Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, March 08, 2004

Draft amendment to constitution submitted to NPC session

The draft amendment to China's Constitution was submitted to the on-going national legislature's annual session for deliberation Monday afternoon, which includes expressions on protection of private property and human rights.


The draft amendment to China's Constitution was submitted to the on-going national legislature's annual session for deliberation Monday afternoon, which includes expressions on protection of private property and human rights.

Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), makes a report on the draft amendment to nearly 3,000 legislators attending the second session of the lawmaking body in the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.

Other major points of the draft amendment include establishment of the guiding role of the "Three Represents" important thought in national political and social life, expressions of coordinated development of material civilization and political and cultural progress, incorporation of the term "builders of the socialist cause," and improvement of the land requisition system.

Also included are expressions on further clarification of the state policy toward non-public sectors, improvement of the social security system and the NPC's composition, stipulation on the state of emergency and on presidency, revision of the terms of government at township level, and stipulation on the national anthem.

The term of private property protection, proposed by the ruling Communist Party of China, puts private assets of Chinese citizens on an equal footing with public property, and are "not to be encroached upon."

Legal private property
The draft amendment suggests "legal private property is not to be encroached upon" and adds "the state should give compensation" to the current stipulation that "the state has the right to expropriate urban and rural land."

"It is a substantive breakthrough in the history of the People's Republic of China and that reminds me of the past old days when we were proud of being penniless and devoting all possessions to the country," said Xia Bing, a lawyer who serves a Shanghai-based private law house.

In the first 30 years after New China was founded in 1949, the predominant agricultural country had been engaged in a continuous campaign to turn its war-shattered economy into what the top leaders hoped to be superior to the world powers.

The drive was frequently pestered by uncertainties such as natural disasters and political movements such as the devastating "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976). The people worked hard in cropland and factories year in year out, and their struggle did not bring in a fairly comfortable life featured by well furnished private houses and cars.

"Being poor meant being revolutionary and clean in heart, and it was a shame to rake profits and dream of a luxurious life at that time," recalls 60-year-old Zhang Yuying, a factory retiree inthe northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

"Khaki clothes, very often with a patch on the shoulder or knee or both, might be the most precious private belongings of most ordinary families," he says.

Tremendous improvements in the people's daily life did not take place until the Chinese economy began to take off fueled by the reform and open-up policy adopted in the late 1970s. In 2003, China's per-capita GDP reached 1,000 US dollars, which is internationally accepted as a mark of a medium-developed country. Major cities such as Shanghai even reported a much bigger figure of more than 5,000 US dollars.

With swelling wallets, an increasing number of Chinese citizens have purchased or are planning to buy houses and cars, both regarded as necessities of a modern life.

Concurrent with the economic boom is a change in the people's thinking, from the concept that "It's shame to be rich" to a brand-new motto that "It's a pride to get rich through hard work in a lawful way."

To usher in a nationwide endeavor to "build a well-off society in an all-round way," the Chinese government has taken a more scientific and realistic approach to handling ideological issues, boosting economic development and constructing a full-fledged legal framework.

"Stipulations that hamper China's reform and development should be changed or completed but amendments are focused on the most essential ones to maintain the stability of the Constitution," said senior lawmaker Yang Jingyu.

The draft constitutional amendment submitted by NPC Standing Committee to the NPC session Monday has drawn wide attention since the proposal was put forward by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) last year.

It will be the first time in the history of New China that lawfully-obtained capital goods and invisible capital such as intellectual property rights are put under the protection of the Constitution, as is the same case with living materials and properties such as estate and bank deposits.

The draft amendment, already a cynosure itself, has brought under the spotlight the country's newly-rich private entrepreneurs, who have accumulated wealth and dotted the nation's skyline with robust economic growth.

By the end of November 2003, the number of China's private enterprises hit 2.97 million with registered capital exceeding 334.7 billion yuan (40.5 billion US dollars). The non-public sectors now contribute to half of China's national economic growth.

"The practice of encouraging the private sector of the economy but avoiding reference to its existence in the law no longer sits well with the rising private sector," said Lian Xisheng, a renowned law scholar with China University of Politics and Law.

The draft amendment suggests "encouraging, supporting and guiding the private economy." Sixteen years ago, the amendments to the current constitution, formulated in 1982, stipulated that the state permits the private economy to exist and grow within the limits prescribed by law as a "complement" to the public economy. In 1993, the term "socialist market economy" was added. Six years later, the role of the private sector was upgraded to make it an "essential part" of the socialist market economy.

The CPC Central Committee has been pushing forward China's economic restructuring in a steady and irreversible manner, and property right is one of the essential issues of the reform, economists say.

The draft amendment also incorporates into the Constitution the important thought of Three Represents, which emphasizes that the CPC must represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people.

"Constitutional protection on legally accumulated wealth will spur investment and consumption, and further promote development of the national economy," said NPC deputy Wu Zixiang, an entrepreneur from the southern coastal province of Guangdong.

Chinese lawmakers will discuss the amendment draft in the coming days and voted on its fate on March 14, a day to be recorded in the Chinese history no matter the draft is approved or not.

Human rights to be protected
"The State respects and protects human rights," says the new expression to be added to Article 33 of Chapter two of the existing Constitution, which has undergone three overhauls since its promulgation in 1982.

"It's a consistent principle adopted by the Party and the State to respect and protect human rights. To write this principle into the Constitution will further provide a legal guarantee for its implementation," said Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, while explaining the draft amendment to a full meeting of the lawmakers.

The approval of the Constitutional amendments requires a two-third overwhelming majority of the nearly 3,000 deputies to the NPC, currently in the middle of a 10-day annual full session here.

The inclusion of human rights protection in the Constitution is also "conducive to the development of China's socialist human rights undertakings, as well as exchanges and cooperation with the international community in the human rights field," said Wang in his explanation.

Actually, the 15th and 16th National Congresses of the Communist Party of China (CPC), convened in 1997 and 2002 respectively, have explicitly stated the Party's commitment to respecting and safeguarding human rights, Wang noted.

The current Constitutional amendments were proposed by the CPC Central Committee last October and adopted by the NPC Standing Committee in December.

"The proposal to write human rights protection into the Constitution itself is an unusual event which marks a significant progress for China," commented Zhu Guanglei, a law professor with the Tianjin-based Nankai University.

"Just 20 years ago, human rights was still regarded as a so-called 'capitalist notion' in China, but now it's going to have a place in the country's fundamental law. This development shows what a great leap forward China has achieved in human rights protection over the past two decades," said Zhu.

However, as a developing country which has to feed more than one fifth of the global population with only 7 percent of the world's farmland, China has its own understanding of human rights which differs from that of western developed countries.

For the Chinese people in the current development stage, rights to subsistence and development are the fundamental and therefore most important human rights to pursue, the Chinese government has repeatedly said.

At a press conference held on the sidelines of the ongoing NPC session Saturday afternoon, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing cited the sharp increase in the Chinese people's life expectancy to 71 years in 2003 from a mere 35 years in 1949 as indisputable evidence for the country's human rights progress.

"The conception that China is weak in terms of human rights is a big mistake," said the minister.

In the 12 years between 1990 and 2001, the United States had for 10 times instigated or tabled draft resolutions in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in an attempt to censure China on its human rights records, but had ended in failure every time.

Revisions of China's Constitution
China's current Constitution was adopted in 1982 on the basis of the basic principle of the Constitution passed in 1954. This is the fourth amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1982. The previous three amendments were made in 1988, 1993 and 1999, respectively.

The Constitution stipulates that the basic task for the nation is to concentrate its effort on socialist modernization drive, strive to improve socialist material and cultural progress, and turn China into a socialist country with high-degree democracy.

It stipulates that China takes the four cardinal principles -- socialist road, people's democratic dictatorship, leadership of the Communist Party of China, and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought -- as guidelines.

On developing socialist democracy, the Constitution stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law, no organization nor person has the privilege of overstepping the bounds of the law.

The Constitution also stipulates that state leaders must serve no more than two consecutive terms (10 years), and this actually abolishes the de facto life-long term of leading officials.

In line with changing situation, the Constitution was revised three times in 1988, 1993 and 1999, respectively, since 1982. The following are the major points of the changes:

-- 1988: private economy and new land-use system

The First Session of the Seventh National People's Congress (NPC) in 1988 approved amendments to Article 11 of Constitution: "The state permits private economy to exist and grow within the limits prescribed by law" and non-public economy is "a complement to the socialist public economy."

The amendments lift the ban on the lease of land-use right.

The revisions establish the legal status of private economy and the country's new land-use right system.

-- 1993: market economy, household contracted responsibility system

The First Session of the Eighth NPC made nine amendments to theConstitution in 1993, incorporated into the Constitution the termsof the primary stage of socialism, building socialism with Chinesecharacteristics and adhering to reform and opening up; replaced "planned economy" with "socialist market economy", "state-run economy and state-run enterprises" with "state economy and state-owned enterprises", "rural people's commune" with "household contracted responsibility system with remuneration linked to output".

The amendments provided a guarantee for the development of the market economy in China.

-- 1999: Deng Xiaoping Theory, non-public economy

The Second Session of the Ninth NPC in 1999 made six amendmentsto the Constitution, enshrining the guiding role of Deng Xiaoping Theory, establishing rule of law as a national policy, further highlighting the role of the private sector, and replacing "counter-revolutionary activities" with "criminal activities jeopardizing state security".

By People's Daily Online

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