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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Constitution helps man fight for home


Constitution helps man fight for home:

Mr Huang and wife clutching a copy of the constitution "At 63, Huang Zhenyun says the newly-passed amendment to the Constitution is the key to keeping his house from being torn down -- at least for a while. "

In the lead up to the March National Peoples Conference (NPC) there was much debate as to how "real" the planned amendments to the Chinese Constitution were. The two amendments concerned private ownership of property and a "Human Rights"

Some argued that they were not worth the paper they were written on, some suggested that the judiciary would fail to give full force to the law. Some "experts" wanted every i dotted and t crossed before they would consider it of being any use. Some people pointed to the constitutional guarantees that already existed, such as the guarantee as to freedom of religion, and used that as an example as to why amendments were nothing more than window dressing.

My argument at the time, through posts in the China Letter , was that these two amendments were of immense historical importance and would, over time, act as catalysts in bringing sweeping changes to China.

Yes, I agreed with all the commentators as to the enforceability or actionability of the laws and yes I agreed with them when they said that guarantees of religious freedom already in the Constitution had not been effective.

But I argued that the importance in these two amendments was not in their "actionability", the ability to obtain redress, the importance lay in the "expectations' that they would raise in the Chinese people.

I argued that it was not the actual exercising of a freedom that was important, we in the west have many constitutional freedoms we do not exercise to the full extent, but that "freedom" comes from believing that we could if we wanted to. It is a mindset thing. If you start thinking you have a freedom, no matter how unrealistic in reality it is, your whole mindset and outlook changes. You start to "expect" things to be a certain way, you expect things and people to behave in a certain way.

It is like a canary in a cage with the door open, it may never fly out but I bet it feels a hell of a lot happier thinking it can if it wanted to.

It is these expectations that will be the driving force behind a "new China" and the linked article is a perfect example of these "expectations" in action.

64 year old Mr Huang Zhenyun and his wife are battling the local authorities and land developers over the amount of compensation for the forced reclamation of their house and land, property that has been in the family for two generations.

It is unlikely that he will win or receive the compensation that he wishes. It is unlikely that he will be able to challenge any outcome with his battle with the authorities in any Supreme Court action under the Constitution, but here he is with his wife proudly relying on the constitution and it's "guarantees".

In what would have been a powerful and moving image Huang said he held up a copy of the document as he stood at the gate of his house as bulldozers arrived. The bulldozers went away.

The bulldozers will be back, Mr Huang will receive less than his claim but just think about it, think about what the "expectation" of a freedom has done in this instance. Think of the ramifications, the small seismic wavelets that go out from a small protest like this, think of the image of this man and his wife clutching a piece of paper with the red and gold seal of the People's Republic on it's cover to ward off a bulldozer, a piece of paper that they believe "guarantees" them a "freedom".

Think then, if you will, of 1.3 billion people clutching a piece of paper that they think "guarantees" them a freedom, then tell me these amendments were not worth the paper they were written on.

Linked Article Read Rating: Worthwhile