China: No Path to Democracy

Arbitrariness is the primary characteristic of the Chinese constitution
December 11, 2021 Updated: December 11, 2021

Commentary

The Chinese regime’s constitution is vague and arbitrarily enforced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), just as Xi Jinping prefers.

Is a constitution for a communist-run state an oxymoron? After all, what are the commonly understood characteristics, definition, and purpose of a constitution? Is a constitution a document that delineates the carefully crafted power-sharing in a given society and its government that is directly accountable to the “will of the people”—as is the case in most truly democratic countries? Or is a constitution merely a top-down series of regulations imposed by the Communist Party that represents the will of that party only without any accountability at all to the people—as it is in communist China? And what is the difference between swearing oaths of allegiance to either kind?

A few days ago, the state-run Chinese press bleated out an appalling propaganda article that focused on Xi’s sworn public oath to the regime’s constitution.

According to China Daily, “on March 17, 2018, inside the Great Hall of the People, President Xi Jinping placed his left hand upon a copy of the Constitution, raised his right fist, and began to recite: ‘I pledge my allegiance to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to safeguard the Constitution’s authority, fulfill my legal obligations ….’”

Gag me with a maggot! The Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other persecuted minorities and dissidents were undoubtedly super-impressed by the “paramount leader’s” loyalty pledge to a document that has directly led to the genocide of their own people. It also makes one wonder how many average Chinese support the CCP’s constitution—or even know that such document exists. Certainly not many people outside the CCP itself—for which the document provides special benefits.

While there are many different types of constitutions, there are several commonly held principles associated with constitutions that are generally accepted around the world, including three that are decidedly problematic for the CCP.

  • Constitutions address the rights of citizens. Article 33 of the Chinese constitution states: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China are equal before the law.” Two points can immediately be made. First, when the law is arbitrarily changed by the CCP, what does equality really mean? Second, what might Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai think about “equal before the law” in view of the CCP’s actions after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual harassment?
  • Constitutions are based on widespread public legitimacy. The PRC was not established through a peaceful and democratic political process, but rather by the rifles and bayonets of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1949. There has never been a free, open, and fair democratic election conducted in communist China since then. Polling is unreliable in China, as various incentives exist for people to report positively about the CCP, whether truthful or not. Why risk government persecution? No communist state in world history has been supported by the majority of its citizens; why should the Chinese be any different in that regard?
  • Constitutions meet the internationally recognized criteria for a democratic system in terms of representation and human rights. The PRC has been condemned for human rights violations from its inception: the brutality of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; the Tibetan genocide; the Uyghur genocide; ongoing religious suppression; the absence of free political speech. The list goes on.
Epoch Times Photo
This combination of file photos shows tennis player Peng Shuai of China (L) during her women’s singles first round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan. 16, 2017; and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (R) during a visit to Russia at the Saint Petersburg International Investment Forum in Saint Petersburg on June 18, 2015. (Paul Crock, Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP via Getty Images)

Deciphering China’s Constitution

The Chinese constitution is a model of vagueness and unspecificity. The English novelist and essayist George Orwell might even have considered the CCP guilty of plagiarizing “Animal Farm” or “1984” by incorporating some of his dystopian totalitarian concepts. Citizens’ rights are commingled with their obligations to the state. What is stated frequently means exactly the opposite. The state controls everything: property, the economy, education, natural resources, the public “means of production,” and even the very thoughts and expressions of the people themselves (in the interests of the state as arbitrarily defined by the CCP, that is).

Here are a just a few of what the CCP defines as “principles” and “rights” in their constitution:

Article 1: “The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state governed by a people’s democratic dictatorship that is led by the working class and based on an alliance of workers and peasants.”

The reality: The PRC is a communist dictatorship run by CCP apparatchiks—for the benefit of the 95.15 million Party members out of a population of 1.4 billion people, very few of whom are actually working class workers or peasants.

Article 2: “All power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people. … The people shall, in accordance with the provisions of law, manage state affairs, economic and cultural undertakings, and social affairs through various channels and in various ways.”

The reality: The power in the PRC belongs exclusively to the CCP under the law, and the average citizen has no way to influence CCP policy or decision-making via “various channels” whatsoever.

Article 3: “The state institutions of the People’s Republic of China shall practice the principle of democratic centralism.”

The reality: “Democratic centralism” is a Marxist euphemism used to provide a veneer of democracy to mask the raw exercise of power by the CCP in deciding and implementing policies at all levels of government. The phrase means toleration of “democratic discussions” at lower levels of government, but ultimately acquiescence in all matters to the decisions made by the central state.

Article 4: “All ethnic groups of the People’s Republic of China are equal. The state shall protect the lawful rights and interests of all ethnic minorities.”

The reality: The lawful rights and interests of ethnic minorities are what the CCP says they are, which can change arbitrarily, as the Tibetans, Uyghurs, and others have found out to their detriment over the years.

Article 5: “The People’s Republic of China shall practice law-based governance and build a socialist state under the rule of law. The state shall safeguard the unity and sanctity of the socialist legal system. … No organization or individual shall have any privilege beyond the Constitution or the law.”

The reality: The CCP writes, defines, and changes all laws without democratic input from the people. The socialist legal system is focused on maintaining the CCP’s tight control on political power while suppressing all dissension. “Privileges”—and basic rights—are only those that are granted by the PRC’s constitution and Chinese law. There are no basic human rights in China.

Article 15: “The state shall practice a socialist market economy.”

The reality: This statement is a contradiction in terms, as “socialism” and “capitalism” are entirely different economic systems with decidedly different motivating factors—CCP bureaucratic whim versus the invisible hand of the market.

Article 16: “State-owned enterprises shall, within the scope prescribed by law, have the right to operate autonomously.”

The reality: The CCP changes the laws or adds new provisions arbitrarily for purposes of “profit sharing” (which most people would define to as greed and corruption), tightened controls, social equity, etc. The new data security law is a good example of how new rules are manifested to control upstart “capitalist roaders” in big tech industries.

logo of Alibaba
The logo of Alibaba Group is seen at its office in Beijing, China, on Jan. 5, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Article 22: “The state shall develop art and literature, the press, radio and television broadcasting, publishing, libraries, museums and cultural centers, and other cultural undertakings that serve the people and socialism; and shall promote public cultural activities.”

The reality: There is no permitted free expression in any of the above activities beyond that allowed by the CCP. Period.

Article 25: “The state shall promote family planning to see that population growth is consistent with economic and social development plans.”

The reality: The result has been demographic disaster on a massive scale, thanks to a combination of the misguided one-child policy and the aggregate crushing of the human spirit brought about by decades of CCP suppression of average citizens in every aspect of Chinese life.

Article 28: “The state shall maintain public order, suppress treason and other criminal activities that jeopardize national security, punish criminal activities, including those that endanger public security or harm the socialist economy, and punish and reform criminals.”

The reality: All dissent is harshly crushed by the state whenever the state deems it necessary to preserve and maintain its power, with criminal activities defined as necessary for each situation at hand.

Article 33: “All citizens of the People’s Republic of China are equal before the law. The state shall respect and protect human rights.”

The reality: Equality before the law is meaningless when the CCP can arbitrarily change the law to suit its purposes. Refer to the Peng Shuai and ethnic minority genocide discussion above. Minorities, such as the Uyghurs, may be “equal before the law,” but are decidedly not equal after the law has been applied arbitrarily to them.

Article 35: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall enjoy freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, procession and demonstration.”

The reality: The CCP did a decent job in copying the U.S. First Amendment in shorthand form, but it doesn’t live up to the fine words—as the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre and Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, and supporters of the Dalai Lama will attest. The article neglected to include this key silent provision: “subject to the permissions granted by the CCP.”

Epoch Times Photo
Riot police detain a man as they clear protesters taking part in a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. (Dale De La Rey/AFP via Getty Images)

Article 36: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall enjoy freedom of religious belief.”

The reality: This is yet another example of a big lie. The CCP allows five main religions to practice in China according to tight CCP restrictions, as noted here. The notion that there is any religious freedom in the PRC is absurd.

Article 37: “The personal freedom of citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall not be violated. No citizen shall be arrested unless with the approval or by the decision of a people’s procuratorate or by the decision of a people’s court, and arrests must be made by a public security organ. Unlawful detention, or the unlawful deprivation or restriction of a citizen’s personal freedom by other means, is prohibited; the unlawful search of a citizen’s person is prohibited.”

The reality: Arbitrary arrest and confinement subject to the whims of the CCP is the real “rule of law” in the PRC. Millions of Chinese and ethnic and religious minorities—including Falun Gong adherents—can attest to this.

Article 40: “Freedom and confidentiality of correspondence of citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall be protected by law.”

The reality: All private correspondence of Chinese citizens is subject to monitoring by the state—at any time and for any reason.

The constitutional articles go on ad nauseam. If there was a constitution written for the totalitarian state described in Orwell’s “1984,” then this is it. No wonder Xi enthusiastically pledged his allegiance to it!

But that is not all. In that China Daily article cited above, Xi also stated these whoppers that are entirely consistent with the vague provisions and false meanings of the articles discussed above:

  1. “The CCP leads the people in formulating and enforcing the Constitution and the law.” In reality, only the CCP defines, changes, and enforces the Constitution and law—and only on its terms, not for the benefit of the people.
  2. “The Party itself must conduct activities within the boundaries of the Constitution.” Example needed, please! Besides, the boundaries of the Constitution are expanded whenever necessary by the CCP to justify its actions (and aggression).
  3. “No person, organization, or state organ can be placed above the Constitution or the law.” Then we should expect a public trial of former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli over a sexual assault allegation sometime soon.
  4. “Any breach of the Constitution and the law must be held accountable.” Is Xi hinting at applying the National Security Law to overseas Chinese?
  5. “China has increased constitutional compliance inspection.” This is real news! When and how has this been done? What does constitutional compliance—with the omnipresent “Chinese characteristics”—really mean?
  6. More/all Chinese “need to become loyal advocates, conscientious observers, and resolute defenders of socialist rule of law.” How much does the job pay because the average Chinese cannot be bothered to waste time on this proposition?

Conclusion

Millions of American public office holders, military personnel, and others have been swearing oaths of allegiance to “defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” for decades. Those oath keepers all know the purpose and meaning of their oaths, as the U.S. Constitution was democratically developed, and its provisions clearly defined by the Founders in the document itself, as well as in detailed contemporary sources such as “The Federalist Papers.”

On the other hand, those who would swear oaths of allegiance to the PRC’s constitution are in reality swearing allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, which arbitrarily controls the definitions in that constitution, as well as Chinese society itself.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Stu Cvrk
Stu Cvrk retired as a captain after serving 30 years in the U.S. Navy in a variety of active and reserve capacities, with considerable operational experience in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. Through education and experience as an oceanographer and systems analyst, Cvrk is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received a classical liberal education that serves as the key foundation for his political commentary.