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Dissidents in China want political reforms to accompany economic boom
Dissidents in China want political reforms to accompany economic boomImage: AP

Calls for Constitutional Change in China

DW Staff (act) 16/02/09
February 16, 2009

In China, despite censorship and intimidation, intellectuals are making louder calls for political reforms -- often in the form of open letters to the government. Recently, the well-known author and editor Ling Cangzhou made an appeal for the end of one-party rule.


Ling Cangzhou’s open letter is six pages long and his main demand is constitutional reform. Apart from the end of one-party rule, Ling wants more protection for civil rights.

In his letter, he compares China to the former communist states of Eastern Europe, arguing that there is less potential for development in China because the economic boom is not accompanied by political reform.

“China has an uncertain future ahead,” Ling told Deutsche Welle. “Even the state media admit that social unrest is a huge problem. We have simply concentrated too much on economic development and have neglected political reform.”

Close analysis of constitutional texts

Ling has closely analysed the texts of China’s constitutions over the past 100 years. He concludes in the letter that China has taken several false turns on the path to democratisation. Although the 1946 constitution included the direct election of county heads, this was not part of the 1954 constitution of the People’s Republic.

Ling is especially critical of the fact that the rights, which the constitution supposedly guarantees -- such as freedom of opinion and of the press -- are not respected in reality.

Generally, however, he thinks his appeal is mild: ““I am not a representative of the people but somebody should finally voice the wishes of the people so that there can be a public debate. If a consensus is reached then there is always the hope it could end up being part of the legal agenda.”

Charter 08 calls for political reform fall on deaf ears

Last December, Ling was one of the first signatories of “Charter 08” -- a manifesto signed by over 300 intellectuals, lawyers and rights activists calling for reforms such as the division of powers, the direct election of MPs and an independent judiciary.

Beijing’s reaction was harsh and one of the main initiators, Liu Xiaobo, was arrested.

This attitude was recently reinforced by Politburo member, Jia Qinglin, who said in a party newspaper report that China should not be misled by Western ideas such as multi-party systems and the division of powers.

West provides models for constitutional reform

But Ling disagrees: “Many developed countries can serve as models for constitutional reform. The US constitution, for example, or the German Basic Law etc. In China, there is a saying: ‘One can cross a river by stepping over stones. But if there is already a solid bridge then why should one get one’s feet wet at all?”

Last week, Chinese officials defended China’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, saying that there had been great achievements over the past 30 years in housing, education and provision of food.

The signatories of Charter 08 and other dissidents, however, argue that political reforms are equally urgent.

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