China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), adopted the amendments to the Constitution Sunday with an overwhelming majority of 2,863 votes in favor before closing its 10-day annual session.
The legislators attending the closing meeting of the NPC session cast their votes through secret ballot, which is televised live by state television and radio stations.
Of the 2,903 ballots issued, 2,891 ballots were recovered with 2,890 valid. There were 2,863 votes in favor, 10 against, 17 abstentions.
The amendments to the Constitution consist 14 revisions, with the most prominent parts highlighting respect for and protection of human rights and protection of lawful private property.
Some foreign diplomats who followed the NPC session spoke highly of the constitutional amendments.
"I think China's constitutional amendments are very positive, which will further push your country's democratic and economic reform," Sandor Kusai, deputy chief of mission from the Embassy of Hungary in Beijing, told Xinhua.
Witnessing the ballot-casting process, the Hungary diplomat described the inclusion of human rights protection into the Constitution as a "really positive step" and will "surely help China protect citizens' human rights at a higher level."
Mosud Mannan, minister from the Embassy of Bangladesh in Beijing, described the amendments to the Constitution as "very conductive" and the process as "very transparent" and "convincible."
The Chinese leadership said the adoption of the amendments showed the common wishes of the people and the Communist Party of China (CPC).
"The amendments to the Constitution represent the common aspirations of the Communist Party of China and the people of all nationalities in the country," said Wu Bangguo, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, after the amendments were adopted.
"We should make the endorsement of the amendments an opportunity to publicize the Constitution for the whole society, especially officials at all levels and government functionaries, to study it, keep it in mind, safeguard its authority and guarantee it is implemented validly," Wu said.
The amendments were the fourth to China's Constitution, which contains 138 articles. The previous three amendments, made in 1988, 1993 and 1999 respectively, also highlighted the growth of the non-public economy and market economy.
At least three subjects used to be off-limits to the Chinese society come in the spotlight after the Constitutional amendments, said a political science scholar from Shanghai. They are private property protection, respect for and protection of human rights, and encouragement of non-public sectors.
To incorporate people from new social strata other than workers, peasants and intellectuals as "builders of socialism" into the Constitution "will benefit the capital accumulation of the non-public sectors," said Peng Zhenqiu, member of the NPC and vice president of the Shanghai Socialist Academy.
Other major points of the amendments include the institution of the guiding role of the "Three Represents" important thought in the national political and social life, expressions of coordinated development of material civilization and political and cultural progress, and improvement of the land expropriation system.
"There were just a few changes in the Constitution, but they are meant so much to people like me from the rural area," said Rong Jie, a farmer-turned cobbler. Rong came from the eastern province of Anhui to Beijing a dozen years ago in search of fortune. Now Rong and his family live in a luxury apartment in downtown Beijing which he bought for nearly US$100,000.
"It is even more important for those who still till farmland in my home village," he said. "They have lost much of their land, but got very little compensation."
Many NPC members agreed it was crucial to add to the Constitution a new article on respecting and protecting human rights.
"In the past, 'human rights' were cited as something innate to capitalism," said Zhang Linchun, an NPC member and president of the Guizhou Provincial Higher People's Court. "As a matter of fact, progress has been made in respecting and protecting human rights in China, but not in a much-publicized way."
An on-line survey by China's Xinhuanet.com found that 46.6 percent of the 4,399 respondents said the new article on human rights would "help standardize the government's administrative and law-enforcement work."
In China over the last few years, there has been a growing demand for intensified efforts to protect the rights of farmers who losing their land to urbanization projects, of urban residents who are not properly compensated for demolition of their houses, and of migrant laborers who face wage arrears.
At the request of NPC members during the session, the former wording "along the road of building socialism with Chinese characteristics" is changed into "along the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics."
Meanwhile, NPC members have begun their research in preparation for future constitutional amendments.
Chen Derong, an NPC member and mayor of Jiaxing city, Zhejiang Province, said the political reform of China "is yet to comply with" its economic reform in many areas, and "we'll get much done next time."
However, an urgent job at present is to have more people acquainted with the constitutional amendments and a mechanism established to ensure the implementation.
(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2004)