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Lawmakers Begin to Discuss Constitutional Amendment

China's top legislature Monday kick-started discussions on constitutional amendment that would enshrine protection of private property and human rights for the first time.


"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.


Deputies to the on-going Second Session of the 10th National People’s Congress (NPC) listened attentively to Wang Zhaoguo's explanations about constitution changes on Monday.


"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.


The current constitutional amendment was proposed by the CPC Central Committee last October and adopted by the NPC Standing Committee in December.


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.


"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.


Inviolability of Private Property


Meanwhile, the draft amendment also suggests to constitutionalize private property protection. The draft amendment says "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 in the 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 US$1,000, 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 US$5,000.


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.


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.


The draft constitutional amendment submitted by NPC Standing Committee to the NPC session Monday has drawn wide attention.


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 (US$40.5 billion). 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.


"Constitutional protection of 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.


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, expressions of coordinated development of material civilization and political and cultural progress, 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 approval of the Constitutional amendments requires approval of two-third overwhelming majority of the nearly 3,000 deputies to the NPC, currently in the middle of a 10-day annual full session in Beijing. A vote was scheduled for Sunday, March 14.

(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2004)

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