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The government should treat citizens using T-shirts to express their opposition against government decisions in a rational manner, says an article in the Beijing Times. Following is an excerpt:

Following the Chongqing municipal government's recent plan to raise ticket prices of public buses, some netizens have prepared T-shirts protesting against the hikes. These T-shirts have been sold or handed out free to passers-by, receiving a warm welcome from residents. Police have already nabbed the T-shirt sellers and confiscated stocks of the shirts. It is a serious issue in their eyes.

For citizens, they can do everything that is not against the law. The preparation and release of the T-shirts do not violate any laws in China and pose no threats to society. This type of T-shirt is a tool for citizens to express their ideas on public matters, similar to the "I LOVE China" T-shirts in the wake of the May 12 Sichuan quake last year.

The Constitution and the country's laws protect the right for citizens to express themselves.

This right is extensive - it not only includes traditional ways of expressing ideas like writing articles in the press or penning letters and making phone calls to government bodies, it also covers creative or unusual ways of expression such as T-shirts and street performances.

Citizens can come up with creative ways to express their ideas as long as these do not go beyond legal boundaries. Law enforcers have no right to deny them these rights regardless of whether they accept the acts or not.

In fact, the recent opposition against the price hikes has its reasons. Public transport buses should adopt low-ticket prices based on government subsidies, according to the documents of the central government. The operating costs of the transportation system should be subsidized by municipal coffers rather than transferred to urban citizens. The hike in ticket prices may add extra pressure to the life of citizens already affected by the ongoing financial crisis.

So the opposition should be taken as well-meaning advice to the government and be given due protection. The most urgent matter for the local government is not to punish T-shirt sellers, but to solve the practical problems behind the opposition in a timely manner.

(China Daily April 16, 2009)

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