in Xi’s rhetorical use of the Constitution diverges from that concept.

U.S. Constitutional Convention

Does use of the Word Constitution Mean this Type of a Government?

But the Party is nervous about Xi’s continued use of the word, hence the Global Times editorial which criticizes the “liberals -自由派” (likely the rights activists who have been thrown in jail) who seek to “distort” this Party-mandated perception of the rule of law and putting others on guard to avoid such “traps.”  But can the idea of constitutionalism be raised without giving life to those provisions of the document Xi and the Party would rather ignore – freedom of speech, of association, of religion?  Is Xi’s conception of the Constitution – which would limit official corruption and provide for greater economic development – enough to satisfy the masses?  Or will the Chinese people continue to demand that the Chinese dream be a Western-style constitutional one?

 

Prof. Don Clarke on Rule of Law in China

By , August 11, 2014
China Law & Policy is upgrading!

China Law & Policy is upgrading!

For those who are regular readers of China Law & Policy, you likely have noticed that we haven’t posted a piece in two weeks.  That is due to the fact that China Law & Policy is doing some upgrades behind the scenes that is requiring a lot more of our time and will also require us to stop blogging for another week or so.  But soon things will be faster, better and brighter here at China Law & Policy providing for a better experience for our readers.

In the meantime, while the summer rolls on, more rights attorneys are being prosecuted in China, Zhou Yongkang is now officially in trouble, and there has been a serious step-up in foreign prosecutions in China on criminal and anit-trust issues.  A few weeks ago, George Washington law professor Don Clarke did any fun podcast on these as well as on rule of law in China generally with the boys over at Sinica.  So in the meantime, you can listen to it by clicking here to get to the Don Clarke Sinica webcast.

Hopefully we will be back to blogging on a regular basis by the end of next week!

 

An Uncomfortable Truth: Use of Criminal Law in China’s Economic Development

By , August 4, 2013
Food safety inspectors reviewing a restaurant in China

Food safety inspectors reviewing a restaurant in China

Over at the Council on Foreign Relation’s China blog, Prof. Margaret K. Lewis of Seton Hall’s School of Law has written an interesting and timely piece about the role that criminal law plays in advancing China’s economic “miracle.”

As Lewis notes, and following up on recent articles in the New York Times (see here, here and here), China’s civil legal system and its regulatory state largely failed in dealing with some of China’s new economic problems – namely food safety, financial markets and environmental degradation.

But as Lewis goes on to highlight, this failure of the civil and regulatory systems does not mean that the Chinese government has not tried to stem these problems.  In fact, as Lewis observes, it has, through the use of the criminal law.  Recently, the Chinese government has stepped up the threat of severe criminal sanctions, including the death penalty, in an attempt to try to police this situation.

Lewis’ blog post is based upon her new research regarding how, since Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 “Reform and Opening” policy, the Chinese government has used the criminal law to propel its economic development.  See Margaret K. Lewis, Criminal Law’s Contribution to China’s Economic Development (August 1, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2298923.

In fact, one of Deng’s first actions after assuming leadership was to publicly prosecute the Gang of Four, signaling the changing of the guard from

The Gang of Four

The Gang of Four

political extremism to a focus on economic growth.  From there, Lewis recounts the formation of many of the laws that would underpin Deng’s policy of economic growth, showing that the intention of many criminal laws was to find the “growth-enhancing sweet spot.”  It’s no wonder that today in China, economic criminal liability is much broader than in most other developed countries including the United States.

Lewis’ well-researched analysis makes a strong argument for her point: that you cannot analyze China’s economic growth without looking at how it has used the criminal law to assist in that growth.  But even still, it leaves you uncomfortable – there is something about the use of criminal law to propel growth that seems at odds with its purpose.  This Lewis notes is likely more the result of how the West has come to define patterns of economic growth.  To achieve a sustainable market economy, the government sets in place a regulatory state with certain ground rules and then lets the actors – usually companies and individuals – duke it out within the confines of an independent legal system.

But that is not what is going on here in China and it’s this bucking of the traditional historical trajectory of growth that forces scholars to look elsewhere for its explanation.  In China’s case, that elsewhere might be the criminal law.

Criminal Law’s Contribution to China’s Economic Development” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between law and economic growth in an authoritarian state.  But it also raises many questions – is this use of the criminal law sustainable?  Can China solve its regulatory failure problems through state-dominated use of the criminal law?  Lewis examines a few problems with its usage, especially in attempting to deter official corruption where the Chinese Communist Party is too hesitant to prosecute its own.  She also explores the use of economic criminal liability to suppress dissent that officials determine is too “destabilizing” to development.

RMBFrom Lewis’ review of recent criminal legislation, interpretations and call for greater criminal liability, it becomes obvious that she is right – the Chinese government is attempting to use criminal law to support its market reforms.  But in a country of 1.3 billion with a land mass close to the size of the United States, how sustainable is this approach?  That is a question that we hope Prof. Lewis answers in her next article.

Tom Friedman on China: End of Corruption in China or Just a Woman Scorned?

By , August 1, 2013

Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman

Every so often you read a news article so revealing…[and] say ‘…That story was the warning sign.”” So begins Tom Friedman’s unfortunate return to writing about China.

In Wednesday’s “Revenge of the Mistress,”  Friedman feebly attempts to argue that China has reached a turning point on official corruption and that turning point has been the online blitz of one “jilted mistress” of the deputy director at the State Administration of Archives.  For Friedman, this 26 year old woman, Ji Yingnan, and her online posts and photos of their lavish life together – a life she thought was forever until she found out that the man was married with a kid – are important in exposing the corruption that is prevalent in China.  For Friedman, she is the whistleblower that could change the course of China and potentially of the world. 

But Friedman’s article completely misses the mark and paints a picture of China that doesn’t really exist. 

First, a jilted mistress as a whistleblower?  Really?  Do you really think that the popularity of her blog posts is a result of an never-before-exposed seeping anger against official corruption?  Or is it more perhaps the lurid details of an affair that went wrong?  Are the excesses she exposes really that unknown to the Chinese public?

No.  The lavishness of government officials has been reported on by the domestic Chinese media for at least the past year.  What Ji “exposes” are facts that are already well known.  The Chinese public knows that graft and corruption is very much a part of their leadership’s lives.  China’s new President Xi Jinping has openly called for the end of corruption among government officials, implicitly admitting to the fact that corruption is wide-spread. 

While certain aspects of the leadership’s wealth – such as the wealth amassed by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s family and reported by David woman scornedBarboza in the N.Y. Times – have been kept a secret, the lavish spending and mistresses of some government officials has been reported.  And Ji’s post  in no way rises to the damning level of Barboza’s well-documented accumulation of wealth through government ties.  Unlike Barboza’s series of articles which were censored in China, Ji’s posts are still on the internet and she is even receiving media attention.  The reason: because she is not a threat to the ruling elite or necessarily their ways.  She is not a whistleblower; she is not a game-changer; she is a woman scorned. 

But the bigger fault of Friedman’s analysis is his complete ignorance of the fact that since May, the Chinese government has waged a crackdown on anti-corruption activists, petitioners and lawyers, detaining more than 30 individuals for their anti-corruption campaigns.  Most of these activists have been freed.  But most recently, the Chinese government has detained  well-known rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong who has called for greater government transparency and accountability of officials and their families’ assets. 

To ignore the work of these activists and the largely illegal crackdown on their activism (Xu was denied access to his lawyers in contravention of the Lawyers Law and the new Criminal Procedure Law) does a disservice to explaining what is really going on in China.  To claim that a “jilted mistress” is a civil society actor misinterprets what civil society is.   Likely Ji doesn’t have a “cause” other than herself.  The detained activists, their cause is to better Chinese society and have the government follow a rule of law.

Friedman naively calls on civil society actors to find allies within the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)  and convince them that cracking down on corruption is in their best interest.  As if these activists – sitting in their detention cells – hadn’t already thought of that.  While the CCP is not a monolith and there are some reformers within the government, it’s still not an open group of people.  It’s not like some reformer in the CCP is going to invite Xu Zhiyong out for a beer summit and get his take on things.  And what’s Xu suppose to do, write a letter about ending corruption?  In China, that’s what gets you detained.

Courtesy of China Human Rights Defenders, chrdnet.com

Courtesy of China Human Rights Defenders, chrdnet.com

Finally, Friedman’s article ends by focusing on how corruption in the Chinese government doesn’t just destabilize China, but given our intertwined relationship, the United States as well.  But this is too simplistic of an analysis.  Certainly what happens in China impacts the U.S.  But would ending corruption solve everything?  Would that change the fact that the Chinese government ties its currency to the U.S. dollar?  Would that result in better air quality standards in China?  Largely no. 

What would have a bigger impact would be a rule of law.  Corruption goes unchecked because there isn’t an independent prosecutor to check local government officials.   Air quality in China is horrible because environmental regulations are not enforced and the people have no independent courts in which to bring their case.  Corruption is merely a symptom of the underlying disregard for a rule of law. 

What’s Up with LGBT Rights in China?

By , November 15, 2012

Meg Davis, Executive Director of Asia Catalyst Introduces the Speakers
Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

Last week, the day after the United States elected its first openly gay Senator and more states extended the right to marry to gay couples, Asia Catalyst and Fordham Law School’s Leitner Center co-hosted a fascinating talk about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights in China entitled “China’s Comrades.”

Featuring two on the ground LGBT activists – Sam Zhao (co-founder of China’s only lesbian magazine) and Dan Zhou (a Shanghai lawyer who has taken on some hard-hitting LGBT rights cases) – and John Balzano, a law professor and China expert who provided a more macro view of the movement, the talk broke down some common assumptions about China and the development of individual rights.

Zhou started his talk stating that this discussion was a “queer event” – although talks about Chinese legal development are common, Zhou noted that rarely if ever do these talks discuss LGBT rights development.  But while true, what was perhaps most queer about the talk was learning of the Chinese government’s response to the LGBT rights movement.  Usually the narrative at many of these rights development talks are the same – an authoritarian government trampling over individual rights, fearful that its monopoly on power will be destroyed by such nascent rights movements.

But for LGBT rights, the story seems to be different.  Zhao made a joke about how in

Sam Zhao, speaking at “China’s Comrades”
Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

1996, a friend called her, excitedly telling her to return to Beijing because there was going to be a “big” lesbian party – eight lesbians were getting together.  Fast forward a little over a decade and in 2008, Zhao helped organize a two-day lesbian independent film festival where 600 lesbians attended.

What was interesting about Zhao’s story was the fact that the Chinese government even allowed the film festival, and not because it necessarily has an anti-gay bias.  Usually, when movements get too large, the Chinese government sees the movement – be it LGBT rights activists organizing a film festival, rural villagers decrying the taking of their lands, or factory workers protesting inhuman working conditions – as an alternative source of power and threat to its rule – events are broken up and email listserves are shut down.

But both Zhao and Zhou discussed the success they have had in creating an LGBT community throughout China, with much of this success a result of the internet.  Even Balzano noted that while it is true that when movements in China get too large, too overt or too public, the government seeks to crack down, the LGBT movement thus far has not faced the same kinds of pressure.

Audience listens during China’s Comrades
Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

Zhou did point out that the LGBT rights movement is not completely immune.  In 2012, some LGBT rights bloggers held a successful conference in a southern city that many activists attended.  When they tried to re-create the event in Beijing, the government put a stop to it.  But according to Zhao, when the activists asked the Beijing government if the reason was because the event was about LGBT rights, the government said no.  According to the authorities, the basis for denying the activists their conference was because it bordered upon a “mass incident” which the law forbids.

But not everything is rosy for LGBT individuals in China.  While Balzano remarked that there is no law in China that is overtly discriminatory toward the community, the law is still used at times to harass LGBT individuals.  Zhao confirmed this, noting the difficulty in obtaining the proper government approvals for her lesbian film festival because many officials equated lesbian film with pornography.

Zhou also commented that while there is no law that governs sexual relations in a

Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

private place, what is still up for debate, at least with some government officials and courts, is what is private.  There have been cases where a hotel room is considered public or a bedroom in an apartment that serves as a business office during the day.  Zhou also discussed the prosecution of one of his clients – a gay D.J. who was part of a party in a gay nightclub.  He was taken in for “lewd” behavior.

Finally, although only briefly touched upon in the talk but much more fully fleshed out in the readings that Asia Catalyst and the Leitner Center diligently selected (see “Resources” list below) is the societal pressure that all Chinese face but is more acute in the LGBT community – parental pressure for a heterosexual marriage and a grandchild.  All of the reading went into depth on this issue, noting that traditionally in China, homosexual conduct has been tolerated so long as that behavior is more “on the side” of a heterosexual marriage that produces children (in this regard, Balzano’s article made an important distinction between traditional acceptance of homosexual behavior and not necessarily homosexual identity).  This pressure and to some degree behavior is still very much present in the LGBT community in China (the Kam article interviewed a number of Shanghai lesbians to ascertain how they deal with the heterosexual marriage issue).

Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

Although China’s LGBT community is still in greater need of protection, especially since vague laws are arbitrarily used to harass some individuals, its movement appears to be on more solid footing than other rights groups.  By the end of the talk, Zhou’s initial remark – that it is queer that discussions of LGBT rights rarely happen – made one wonder, why isn’t Western China watchers especially those who focus on and seek to promote civil society development, examining China’s LGBT movement more.  The LGBT rights movement is an outlier in the normal course of civil society development in China.  What is it that allows it right now to be a bit more immune to traditional government pressure?  And is there anything other movements can learn from the LGBT rights movement?  China’s Comrades proved that more a deeper understanding of the LGBT movement are necessary.

Resources:

John C. Balzano, Toward a Gay-Friendly China?  Legal Implications of Transition for Gays and Lesbians, 16 Tul. J. L. & Sexuality (2007).

Lucetta Kam, Opening up Marriage: Married Lalas in Shanghai, in As Normal as Possible: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender in Mainland China and Hong Kong (Yau China ed., 2010; Hong Kong University Press).

Holning Lau, Grounding Conversations on Sexuality and Asian Law, 44 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 773 (2011).

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If you are interested in learning more about Asia Catalyst, its events or how you can support this on-the-ground organization, please visit its website here.  For its Fifth Anniversary Campaign, Asia Catalyst’s Board of Directors has generously offered to match all individual gifts donated in 2012 (up to $8,000).  All donations are tax deductible.

 

 

I Pledge Allegiance to the CCP….Chinese Lawyers’ New Oath Requirements

By , March 22, 2012

I Pledge Allegiance....

In its ongoing efforts to tie the Chinese legal profession as tight as possible to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the government agency that oversees the legal profession, announced its new initiative on Wednesday: every new lawyer in China must pledge allegiance to the CCP.

Lawyers’ oaths are not unique to China: almost every state in the United States requires newly-admitted attorneys to recite an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the state.  And this is not the first time that a lawyers’ oath has been required in China.  In 2000, the All China Lawyer’s Association (ACLA), the national bar association that all lawyers must be members of, first instituted an oath of office for all lawyers.  But in a Wednesday Legal Daily interview with an unnamed MOJ official, the MOJ determined that the ACLA oath was too general and ineffective.  As a result, the MOJ issued a new oath that must be sworn to in a formal ceremony (translation courtesy of Siweiluozi Blog):

I volunteer to become a practicing lawyer of the People’s Republic of China and promise to faithfully perform the sacred duties of a socialist-with-Chinese-characteristics legal worker (中国特色社会主义法律工作者); to be faithful to the motherland and the people; to uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system; to safeguard the dignity of the constitution and the law; to practice on behalf of the people; to be diligent, professional honest, and corruption-free; to protect the legitimate rights and interests of clients, the correct implementation of the law, and social fairness and justice; and diligently strive for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics!

Compare this with the New York State oath taken by newly-admitted lawyers:

I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the New York Constitution, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of attorney and counselor at law of the Supreme Court of the state of New York according to the best of my ability.”

There are aspects of the Chinese oath that are laudable: to be professionally honest, to be corruption-free, to serve the people, and to properly implement the law.  All of these requirements are ostensibly value-neutral and are good for the profession.  But what is decidedly different between the New York oath and the China one is that allegiance to the CCP is required.  According to the MOJ official, this was intentional.  One of the major reasons that the MOJ issued the new oath was to increase the quality of lawyers’ political thought as well as their professionalism.

That alone would not necessarily be problematic in a country where the Party is the State and let’s face it, people take oaths all the time and rarely listen to or abide by their words.  But this new oath comes in the midst of a major crackdown on China’s public interest lawyers and presumably will be used as a warning signal to this portion of the profession.

The CCP’s Increased Use of Socialist Rhetoric to Police Lawyers

Last fall, I published a law review article discussing the use of increased socialist rhetoric to step up the CCP’s control of China’s growing public

The Three Supremes

interest lawyers (China’s Rule of Law Mirage: The Regression of the Legal Profession Since the Adoption of the 2007 Lawyers Law).  The beefed-up socialist rhetoric began quietly with a speech given by President Hu Jintao at a Chinese Communist Party conference in December 2007.  In his speech, Hu announced the doctrine of “the Three Supremes:” “always regard as supreme the Party’s cause, the people’s interest, and the Constitution and laws.”

Although initially unclear if the Three Supremes were listed in hierarchical order and if the doctrine was even applicable to lawyers, Justice Minister Wu Aiying addressed the issue in August 2009.  Calling upon lawyers to “above all obey the Communist Party and help foster a harmonious society”(emphasis added),Wu stressed the need for lawyers to “pay attention to politics, take into consideration the big picture, and observe proper discipline.” Absent is any mention of “law” or the need to develop the institutions—such as an independent judiciary or a competent legal profession—integral to a rule of law society.

Further confirmation of this shift in rhetoric is found in the October 2008 MOJ pronouncement opening the new government-sponsored campaign of lawyers as “Chinese-style socialist legal professionals.”  In 2010, the MOJ went further with its rhetoric by directly stating the need for greater Party leadership of the legal profession.  In an interview with an unnamed MOJ official, the Legal Daily reported the forthcoming pronouncement of MOJ “Opinion Regarding the Further Strengthening and Improvement of Lawyers’ Work.” Like prior pronouncements, the 2010 MOJ Opinion contains flowery language detailing the need for lawyers to “always hold high the banner of socialism” and to “strengthen [their] political thought.”  But unlike previous statements, the 2010 MOJ Opinion candidly states the role that the Party will play in leading the legal profession.

Through the Party and the MOJ, the 2010 MOJ Opinion states the need for daily supervision and management of the profession, the need for standardization in how cases are handled, and the need to consider “political quality,” “professional quality,” and “ethical quality” in the yearly license renewal procedures

The CCP Re-institutes Party Cells

Party Cells in Law Firms....How Retro!

Finally, the CCP – as reported in a Legal Daily article – has successfully infiltrated most law firms, instituting Party cells in a throwback to the Cultural Revolution days when loyal party members set up “cells” within each work unit to guarantee the proper political ideology of the workers and to report any infractions in thought to the local Party.  While the 1980s saw a decline in Party cells, a 1995 Party Opinion called for the creation of more Party organizations within law firms.   In 2002, President Hu Jintao stressed that the legal profession could only become strong through Party leadership.  But in general, such efforts were met with strong resistance from the profession and law firms largely ignored the directives. However, all of that changed in 2008.

In March 2008, the CCP’s Organization Department and the MOJ’s corresponding Party organization issued a joint opinion announcing the need to improve and strengthen the Party apparatus in the legal profession. As if to indicate to the legal profession that this time the Party was serious about a greater Party presence in law firm life, Justice Minister Wu Aiying declared in July 2008 that more Party cells needed to be created within law firms as a way to better indoctrinate the profession.  This effort has largely succeeded.  Between April 2008 and April 2009, the number of Party cells found in law firms more than doubled.  Today, over 90 percent of all law firms in China maintain a Party cell.(all information can be found in the Legal Daily article).

The Oath Fits the Pattern of Greater CCP Control Over the Legal Profession

In 2007, China amended its Law on Lawyers, ostensibly to give greater independence to the profession.  As my article China’s Rule of Law Mirage points out, on paper, the amendments did in fact give the profession greater control and reduced the supervision of the MOJ.  However, as the article goes on to demonstrate, as public interest lawyers have had more success in their cases, the CCP has exerted greater control of the profession, undermining whatever promises of greater professional independence that is found in the 2007 Law on Lawyers.

Ironically, and as if to give the new oath requirement some sort of semblance of legality, the unnamed MOJ official in Wednesday’s Legal Daily interview attempts to argue that the new oath requirement is in-line with the edicts of the 2007’s amended Law on Lawyers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Compared to recent CCP pronouncements, the 2007 Law on Layers is largely devoid of Party allegiance.  Article 1 does require a commitment to a “building of a socialist legal system” but that is sort of like requiring U.S. lawyers to assist in building a democratic legal system.  Additionally, the new structure of law firms and the establishment of solo practitioners were both perceived as an effort of MOJ to relinquish some of its supervisory role in exchange for greater supervision by the bar associations (see China’s Rule of Law Mirage for a more detailed explanation of these provisions).

But MOJ’s new oath, which overrides ACLA’s oath, reflects its effort to maintain control of the profession.  And its requirement that lawyers pledge allegiance to the CCP is eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany where lawyers took a similar Party allegiance oath: “I swear to remain loyal to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, and to fulfill conscientiously the duties of a German attorney, so help me God” (See Matthew Lippman, Law, Lawyers, and Legality in the Third Reich: The Perversion of Principle and Professionalism, 11 Temp. Int’l & Comp. L.J. 199, 218 n. 185 (1997)).

Ultimately, the oath won’t impact the daily work of most of China’s lawyers.  In fact, it is only applicable to new lawyers or those who are re-applying for their licenses (首次取 得或者重新申请取得律师执业证书的人员); MOJ’s announcement makes no mention of its applicability to current lawyers at their yearly re-registration (年度注册); presumably current lawyers will not be subject to the oath.  But in a society where rhetoric has served as important signaling device as to what behavior is politically acceptable, the new oath could potentially have a chilling effect on current public interest lawyer’s work and could discourage new lawyers from representing individuals and issues that are perceived as politically dangerous.  It’s this chilling effect of the new oath that is the greatest threat to a rule of law in China.

Why So Secretive? US-China Legal Experts Dialogue

Who received the invitation to the Legal Experts Dialogue?

One would think that after a six-year hiatus, the resumption of the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue would receive a little more fanfare than a cursory four-sentence press release from the Department of State (“DOS”), issued on June 6, a mere two days before the big event.

For the past two years, almost every high-level discussion between the U.S. and China has raised the issue of the Legal Experts Dialogue (“LED”), with the goal of resuming the talks (last held in 2005).  When President Obama visited China in November 2009, the two countries’ Joint Statement directly stated that “[t]he United States and China decided to convene the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue at an early date.”  Ditto for the Joint Statement after President Hu’s visit to Washington, D.C. in January 2011.

It wasn’t until April 28, 2011, at the Human Rights Dialogue, that anyone provided somewhat more of a hard date.  At a press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner announced that the U.S. and China finally agreed to convene the LED in “June 2011.”  This vague date was reiterated a few weeks later in the statement issued at the conclusion of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue.

So why the lame press release about the LED?  It’s been a priority item in the U.S.’s negotiations with China.  One would think that finally being able to achieve the goal of actually having the LED and especially of hosting it in the midst of the Chinese government’s crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, would be a feather in DOS’s cap; something that they would want the world to know about.

Why remain mum on who these “experts” are and what they will be discussing?  Instead, DOS only states that there will be “government and non-government experts” who will “explore key legal issues of mutual interest.”  Could DOS be more vague?

There are occasions when the U.S. might achieve more by pressuring China behind the scenes.  In the case of Xu Zhiyong in 2009, it looks like that approached worked.  But the LED is a completely different beast – the existence of the Dialogue has long been made public and given that there will be non-government experts, it does not appear that there will be high-level discussions here on par with Hu-Obama talks.  It sounds like it is one group of lawyers talking to another.  Given some of the issues that have sprung up in the past few months, including the assault on public interest lawyers, China’s indigenous innovation policy, various WTO cases, and the criminal trials of U.S. citizens, it would be interesting to know what is on the agenda.

But in general, I do not hold out hope that the LED will produce any earth-shattering results, if it produces results at all.  While DOS has stated that there will be “in-depth discussions and practical cooperation on the rule of law” (yeah, I don’t know what that means either), it’s basically two days of meetings among strangers with translators in between.  How much can really be achieved?

And maybe that’s why the U.S. hasn’t given the LED the credit one would think it is due.  Maybe even DOS realizes that bringing over a delegation of Chinese lawyers and legal experts for a mere two days is likely a waste of taxpayer’s money.

I do think that more open dialogue between the U.S. and China is a good thing.  But there are better ways to increase the lines of communication between the legal communities in the two nations and assist China with improving upon its commitment to a rule of law.  Identifying and inviting reform-minded Chinese lawyers to the United States for a longer period of time – anywhere between three months to a year – is a better use of money.  Through that experience, a Chinese lawyer can see how our legal system functions, see the good and the bad, interact with U.S. lawyers, and determine which aspects if any should be replicated in China.

These types of sustained contact are what can best assist China with implementing a rule of law.  A two-day conference likely cannot.  But unfortunately, we won’t really know because nothing about the LED is publicly available.

Don Clarke & Li Tiantian: Two Takes on the Jasmine Revolution in China

China's Jasmine Revolution?

In February 2011, the Chinese government began a quick and widespread crackdown on Chinese rights-defending (“weiquan”) lawyers and activists, abducting many for days to months on end, some subject to torture while in government custody.  The general narrative that has emerged to explain this recent crackdown is the Chinese government’s fear that an Egypt-like democratic revolution could occur in China, overturning the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule.

Make no mistake these extrajudicial abductions are not permissible under Chinese criminal law and like other countries, there are laws in China that restrict the government.  Under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), a detention warrant issued by a public security organ must be presented when an individual is taken into custody (CPL Art. 64); either the family members or the employer of the detained individual must be informed of the reasons for the detention within 24 hours (CPL Art. 64); the first interrogation of the detained person must be conducted within the first 24 hours (CPL Art. 65); after the first interrogation, the detained person has the right to retain a lawyer and the lawyer has a right to meet with his or her client (CPL Art. 96 – note that this provision makes it legal for the first interrogation to be conducted without a lawyer present); and after 37 days in custody, the detained individual must either be arrested or released (CPL Art. 69).  Additionally, Article 238 of the Chinese Criminal Law criminalizes any unlawful detention or deprivation of personal liberty, imposing a harsher criminal sanction on state functionaries.

So the question remains, if the Chinese government just flouts these laws, why does it bother?

Rule of Law in China?

And what does this say about its progression toward a rule of law, a progression the Chinese government maintains is its goal?

Prof. Donald Clarke of George Washington University Law School came out with a rather thought-provoking essay last Thursday, seeking to answer some of these questions, and put China’s ‘rule of law’ development in some sort of perspective.  In “China’s Jasmine Crackdown and the Legal System,” Prof. Clarke dispenses with the conventional idea that China was ever on the path toward a rule of law.  Defining a rule of law as a system “where there are meaningful restraints on the powers of government” and that “those in power cannot do simply as they please,” Prof. Clarke maintains that the Chinese government never had the intention to be held accountable; its quest toward a “rule of law” for the past 30-odd years has just been about creating government efficiencies.  In 1978, to become a successful market economy, the Chinese leadership had to create some legal system since Mao had all but dispensed with law by the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  But while these developments in the economic-legal sphere might have the looks of a rule of law, scholars are wrong to think that it was ever the government’s intention to be held accountable under a true rule of law system.  Many of the Chinese government’s recent actions, including the crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, exemplify the leadership’s anti-commitment to a rule of law.

Rights-defending Lawyer Li Tiantian

There is something to be said for Prof. Clarke’s assessment and in many ways it is accurate: the leadership appears unwilling to allow anything it deems “political” to be handled by the legal system and this appears to explain its harsh assault the past few years on rights-defending lawyers.  It’s commitment to a “rule of law,” a commitment it repeatedly states in various US-China dialogues, seems specious if it does not allow a space for rights-defending lawyers.  But Prof. Clarke’s analysis is very top-down and doesn’t take into effect the rights-defending lawyers themselves.  And this is where the other fascinating essay from last Thursday comes into play, Li Tiantian’s blog post “I was Discharged from the Hospital” (translation courtesy of Siweiliozi’s Blog).  Li Tiantian is a Shanghai-based rights-defending lawyer, taken into custody on February 19, 2011 and held incommunicado for three months, finally released on May 24, 2011.  In a highly allegorical essay, Li Tiantian recounts her captivity:

It’s been a while since I’ve been in touch. First, let me tell you a story.

One day, a hornet worried unreasonably that a little bird would stir up its nest. (As it happened, some distant hornet nests had recently been stirred up.) The hornet grabbed the little bird and began stinging it frenziedly. Unable to bear the hornet’s stings and thinking there was no point to suffering this ordeal, the bird realized that no one would gain anything and that there was no way to change the hornet’s ways. So, the bird kneeled down to the hornet and kowtowed in order to extricate itself. The hornet, knowing that the force of justice was on the increase in the animal world, didn’t dare do anything rash to the bird and came up with a plan that would satisfy everyone. It agreed to release the little bird, but only if the bird promised: (1) not to speak of the past few months; (2) not to damage the hornet’s reputation; and (3) not to urge other animals to stir up the hornet’s nest. Finally the bird was free. (…read more here…)

Li Tiantian’s publication of this blog post soon after her release belies her commitment to any kind of silence concerning her unlawful detention.  The fact that her blog post was pulled – likely by the Chinese government – a few days later is not surprising.  But her brazenness is.  After three months in custody, unable to communicate to the outside world, and subject to heaven’s knows what, Li still feels the need to speak; still feels the need to give push back to the government.

Prof. Clarke presents a government that doesn’t want to give people like Li Tiantian any space; but Li Tiantian has no plans to give up that easily.  True that since many of the lawyers’ release, most have kept out of the spotlight, but will they continue to do so?  And how can the Chinese government expect them to?

Prof. Clarke is right to contend that the Chinese Communist Party is not interested in a “rule of law” if it means that it will contain the Party.  But after 30 years of constantly reiterating – both domestically and abroad – the idea of a rule of law, sending lawyers, judges, and academics abroad to study Western countries’ legal systems, and inviting various foreign legal NGOs to establish offices in China and work with Chinese layers, some belief in a rule of law must have permeated  society, especially for academics and rights-defending lawyers, the beneficiaries of much of China’s rule of law programs.

Prof. Clarke compares the Chinese government to a well organized army: sure there are lots of bureaucratic rules that must be followed, but those rules are not intended to be followed by the commander.  For Prof. Clarke, an army, with all the rules that help it function, is in no way a rule of law society.

But running a society is different from running an army; unquestionable allegiance to hierarchy is not naturally found in society like it is among foot soldiers in an army.  Ultimately, Prof. Clarke’s essay raises another question: while the Chinese government has little interest in rule of law, will these rights-defending lawyers succumb and just disappear?  Li Tiantian’s essay upon her release heavily implies that the answer is no and that among some in China, there is a true commitment to a greater rule of law, even if not found within the ruling party.

In Defense of Dylan in China: Come Writers and Critics Who Prophesize with Your Pen

By , April 10, 2011

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Bob Dylan performed in concert in Beijing on April 6 and Shanghai on April 8

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times – Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind – lambasts singer-songwriter/protest-singer/civil-rights-activist/voice-of-a-generation/whatever-he-is-to-you Bob Dylan for his recent concert in Beijing, China.  For Dowd, Dylan’s acceptance of the Chinese government’s approval of his set list is anathema to everything he represents.  Dropping his famous protest songs of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A’Changin’” from the set list during China’s most severe crackdown on its own citizens since 1989 and ignoring the recent detention of Chinese rights activists shows, for Dowd, that Dylan is nothing more than a sellout, willing to auction his morals to the highest bidder.

But Dowd’s virulent critique of Dylan makes one wonder, where has she been in all of this?  Dowd is an obvious Dylan fan, likely even a disciple, with her skilled use of Dylan quotes and understanding of the man’s extremely tangled and uncomfortable history with fame.  But China’s “harshest crackdown on artists, lawyers, writers and dissidents in a decade” and its “dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei” as Dowd notes, didn’t just start this weekend and didn’t just start with the detention of Ai Weiwei.

Since the middle of February, the Chinese government has been illegally abducting Chinese rights activists, preventing them from contacting their family let alone a lawyer, and subjecting them to torture and abuse.  This siege on rights activists in China is done as a pre-emptive strike on the nascent civil society that has been developing and is an attempt for the Chinese Communist Party to avoid the fate of Mubarak and Ben Ali and maintain its one-party authoritarian rule, especially as a change of leadership comes in 2012.

Tang Jitian was abducted from his home on February 16, 2011, starting what has proved to be a wide-cast net of illegal abductions and abuse (abuse of both China’s own laws and the individuals that remain in custody).  Since then, Dowd has written 13 columns, not a single one dealing with the issue of the Chinese government’s harsh and violent crackdown on its citizens.  Today’s column barely touches upon the issue and instead focuses on Dylan’s “selling out.”

Let’s face it, Dylan is unable to sell out because he never bought in in the first place.  Dylan never fully engaged the civil rights movement.  While his songs did become a motivating force for many of the great civil rights activists and moments in U.S. history, by 1965, he was done with folk and had plugged in.  And since the 1980s, Dylan has been on a non-stop tour, selling the rights of his iconic protest songs to commercial entities (the rights to Times They Are A Changin’ was first sold to accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand and in 1996 to the Bank of Montreal), appearing in a Victoria’s Secret ad, producing an abysmally bad Christmas album, and almost never including Blowin’ in the Wind and the Times They Are A’Changin’ in any set list anywhere in the world (review his set lists here: http://www.bobdylan.com/tour/calendar/2010).

Dylan’s lack of mentioning China’s recent crackdown on dissent isn’t shocking.  In fact, the old guy likely knows nothing of what is happening in China – why should we rely on him to be our voice and do all the work?  This isn’t his issue; in fact, the man likely has no issues other than himself.

Which brings us back to Maureen Dowd.  Unlike most of the people concerned about human rights abuses in China, Dowd has a powerful platform for her voice – her twice-a-week column in the N.Y. Times.  With a large and influential readership that likely reaches the halls of the White House and Congress, discussion of China’s recent abuse of its own citizens and its subversion of a rule of law in her column could influence important policy makers as well as the world-at-large.

To their credit, some of the world’s major newspapers have been reporting on China’s recent crackdown, but these articles have been cursory at best and do not fully explain why China’s recent assault goes above and beyond what traditionally occurs in an authoritarian regime.  But most individuals knowledgeable on the issue have had extreme difficulty in getting their voice out in the mainstream press (kudos though to The International Herald Tribune and the N.Y. Times for publishing opinion pieces in its print editions and kudos to  The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal for having opinion pieces on the issue in their online papers).

Dowd has the opportunity to expose what is happening in China and call for the freeing of, or at the very least the end of the abuse of, not just Ai Weiwei, but also rights-defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, Teng Biao, Liu Shihui, Tang Jingling, Li Tiantian, and Gao Zhisheng.  The whereabouts of these lawyers, unlawfully abducted by Chinese authorities (even under Chinese law), remain unknown.  Their only offense: asking the Chinese government to uphold its promise of a rule of law and using the legal system to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Dowd’s disappointment in Dylan’s snub of China’s crackdown on dissent leads me to believe that this is an issue Dowd is concerned about.  But instead of asking Dylan to be the spokesperson for the issue, Dowd should practice what she herself appears to preach.  My challenge to Dowd is to use her sharp-witted pen and find a way to raise the plights of China’s rights-defenders in the American consciousness instead of relegating it to two sentences in a column that is otherwise a critique of Dylan.  If Dowd doesn’t, then I am left to think “you could have done better but I don’t mind, you just kinda wasted my precious time….”

Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s Wife on His Abduction

By , March 28, 2011

Gao Zhisheng is perhaps the most well-known of China’s rights-defending lawyers.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gao began successfully representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers denied just compensation for their land.  In fact, in 2001, Gao was named by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of China’s most influential lawyers.  Spurred by his success and what appeared to be a Chinese government welcoming a stronger public interest law bar, Gao expanded his work to included practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious organization which the Chinese government has long feared as a threat to its one-party rule and has declared a cult.  Gao’s representation of Falun Gong practitioners did not just highlight the baseless accusations of “using superstitious sects [cults] to undermine the implementation of the law” (China’s Criminal Law, art. 300), but also the torture of Falun Gong practitioners while in police custody (for a seminal article on Gao’s work, see Eva Pils, Asking the Tiger for His Skin: Rights Activism in China, Fordham International Law Journal 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1563706).

Gao’s zealous advocacy of Falun Gong practitioners did not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, and his status as a lawyer to be celebrated for representing society’s most vulnerable, quickly changed.  Gao was now viewed as a piranha of the state. In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

Gao’s whereabouts, like recently abducted rights defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Teng Biao, and Jiang Tianyong, remain unknown.  In a plea for the world to pay attention to these random and lawless detentions, Gao’s wife, Geng He, who was able to flee to the United States with their two children in January 2009, published an op-ed in today’s New York Times.  Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article.  Geng begs that if her husband has been killed, that the Chinese government have the dignity to return his body so that his family can lay him to rest.

The Dissident’s Wife

By Geng He

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

San Francisco – WITH the world’s attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, repressive regimes elsewhere are taking the opportunity to tighten their grip on power. In China, human rights activists have been disappearing since a call went out last month for a Tunisian-style “Jasmine Revolution.” I know what their families are going through. Almost a year ago, the Chinese government seized my husband and since then, we have had no news of him. I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.

Click here for full article

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