Weather the Dark Storm, Persevere for Rule of Law in China — A 2019 New Year’s Message From the China Human Rights Lawyers Group

The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
Date: January 1, 2019            

2018, the year of Wuxu (戊戌), is slipping into history. Over the past 120 years, Wuxu has always been an eventful year. In 1898, four years after China had lost the First Sino-Japanese War, the Hundred Days’ Reform failed, and six of its chief advocates, among them Tan Sitong (谭嗣同), paid the price in blood at their public beheading. In 1958, another year of Wuxu, the Great Leap Forward and the people’s communes was to bring on the world’s greatest famine that would result in tens of millions of deaths.

Indeed, China in the year 2018 bears little resemblance to the China of 1958 and 1898. Four decades of economic reform have seen China’s GDP rise to second place among the world’s nations. At the same time, there are many deeper issues and structural challenges to face. The Sino-U.S. trade war, coming as an onslaught from without, represents the conflict of universal values in China’s troubled integration with international society. Internally, China has been plagued by serious and chronic social ills — forced demolition, widespread petitioning, “stability maintenance,” wrongful charges, and judicial corruption — at the heart of which lie the inescapable questions concerning rule of law, constitutional government, freedom, and democracy.

Though the circumstances differ, the three years of Wuxu in the last 120 years share one common trait: societal change. And the underlying change is one of transition, from the closed society and “rule by man” (人治, as opposed to rule of law) to an open society, governed by law, that respects the rights of its citizens.

The process of taming power with rights is a long and painful one. Indeed, China has yet to complete its “great shift unseen over the past 3,000 years” (三千年来未有之大变局) described by the late-Qing minister Li Hongzhang (李鸿章) in his desperate attempts to right the ship of state.

2018 saw the outbreak of the Changsheng vaccine scandal, which once again tested the deteriorating moral of Chinese society. We loathe unscrupulous corporations that sacrifice everything for profit, even at the cost of endangering public safety; we abhor even more the authorities, who take taxpayers’ money but fail to perform their duties. The vaccine scandal is the latest of many chilling reminders that we are still far, far away from efficient and uncorrupt administration; and that a comprehensive market economy governed by law has continued to elude us.

This year, we have witnessed a number of laws drafted or amended, including the Constitution, Supervision Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Police Law, Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs, Regulation on Religious Affairs, and the like. Put together, they evidence an alarming trend: the government continues to expand its power and suppressing individual rights.

This year, human rights lawyers have suffered another wave of crackdown following the 709 mass arrests of 2015. This time, the crackdown has been more deceptive and underhanded, making use of administrative channels to restrain practitioners of law.    [FULL  STORY]

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