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China censors law textbook over ‘Western’ influences

China Traffic Police Gansu Province. (Beijing Patrol/Flickr)
February 06, 2019
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China’s ruling Communist Party’s censors have removed a textbook on constitutional law from bookshops in recent weeks, amid a nationwide crackdown on teaching materials relating to the country’s constitution.

The book, titled “Constitutional Law,” by Peking University (Beida) scholar Zhang Qianfan has been removed from bookshops following a nationwide order to universities to report back to their provincial governments on any teaching materials dealing with the topic.

The move comes as President Xi Jinping continues a political campaign against any ideas seen as having a “Western” origin, including democracy, human rights and the rule of law and constitutional government.

Constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan said the campaign stems from the fact that the country’s constitution has never been properly implemented, although it contains nominal protections for freedoms of speech and association, as well as the right not to be treated arbitrarily by the authorities.

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He said the review of constitutional law teaching materials and the removal of Zhang Qianfan’s book came after someone made a secret complaint to the authorities.

“This person, acting in anger, reported not just Zhang Qianfan, but the whole of legal studies and constitutional studies as being subject to Western influence,” Zhang Lifan said.

“Their report was approved, and the order came down to investigate,” he said, adding that the informer was a disgruntled scholar whose work was ignored by other academics.

He said the whole idea of constitutional government was indeed a Western import.

“The idea of a constitution came from the West,” he said. “There was no such thing in ancient China. But if you are going to use that to argue that China shouldn’t have a constitution, because these so-called Western ideas are bad for China, I think that’s rubbish.”

“Communism came from the West as well; the Communist Manifesto was written by a German, and the Internationale by a French person,” Zhang Lifan said. “The Chinese flag was designed by a Russian.”

Sensitive clauses

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Beijing rights lawyer Mo Shaoping said Zhang Qianfan’s book was an introduction to the basic principles of constitutional law.

“If these reports are accurate, then I would definitely be against such actions, because they’re not carried out in the broad light of day,” Mo said. “If somebody disagrees with [Zhang Qianfan’s] view, then they should write a paper to start a dialogue.”

“I don’t think that secretly reporting people is a normal way to behave; it’s not how an intellectual, a university professor should behave,” he said.

Canada-based lawyer Feng Zhiqiang said the Chinese constitution sounds good on paper, but the ruling Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like people mentioning it, because it is never implemented.

“Zhang Qianfan’s book has been taken off the shelves because of the current political climate in China,” Feng said. “Ever since the 19th Party Congress and the constitutional changes which followed [giving President Xi the right to rule indefinitely], certain clauses in the constitution have become very [politically] sensitive.”

“The Chinese Communist Party really wants to go back to the era of totalitarian dictatorship, and the constitution is being tossed aside, for all its high-sounding phrases,” Feng said.

“It never gets followed at all in practice.”

U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said the move is part of an overall tightening of control on the country’s academic life initiated by Xi.

“It shows that the Chinese Communist Party is tightening ideological controls,” Teng said. “It also indicates how frightened the authorities are of any kind of liberal thought or tendencies toward liberalism among the general population.”

The Chinese Ministry of Education has meanwhile ordered all institutes of higher education to make an inventory of any teaching materials used in the study of constitutional law at any level.

Repeated calls to the State Bureau of Educational Materials rang unanswered during office hours last week.

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