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Constitutional Protection Desired for Private Property

What is the attitude of Chinese urban residents towards private property today? A recent sample survey shows 93 percent hope it can be protected through amending the Constitution. Meanwhile, 67.5 percent hold that private property should not be requisitioned by the state without compensation being negotiated between the two parties concerned.

The sample survey of more than 700 residents in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou was jointly conducted by the China Economic Situation Monitoring Center and CCTV’s China Financial and Economic Reports. It showed most people still have lingering fears of increasing wealth without related laws to offer protection. This is an important reason behind the desire for constitutional protection. On the other hand, the results also indicate a need to clarify the concept of private property to avoid grievances developing among residents.

Although the overwhelming majority favor a constitutional amendment, there are differences over the timetable. Some 45.5 percent said action should be taken as soon as possible, since the private economy now accounts for nearly 30 percent of national GDP, and has long been affirmed by the Constitution as an important component of the socialist market economy. So, there is no reason to delay. But a further 47.5 percent cautioned against haste, since this is a complicated and major issue needing full social discussion and theoretical analysis.

The survey shows that, with the increasing extension of non-governmental wealth, issues concerning the safety of private property gradually have become conspicuous. Some 40.5 percent of those sampled worry that private property would probably come under attack at some time, while 34 percent thought there was no cause for concern and 25.5 percent had no view. Basically, this forms a comparatively average ideological distribution.

When asked why private property would come under attack, 30.3 percent residents cited lack of legal guarantees. An amendment to the Constitution, passed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) in 1999, states that the non-public economy is an important component of the socialist market economy; however, it is not in the same rank with public property that the Constitution describes as "sacred and inviolable." Some 29.8 percent of those sampled were concerned about unfair treatment. The non-public economy faces difficulties in market access, fund collection and operational scale. Another 10.6 percent state that private property would probably be nationalized again if not protected by state laws.

The sample survey gives rise to a major debate on whether the state can requisition private property through compensation payments. Some 17.5 percent people agreed absolutely. Another 67.5 percent welcomed compensation, as long as the amount can be agreed on between the two parties concerned. They also think that, as the owner of public property, the state should adhere not only to the principle of a paid market deal, but also to the law of value and the principle of consultation. But 15 percent did not agree with the need for any paid requisition of private property.

(21dnn.com on March 26, 2002 and translated by Li Jingrong for china.org.cn, April 1, 2002)

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