China Mobilizes 100,000 Lawyers to Pledge Loyalty to Constitution, Socialism

Unprecedented nod to constitutional governance may hint at emerging political winds in Beijing
December 6, 2018 Updated: December 10, 2018

Chinese authorities directed almost 100,000 lawyers in more than 400 cities across the country on Dec. 3 to take part in an unprecedented mass vow of loyalty to the Chinese constitution on the following day.

Dec. 4 is China’s fifth Constitution Day, as mandated by legislative amendment in 2013, the year current Chinese leader Xi Jinping took office. While Xi has diverged from previous Chinese leaders by advocating for constitutional rule in his speeches, these themes have often been toned down when run by Chinese Communist Party-controlled state media.

As part of the day’s events, the lawyers were instructed to pledge that they would “be loyal to the Constitution, loyal to the motherland, and loyal to the people” while representing the “legitimate rights and interests of litigants” and working hard to “build a socialist country ruled by law,” Chinese state-run media reported.

On Nov. 28, the China Lawyers Association announced that it would issue a new rule requiring all lawyers to participate in an official oath ceremony every year.

It’s the first time that such a large activity has been organized to promote the Chinese constitution.

Chinese Justice Minister and Deputy Minister of Public Security Fu Zhenghua was present to see hundreds of lawyers make the vow in Hohhot, a city in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

There is much skepticism about the authenticity of the activities, since the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has the power to follow or ignore national law as it sees fit. Notably, not all Chinese lawyers were included in the celebrations; among those not invited to take part are high-profile human-rights lawyers.

Dai Peiqing, a rights lawyer in Shanghai, wasn’t invited to make the vow. He told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that “they didn’t invite us [rights lawyers to the ceremony]. We were marginalized.”

Qin Yongpei, a human-rights lawyer in Guangxi Province, told RFA that the move seems to be an effort by the Chinese regime to further extend its control over lawyers who may not practice the law according to the Party’s wishes.

“If you don’t make the vow, they won’t let you pass the annual lawyer’s inspection. The annual inspection will be held soon, and the vow is related to it,” Qin said. In China, lawyers must pass an annual inspection to maintain the right to practice.

Xi’s Constitutionalism

In a Constitution Day instruction, Xi Jinping, who is currently on a state visit to Portugal, asked Chinese legal professionals to strictly implement the constitution and strengthen its supervision.

According to state-run media, Xi described the Chinese constitution as the “fundamental legal guarantee for China’s reform and opening up and socialist modernization.” He also stressed the “key role” the document should play in the country’s governance under the “Party’s leadership.”

For decades, however, the Communist Party has ignored the rights and restrictions stipulated in the constitution. Millions of people have been violently persecuted in CCP political movements since it seized power in 1949. Today, political dissidents and religious believers continue to be repressed by the Party’s security, propaganda, and legal apparatus.

Many civil activists advocating constitutionalism have been arrested and persecuted, including Xu Zhiyong, founder of the “New Citizens Movement.”

Shen Liangqing, a retired Chinese prosecutor, told The Epoch Times: “All Chinese know that the constitution is only a decoration. If you really follow the constitution and exercise the rights it grants, you will be treated like a criminal.”

Xi’s high-profile advocacy of constitutionalism started near the beginning of his time in power, and comes at a time of crisis for the Chinese regime and Xi’s political power. Over the past year, aggressive U.S. trade policies have added to China’s already worrying economic slowdown.

At the same time, Xi has incurred resistance from within the Communist Party due to his wide-reaching anti-corruption campaign. CCP officials associated with Xi’s political enemies have consistently hampered Xi’s efforts at implementing stated economic and political reforms, They have even issued veiled criticisms of his leadership—otherwise taboo in China’s authoritarian system.

The Party finds itself at a crossroads as its political legitimacy and economic strength decline. Xi’s conspicuous gestures of support for normal features of government, such as constitutional rule, present a nuanced contrast to the CCP’s tradition of ruling above the law, and might be a roundabout means of preparing his administration for future crisis.

Leo Timm contributed to this report.

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