Posted by: mulrickillion | February 8, 2012

Constitutionalizing Wukan: The Value of the Constitution Outside the Courtroom


Will the Constitution Give These Protestors a Voice in Political Reform?

By Keith Hand, China Brief, Vol. 12, Iss. 3, Feb 3, 2012 —

Starting last September, a protest in Wukan village made world headlines. After months of tension, thousands of villagers angry over the seizure of their land, inadequate compensation and the death of a villager in police custody expelled village officials and occupied the public square. Provincial party officials eventually diffused the collective dispute with a compromise settlement that authorities have taken some steps to implement (Wall Street Journal, February 3). Considerable debate has emerged regarding the significance of these events. Some Chinese commentators and officials have characterized the compromise as a turning point and a model for more conciliatory approaches to local governance and dispute resolution (South China Morning Post, January 5; People’s Net, December 22, 2011). Other commentators have expressed skepticism that the Wukan compromise will be honored or that it heralds a shift in social management policies (“The Grim Future of the Wukan Model for Managing Dissent,” China Brief, January 6).

Even if the skeptics are ultimately right about the immediate impacts of the incident, such critiques obscure Wukan’s potential to advance important grassroots constitutional awareness. Scholars recognize even unsuccessful dispute resolution outcomes may spark collective reflections that shape public understandings and reinforce emerging constitutional visions [1]. As prospects for formal legal processes to resolve constitutional disputes have dimmed, reform-minded Chinese citizens have turned to constitutional argument not primarily as a legal weapon, but as a tool to build public pressure for modest reforms and shape China’s political environment over the long term. Citizen reactions to Wukan provide an example of this dynamic and highlight the importance of property rights as a crucible of constitutional contention.

Citizens Use the PRC Constitution as a Political Tool

The PRC Constitution is sometimes characterized as an aspirational text rather than a legally enforceable charter. The National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC) are charged with supervising the enforcement of the Constitution. Although these organs have implemented some constitutional provisions through concrete legislation, they have fulfilled their other duties to enforce the Constitution only in limited respects. Chinese courts do not exercise the power to review the constitutionality of legislation and only occasionally reference the Constitution in their judgments. Chinese sources suggest the courts are prohibited from citing the Constitution as the legal basis for judgments (Center for People’s Congress and Foreign Legislature Study, May 26, 2011).

A series of events and leadership statements from 1999 to 2005 indicated the Party-State might be prepared to establish a more robust legal mechanism for adjudicating constitutional claims. Such an outcome never materialized (“NPCSC: The Vanguard of China’s Constitution?” China Brief, February 4, 2008). Party-State institutions instead took steps to eliminate the possibility of constitutional litigation in the courts (“The Death of Constitutional Litigation in China?” China Brief, April 2, 2009). Fearful of an avalanche of citizen claims, the NPCSC has avoided issuing formal public rulings on citizen proposals to review the constitutionality of lower-level legislation [2]. These developments, along with the sustained politicization of legal institutions and suppression of rights defense lawyers, have generated pessimism about prospects for constitutional law in China. . . .

The Jamestown Foundation: Constitutionalizing Wukan: The Value of the Constitution Outside the Courtroom


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: