As The Diplomat has been following, Beijing has kicked thousands of migrant workers out of their rental homes since mid-November under the city’s demolition campaign. The mass eviction has already ignited a national furor and attracted attention from the global media.
Recently, in mid-December, trying to defend the rule of law in China, eight top Chinese intellectuals demanded a constitutional review against the Beijing municipal government over this cruel campaign. They also published online their petition letter to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) — the highest legislative body in China. However, few people have been able to learn about these intellectuals’ endeavors so far, since their petition letter has been quickly deleted by China’s censors.
According to weiquanwang.org, one of the very few websites still able to display the full text of this petition letter, the eight signatories are Jiang Ping (87, a top Chinese legal scholar, former president of China University of Political Science and Law, and widely regarded as the conscience of China’s lawyers for his constant advocacy for rule of law in China), He Weifang (Professor of Law at Peking University and one of China’s leading academic advocates of legal reform), Sheng Hong (executive director of Beijing Tianze Economic Research Institute and Professor of Economic Research Center of Shandong University), Xu Zhangrun (Professor of Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law at Tsinghua University), Jiang Hao (director of Beijing Tianze Economic Research Institute’s Law and Public Governance Center), Mo Shaoping (lawyer), Ding Xikui (lawyer), and Qin Hui (Professor of History, Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tsinghua University).
In the petition, these intellectuals argued that the Beijing municipal government has infringed upon five constitutional rights of Chinese citizens, including (1) land rights, (2) the right to participate in the private or individual economy, (3) private property rights, (4) the inviolability of human dignity, and (5) housing rights. Thus, these scholars demanded the NPCSC establish a special committee so as to start a constitutional review against the city’s authorities.
A constitutional review, or constitutionality review or constitutional control, is the evaluation of the constitutionality of the laws. China’s Supreme Court does not have the power to review China’s Constitution; the NPCSC, controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, is supposed to be China’s constitutional interpretation body. However, in practice, there is no formal mechanism to activate constitutional enforcement, even though Chinese scholars have been calling for “constitutionalism” for years.
Thus, these intellectuals must know that the petition letter will highly likely lead nowhere, especially given the fact that the letter itself has already been completely wiped out in Chinese websites. Furthermore, their somewhat symbolic gesture will also likely bring potential retaliation from the government. For example, Mo Shaoping, one of the signatories, has already suffered frequent harassment from the government for taking on “politically sensitive” cases, including representing late dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Under the circumstances, it’s fair to say that these intellectuals do represent China’s conscience.