Can Citizens Vitalize China's Constitution?

Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol. 170, No. 4, May 2007

5 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2012 Last revised: 13 Nov 2012

Date Written: 2007


Over the past year, senior Chinese leaders have published speeches that were widely interpreted as signals that the Communist Party intends to tighten its grip on legal reform. Indeed, in the run-up to the 17th Party Congress scheduled for October 2007, the Party has targeted legal institutions with a “socialist rule of law” rectification campaign, a number of rights defense lawyers have been imprisoned, and controls over mass media appear to have grown stronger.These trends are cause for concern. But they may also lead to erroneous conclusions about China’s constitutional development. Behind this repressive façade, citizens and the government are engaged in struggles — in many cases over rights to material resources — in which both sides are relying on the law to secure public support. In the course of these struggles, citizens are shaping government action with legal and constitutional arguments and strengthening expectations that state action must have a legal and constitutional basis. Three recent citizen legal claims — two involving tax and compensation issues, and a third involving the well-known constitutional challenge to the Property-Rights Law — illustrate this dynamic. The subtle shifts these cases highlight are no assurance of future progress on constitutional enforcement. But they demonstrate ways in which citizen legal activism is advancing China’s constitutional development, and are worthy of attention.

Keywords: China, constitution, citizen activism, property rights, constitutional reform, compensation standards, judicial reform

Suggested Citation

Hand, Keith J., Can Citizens Vitalize China's Constitution? (2007). Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol. 170, No. 4, May 2007, Available at SSRN:

Keith J. Hand (Contact Author)

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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