Proposals to add protecting property and human rights to the Chinese Constitution and other issues affecting ordinary citizens have attracted huge public attention as two of the nation's top legislature and advisory bodies prepare to meet.
"If such an idea as the protection of lawful private property had been written into China's Constitution, some local governments and real estate developers would feel less confident about recklessly leveling private residences," a Shanghai-based real estate lawyer Liu Weiping, specializing in the illegal demolition of residential houses by local governments and real estate developers, said Tuesday.
Liu made the remark before annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which are scheduled to open in early March.
The deliberation of the draft amendment to the Constitution, which has been arousing attention from all circles, will be placed high on the agenda for the NPC session.
It will be the Constitution's fourth amendment, involve 14 revisions and cover a wide range of issues of public concern not tackled before.
The protection of citizens' lawful private property and respect for and protection of human rights will be written into the Constitution. Some revisions will also be made to improve the land requisition, social welfare and insurance systems.
The current Constitution, which contains 138 articles in four chapters, was formulated in 1982. It has been amended three times, with a total of 17 revisions.
"Adding 'respect for and protection of human rights' to the Constitution shows that securing citizens' rights will be promoted to a very high level," said Liu Jitong, Phd, from the Sociology Department of Peking University.
Wang Yufeng, a 25-year-old white-collar worker in a private company, said although he has a handsome salary now, he and his colleagues still worry about whether their future pensions and medical care will be ensured. Many people like Wang even choose to emigrate to other countries.
"We hope the country's social welfare and insurance system will not only care for the disadvantaged, but also pay attention to white collar workers," he said.
Professor Wang Lei from the Law School of Peking University said improving the social insurance system will be included in the Constitution this time, because China's existing market economy calls for a matching system of social welfare and insurance to meet the public's increasing demands on social security.
But amending the Constitution is not the only hot issue attracting attention.
A survey on one of China's largest news websites, asking "What issues in the upcoming NPC and CPPCC sessions attract you most?" revealed a long list, including anti-corruption, unbalanced economic development throughout China's regions, the income gap, increasing farmers' income, educational charges, the legal rights of migrant farmers, the emergency response system for public health, and the so-called March 20 Taiwan referendum.
Anti-corruption is the top concern for some 83 per cent of those who took part in the survey.
People said the central government's determination to fight against corruption can be seen in the punishment of 13 ministerial-level officials for corruption, including the former Vice-Governor of Anhui Province, Wang Huaizhong, and the former Minister of Land and Resources, Tian Fengshan, throughout 2003.
"We still need a lot of improvements in the emergency response system for public health, though we have such a system after the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003," said Zhang Baolan, director of the Medical Department of the Central Hospital under the Headquarters of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army.
During the annual sessions, NPC deputies and CPPCC members are expected to hear the government's work report, a report on the plans for economic and social development, a budget report, and work reports from the NPC Standing Committee, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
They will review the past year's work by the central government and also deploy the work for the new year.
Professor Wu Jiang from the National School of Administration said the central authorities have done "efficient and effective" work over the past year, like fighting SARS, making efforts to curb unemployment, increasing farmers' income and realizing an annual economic growth rate of 9.1 per cent.
"More importantly, the new central government has adopted a down-to-earth attitude and formed a work style of seeking truth in their leadership," said Wu. "All this may let the public believe that the reports made by the government are not only a summary of the past year's work, but also will exert far-reaching influence on the future life of the Chinese public."
(China Daily February 25, 2004)