Recently, the news media has been overloaded with stories about
“income inequality,“ ”corporate greed,“ and the ongoing struggle between
the ”99%“ and the ”1%.”
Granted, these are probably issues that should be addressed, but one
feels compelled to say that there is no need to riot over these things especially when one compares the situation in the U.S. to other countries.
China is a good example. Some of the issues facing the workers in the
communist country make the complaints of the average OWS protester pale
For instance, Since 2003, house prices in China have tripled.
Not bad enough?
Well, consider some of these facts (via Business Insider):
- Around 140 million farmers have had their land forcibly seized by the government in the past 17 years
- 16,810 Chinese coal miners have died in accidents in the past five years
- There are nearly 500 million who live on less than $2 a day
How China Flouts Its Laws By CHEN GUANGCHENGSINCE I arrived in the United States on May 19, people have asked me,
“What do you want to do here?” I have come here to study temporarily,
not to seek political asylum. And while I pursue my studies, I hope that
the Chinese government and the Communist Party will conduct a thorough
investigation of the lawless punishment inflicted on me and my family
over the past seven years.
I asked for such an investigation while I was hospitalized in Beijing,
after I had left the refuge of the United States Embassy and American
officials negotiated my reunification with my family. High officials
from the Chinese government assured me that a thorough and public
investigation would take place and that they would inform me of the
results. I hope that this promise will be honored. But the government
has often failed to fulfill similar commitments. I urge the government
and people of the United States and other democratic countries to insist
that the Chinese government make timely progress in this matter.
The central government and the authorities in Shandong Province, Linyi
City and Yinan County have many questions to answer. Why, beginning in
2005, did they illegally confine my family and me to our house in
Dongshigu Village, cutting us off from all contact with other villagers
and the world? Why, in 2006, did they falsely accuse me of damaging
property and gathering a crowd to interfere with traffic and then, after
farcical trials that excluded my witnesses and defense counsel, send me
to prison for 51 months? On what legal basis, following my release from
prison in 2010, did they turn our home into another, equally harsh,
The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is
lawlessness. China does not lack laws, but the rule of law. As a result,
those who handled my case were able to openly flout the nation’s laws
in many ways for many years.
Although China’s criminal laws, like those of every country, are in need
of constant improvement, if faithfully implemented they could yet offer
its citizens significant protection against arbitrary detention, arrest
and prosecution. Countless legal officials, lawyers and law professors
have labored for decades to produce constitutional and legislative rules
intended to prevent a recurrence of the nightmarish anti-rightist
campaign and other “mass movements” of the 1950s and the later
abominations of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.
But those protections have been frequently ignored in practice, as they
were in my case and in the case of my nephew, Chen Kegui. After the
local police discovered my escape
from my village in April, a furious pack of thugs — not one in uniform,
bearing no search or arrest warrants and refusing to identify
themselves — scaled the wall of my brother Guangfu’s farmhouse in the dead of night, smashed through the doors and brutally assaulted my brother.
After detaining him, the gang returned twice more, severely beating my
sister-in-law and nephew with pickax handles. At that point, Kegui tried
to fend them off by seizing a kitchen knife and stabbing, but not
killing, three of the attackers.
Kegui, who is 32 years old, was then detained in Yinan County and,
absurdly, charged with attempted homicide. No one has been able to reach
him, and he has most likely been tortured even more severely than his
father was. Although China signed the United Nations convention against torture in 1988 and has enacted domestic laws to implement it, torture to extract confessions is still prevalent.
Moreover, none of the lawyers his family has sought to retain have been
allowed to work on the case. Instead, the authorities have announced
that Kegui will be forced to accept the assistance of
government-controlled legal-aid lawyers.
Although China has yet to enact any remedy similar to habeas corpus,
which allows people to challenge a detention before the courts, its
current justice system is based on the assumption that prosecutors have
the independence to correct the misconduct of the police and the
extralegal thugs they often employ. Judges, in turn, are supposed to
independently correct misconduct by prosecutors and the police when
cases reach the courts.
In real life, however, cases of any significance are controlled at every
level of the judicial system by a Communist Party political-legal
committee, rather than by legal officials. From the Yinan County Basic
Court to the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing, it is this committee
that directs the actions of the police, prosecutors and judges,
transforming these ostensibly independent actors into a single,
unchallengeable weapon. These political-legal committees have eroded
decades of progress in implementing the rule of law.
While my wife and I now have the opportunity to study the law and meet
freely with a broad range of American officials, law professors and
legal reformers, the independent defense lawyers who tried to help me
and now my nephew face daily danger and unfair treatment.
Any serious investigation of the injustices that we and hundreds of
thousands of others have suffered must determine who is beating,
kidnapping, disbarring and prosecuting these lawyers and threatening
their families, and why defendants are compelled to accept the nominal
legal assistance of government-employed lawyers instead of counsel of
China’s government must confront these crucial differences between the law on the books and the law in practice.
This issue of lawlessness may be the greatest challenge facing the new
leaders who will be installed this autumn by the 18th National Congress
of the Chinese Communist Party. Indeed, China’s political stability may
depend on its ability to develop the rule of law in a system where it
barely exists. China stands at a critical juncture. I hope its new
leaders will use this opportunity wisely. As an ancient Chinese proverb
says, “If one is not righteous oneself, how can one rectify others?”
Chen Guangcheng is a special student at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law. This essay was translated from the Chinese.
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