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Chinese Scholars Test the New Leadership's Will to Political Reform

More than 70 Chinese scholars and legal experts co-signed a petition urging the new Chinese Communist Party leaders to reform according to the existing Chinese Constitution. Many believe that the moderate reform gesture is to test the CCP new leadership's will to political reform.

The petition, titled An Initiative on Reform Consensus (《改革共识倡议书》), was released on December 25, 2012 by prominent legal expert, Zhang Qianfan, who drafted the document, via his micro-blog at Sina. However, it was deleted after retweeting more than 2000 times. Proposals presented in the petition [zh] include:

Petition for reform according to the Constitution

The Constitution of the People Republic of China. Public Domain Image.

1. rule according to the constitution that provides a framework for the separation of the power between party legislators and party leaders, intra-party democracy, balance of power and transparency.
2. bottom up democratic election for people's representatives
3. protect freedom of expression, press, assembly and demonstration.
4. deepen market reform, establish a fair wealth redistribution mechanism and prevent forced land acquisition.
5. judiciary independence and rule of law and prevent party committee members from intervening in the judicial process.

Testing the new leadership's reform attitude

In Sina Weibo, the biggest but most heavily censored micro-blogging platform, the majority of the responses to the petition are quite positive [zh]:

左志坚:看了那份改革共识倡议书,内容非常平和,也有可操作性,当然内容也并不新颖。但这个东西最大的价值不是内容,而是签名和公开呼吁这一行动。从这个角度,我认为这些公知的努力是有价值的。价值的大小与公众的呼应成正比。

左志坚: Upon reading the petition on reform consensus, I find the content very moderate and it is operational. Of course it is not innovative. The value of it is not in its content, but in the collective action of making a public call. From such perspective, the public intellectuals’ initiative is valuable. The public support will give it more value.

黎勇02: 这是一份非常温和、理性的改良建议,可就是这份倡议书,别说被高层接受,连在网络上发出来都被一删再删。改良派终有一天也会失去耐性,对改良完全失望。

黎勇02: This is a very moderate, rational and reformative recommendation document. But the censorship machine keeps deleting it, it is very unlikely that the high level leaders will accept the suggestions. The moderate reformers may lose their patience one day and give up the approach of reform from within.

武汉茶山刘:这…这…这…这是微薄上书么?这篇文章值得一读,多了理性,少了激进,很好!江平老先生都出动了,我觉得要是把姜明安教授也拉上就更好了,懂?

武汉茶山刘:This is petition [to the emperor] via Weibo? The article is worth reading. More rational, less radical. Good. Even old scholar like Jiang Ping [the former principal of Chinese University of Political Science and Law] has signed the petition. Should get [Beijing University] Law Professor Jiang Mingan involved, know what I mean?

物必先腐而后虫生2012: 内容很好很理性,俺朝大人听得进?中山上书李鸿章,后被逼疯去买枪!!!!

物必先腐而后虫生2012: The content is very rational. Wonder if the officials of the current dynasty will listen. Sun Yat-sen [Father of the Republic of China] once wrote a petition to Li Hongzhang [top official in Qing Dynasty], he got crazy [his proposal was rejected] and decided to buy guns instead [lead the Chinese Revolution].

Bow to one party dictatorship?

On Twitter, a blocked social media platform where dissent voices prevail, many believe that the petition is too mild. A number of the 72 initiators have also co-signed the Charter 08 drafted by Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo that calls for constitutional reform to end the one-party dictatorship. Many Chinese dissidents are not happy about their positional change:

Beijing intellectual Su Yutong [zh] recalled an incident back in 2008:

2008年秋,贺卫方在三味书屋演讲,过道都是粉丝和拥趸者,台上神采飞扬,台下喝彩声一片。刘晓波在快结束时出现,与贺会合。王仲夏后来说这可能是商量《零八宪章》联署一事。四年多过去,刘晓波失去自由也四年多了,贺师从站姿到跪姿,成为“改革共识倡议书”主要联名人之一,狱中刘晓波情何以堪。

In 2008 autumn time, He Weifang had a talk at San Wei Bookstore. Many fans and followers were present. He was talking with high emotion and people were cheering down the stage. Liu Xiaobo appeared near the end of his talk and joined He. Wang Zhongxia later explained that it was the occasion when they discussed the 08 Charter. Four years have passed and Liu has lost his freedom for four years. Teacher He has changed his position from standing to kneeling in co-signing An Initiative on Reform Consensus. I wonder how Liu Xiaobo feels in prison.

Independent scholar Mo Zhixu is disappointed with the initiators’ bowing gesture:

看到一份改革共识倡议书,醉眼朦胧中,从字缝中看出几个字:我不是反贼。。。。

With a sense of drunkenness, between the lines of the reform consensus petition, I see some words: I am not anti [CCP] bandits.

WuyouLan echoed Mo Zhixu:

《零八宪章》有很大毛病,但不失一个民间的、革命的东西。而《改革共识倡议书》是搞笑版的、反面的零八宪章。它完全是跪求中共改良,丧失人伦底线。

Charter 08 has some problems, but it is initiated by the civil society and its proposal is revolutionary. An Initiative on Reform Consensus is a mockery of Charter 08. It bows to the CCP, begging for reform. It has no moral baseline.

Ptog on the other hand believes that the moderate position is a calculated strategy:

2012年的《改革共识倡议书》相对于《08宪章》而言,把握住了中共最高领导权交接,新领导层向外部释放善意的有利时机,克制了表达冲动,将内容完全限制在82宪法框架之内,并未冲击中共的宪法当中的执政地位,并且参与的人员都是在公共领域有话语空间的知识份子,与异议特征明显的人群刻意切割。

When compared with Charter 08, the 2012 An Initiative on Reform Consensus is taking the opportunity of the transition of CCP's leadership, a time for the new leaders to show their openness to their alliances. That's why the initiators of the petition have restrained their reform suggestions within the framework of the 1982 revised constitution and do not challenge the ruling status of the CCP. The initiators are leading intellectuals in the public sphere, they intentionally detached themselves from the dissidents.

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