'Constitutional Politics Shouldn't be Fake'

A commentary by Bao Tong
2013-08-13
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Chinese migrant parents brandish copies of the constitution in an education office in Beijing, demanding that their children be allowed to take an exam, Nov. 29, 2012.
AFP

The current main theme tune of the [ruling Chinese Communist Party] Central Committee is the crusade against constitutionalism. The tune has been getting louder and louder since the beginning of the year. First, we had some hints that the Chinese dream isn't a constitutional dream, then it was clearly stated amid growing excitement that constitutional government stems from capitalism, not socialism. By August, we had got to the point of denunciation, when Xinhua news agency published a piece saying that Western constitutionalism is causing unrest in China, and that China could fare worse than the Soviet Union in the event of an upheaval. That, in short, this is a serious matter of life and death.

Back in the day, when [the revolutionary model opera] "Hai Rui is Dismissed From Office" was just getting started, the highest authorities had [Gang of Four member] Yao Wenyuan pen an article which was to be published in the three main Party Central Committee mouthpieces. But after it came out in Shanghai, Beijing and the central government didn't follow up, causing fury in the highest echelons of leadership. Ever since then, all articles commissioned by the leadership appear simultaneously in all three mouthpieces, just to avoid misunderstandings.

The article signed "Wang Xiaoshi" was published simultaneously in all four mouthpieces and websites of the Party Central Committee, taking us all by storm. No wonder people believe it to be the work of "certain important comrades in the Central Committee." This must make all those elderly folk who lived through the Cultural Revolution believe it, whether they want to or not.

People have asked me whether General Secretary Xi [Jinping] is telling [propaganda minister] Liu Yunshan what to do, or whether Liu Yunshan has hijacked General Secretary Xi. I'm sorry, but ordinary folk can't answer such tough questions. I may have spent a long time in prison for counterrevolutionary crimes, but I'm not qualified to solve this mystery.

The person who is both qualified and is responsible for asking this question is General Secretary Xi himself. I think there can only be two possible answers to this. If he is sure that these are conclusions he recently reached by himself, then this is honorable. If he is still defending the correct position he held before assuming office as president, then this will be a source of joy to the nation and to the international community. Whichever it turns out to be, either will be better than this awful agnosticism, in which nothing is clear.

Personally, I fully support the assumption of Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, published at the beginning his tenure on various political platforms, that "the life and authority of the Constitution lie in its implementation." Constitutional government is the right prescription for all of China's social ills, which its greatest physicians understand very well.

Unchecked power

China is currently in the midst of a great variety of uncertainties, whether political or economic, ethnic or geographical, physical or spiritual, the ultimate roots of which can be unambiguously traced back to unchecked state power. For example, the explosion that went off at [Beijing's] Capital Airport in July, as well as other incidents drenched with anger and injustice, seems at first glance to be an abnormal reaction by an individual, but was also the inevitable result of the lawless exercise of state power.

From this we can see that China has already rejected peace and prosperity. If we want long-term peace and stability, we must put this lawless exercise of public power behind bars. Its cage must be genuine, publicly accepted and visible. It should be universal, just, effective and transparent. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China is the only ready-made cage we have to curb the exercise of state power. Any imperfections in the Constitution should be sorted out as part of the process of constitutional government.

It's not worth debating whether constitutional politics are essentially socialist or essentially capitalist. Mao Zedong's socialism was a fake sort of socialism, and constitutional politics shouldn't be fake. Deng Xiaoping's socialism "couldn't be clearly described," but constitutional government should be capable of clear description. It should be a top priority for China to implement a genuinely constitutional government which can be clearly explained.

The denunciations of constitutional government have nothing to do with improving our existing constitution, nor do they seek to cage the exercise of government power. Rather, they are designed to put powerless citizens inside the cage. This is perverse, and will be the downfall of our leaders and of the orchestrator of the main theme tune.

All I want to say is that the presence or absence of constitutional government will not only decide whether the Constitution itself lives or dies, but also whether the republic and its citizens live or die.

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.