The whole world has heard about the constitutional amendments made at the recent session of the National People's Congress (NPC). One of them enshrined Xi Jinping Thought for a New Era into the constitution, making it the sixth political thought-form listed there after Marxism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Thought, [Jiang Zemin's] Three Represents and the scientific outlook on development [of Hu Jintao].
Sadly, this is meaningless. In what way? It is legally meaningless.
The entire purpose of the constitution is to provide legal meaning. A constitutional amendment with no legal meaning is devoid of any meaning at all.
The original text of the constitution, before it was amended, read: "All Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief and freedom of expression."
This tells us that all forms of political thinking are protected in law; they are all legal, whether they have been entered into the constitution or not.
Here's an example which may clarify things:
If the only legal ideologies are those that have been entered into the constitution, then surely Xi Jinping Thought was illegal until such time as it was written into the constitution?
Of course not! Xi Jinping Thought was legal long before it was enshrined in the constitution. So, putting it in the constitution makes no difference at all to its legality.
Actually, putting the thought of Marx, Mao, Deng, the Three Represents and the scientific outlook on development into the constitution made no difference to their legality, either.
Civilized countries don't have thought criminals. As Mao Zedong, also a civilized person, once said and wrote: "Those who speak aren't criminals." Well, if those who speak aren't criminals, what about those who think?"
You might want to counter my argument by saying that "those who speak aren't criminals" is old hat, and that we're now in a New Era which is guided by six ruling principles: those of Marx, Mao, Deng, the Three Represents, the scientific outlook on development and Xi Jinping Thought; that contravening those principles is unconstitutional; and that's why the suppression of thought crimes is right and proper, and must now be on the national agenda.
I'll pretend that what you have just said is in keeping with all six of those ideologies. But I must ask this: is there an Ideology Law of the People's Republic of China? Do thought crimes fall under the category of criminal offenses or civil disputes? Who decides when such crimes have been committed: our scientific institutions or our courts? How long are the sentences? How big are the fines?
What's more, I know for sure that your argument is already guilty of contravening Marxist principles.
By the first article in the first chapter of The Complete Works of Marx and Engels, Marx has already clearly and unambiguously condemned the censorship of books and periodicals as being completely beyond the bounds of civilized behavior.
Therefore, if you think that because Marxism has been enshrined in the Chinese constitution, contravening it is a crime, it gives me great delight to announce that you yourself are the first ever thought criminal in the history of the People's Republic of China.
This isn't a joke. I'm serious.
Enshrining political ideologies into the constitution has no legal meaning at all, actually, nor does it refer to anything that is true.
And for a sense of what is true, we can only rely on what is factual, not on the personal decisions of judges. Trials must rely on criteria set by the law, not by ideology. If cases were tried and investigated according to the six ideologies, this would inevitably result in chaos and mayhem, and frequent fisticuffs.
Here are some well-known facts:
President Xi was only able to catch so many "tigers and flies" [corrupt officials] because President Jiang had bred them in countless numbers. So, did Xi contravene Jiang's ideology, or did Jiang contravene Xi's?
Mao once said that no good would come of suppressing student movements; yet Deng deployed hundreds of thousands of troops in a calculated massacre of unarmed students who were protesting about corruption.
Did Mao break the principles of Deng's thought, or did Deng break those of Mao Zedong Thought? Deng is certainly guilty of a crime, according to my knowledge, but not of a thought crime against Mao; he was guilty of a crime against humanity.
Deng Xiaoping once insisted on "hard reasoning," while Hu Jintao said reasoning shouldn't break away from scientific knowledge. Was Hu a thought criminal in terms of Deng, or was Deng a thought criminal according to Hu's thinking?
Marx wanted the proletariat to rise up; yet in Beijing, the [ruling] Communist Party secretary has been driving the low-income population out of the city with great vigor. Is Marx wrong by his standards, or is the party secretary a thought criminal in Marxist terms?
President Xi warned us against making "rash comments on party policy;" yet his father, the venerable and respected Xi Zhongxun, continued to struggle his whole life for legislation protecting the right to hold different opinions.
So, President Xi, is your father a thought criminal?
Marx stated on three occasions that he was not himself a Marxist.
What crime would he be charged with under the constitution of the People's Republic of China, the very person to whom our ruling party owes its existence, for disrespecting its legally endorsed ideology?
That's why I think these constitutional amendments are pure hot air and a lot of fuss about nothing.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is under continual surveillance and frequent house arrest at his home in Beijing.