Chinese Scholar Detained for Proposing Transition to Democracy

May 11, 2020 Updated: May 11, 2020

An outspoken Chinese constitutional scholar was detained overnight after he publicized a letter to the regime’s rubber-stamp legislature that criticized the one-party political system and proposed a transition toward a genuine democratic government.

Late on May 10, Zhang Xuezhong, 43, was taken from his Shanghai home by police, Chinese dissident Mo Zhixu said on his Facebook page. Officers arrived at Zhang’s house in three police cars and took him into custody, two of Zhang’s Shanghai-based friends told BBC Chinese.

But late on May 11, Wang Aizhong, another Chinese dissident, wrote on Twitter that Zhang had been released.

In his letter, Zhang blamed the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak on the regime’s arbitrary suppression and strict control over society, which he said had “almost completely destroyed the organizing and self-help capacity of the Chinese society.”

The letter was addressed to deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the CCP’s rubber-stamp legislature that will meet on May 22 in Beijing for its annual plenary session, which was previously scheduled to meet in March but had been delayed by the virus outbreak.

After it was posted on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform, on May 9, the letter quickly went viral and was widely circulated online.

“A Fake Constitution”

China’s current constitution is “a fake constitution,” Zhang wrote, because it is “just a manual used by the ruling party to organize and run its regime.”

“Because China has not built a modern political system in accordance with a genuine constitution, its social governance remains extremely backward,” he wrote, adding that “the outbreak and spread of the epidemic have been a good indication of the problem.”

According to Zhang, the lack of transparency and scrutiny, the silencing of whistleblowers, the incompetence of local governments, and the human rights disasters caused by the draconian quarantine measures have shown that “the last 70 years [of CCP rule] has been a complete failure not only in nation-building but also in social governance.”

Zhang urged the NPC deputies to transform the legislature into “a special body to initiate national political transition,” which formulates election rules and appoints an impartial election commission.

The NPC should order the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, end the ban on free media and political parties, and abolish the special status of the CCP, so that a “supreme transitional authority” can be elected through direct universal suffrage, the letter said.

The “supreme transitional authority” will then create a drafting committee for a new constitution, and the draft constitution will be put to a referendum, Zhang proposed.

Zhang also attached to the letter a draft constitution he wrote for the “United Chinese Republic,” which stipulates the nation’s leaders and parliamentarians should be chosen through democratic elections.

Quitting the CCP

Zhang is a renowned scholar of constitutional law and a human rights lawyer.

In 2011 and 2012, he wrote to Education Minister Yuan Guiren twice, urging him to remove courses about Marxism and Maoism from the compulsory curriculum for university students.

In 2012, after he announced on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform, that he had relinquished his CCP membership, his posting was soon deleted by censors.

In 2013, Zhang was fired from his teaching position at the East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai for teaching and writing articles about constitutionalism. That notion has been a rallying point for reformists in China seeking restraints on state power, while also been vociferously attacked by communist ideologues who see in it the destruction of the Communist Party’s “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

In April 2019, Shanghai authorities revoked his license to practice law.