Chinese Scholars Test the New Leadership's Will to Political Reform

More than 70 Chinese scholars and legal experts co-signed a petition urging the new Chinese Communist Party leaders to reform according to the existing Chinese Constitution. Many believe that the moderate reform gesture is to test the CCP new leadership's will to political reform.

The petition, titled An Initiative on Reform Consensus (《改革共识倡议书》), was released on December 25, 2012 by prominent legal expert, Zhang Qianfan, who drafted the document, via his micro-blog at Sina. However, it was deleted after retweeting more than 2000 times. Proposals presented in the petition [zh] include:

Petition for reform according to the Constitution

The Constitution of the People Republic of China. Public Domain Image.

1. rule according to the constitution that provides a framework for the separation of the power between party legislators and party leaders, intra-party democracy, balance of power and transparency.
2. bottom up democratic election for people's representatives
3. protect freedom of expression, press, assembly and demonstration.
4. deepen market reform, establish a fair wealth redistribution mechanism and prevent forced land acquisition.
5. judiciary independence and rule of law and prevent party committee members from intervening in the judicial process.

Testing the new leadership's reform attitude

In Sina Weibo, the biggest but most heavily censored micro-blogging platform, the majority of the responses to the petition are quite positive [zh]:


左志坚: Upon reading the petition on reform consensus, I find the content very moderate and it is operational. Of course it is not innovative. The value of it is not in its content, but in the collective action of making a public call. From such perspective, the public intellectuals’ initiative is valuable. The public support will give it more value.

黎勇02: 这是一份非常温和、理性的改良建议,可就是这份倡议书,别说被高层接受,连在网络上发出来都被一删再删。改良派终有一天也会失去耐性,对改良完全失望。

黎勇02: This is a very moderate, rational and reformative recommendation document. But the censorship machine keeps deleting it, it is very unlikely that the high level leaders will accept the suggestions. The moderate reformers may lose their patience one day and give up the approach of reform from within.


武汉茶山刘:This is petition [to the emperor] via Weibo? The article is worth reading. More rational, less radical. Good. Even old scholar like Jiang Ping [the former principal of Chinese University of Political Science and Law] has signed the petition. Should get [Beijing University] Law Professor Jiang Mingan involved, know what I mean?

物必先腐而后虫生2012: 内容很好很理性,俺朝大人听得进?中山上书李鸿章,后被逼疯去买枪!!!!

物必先腐而后虫生2012: The content is very rational. Wonder if the officials of the current dynasty will listen. Sun Yat-sen [Father of the Republic of China] once wrote a petition to Li Hongzhang [top official in Qing Dynasty], he got crazy [his proposal was rejected] and decided to buy guns instead [lead the Chinese Revolution].

Bow to one party dictatorship?

On Twitter, a blocked social media platform where dissent voices prevail, many believe that the petition is too mild. A number of the 72 initiators have also co-signed the Charter 08 drafted by Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo that calls for constitutional reform to end the one-party dictatorship. Many Chinese dissidents are not happy about their positional change:

Beijing intellectual Su Yutong [zh] recalled an incident back in 2008:


In 2008 autumn time, He Weifang had a talk at San Wei Bookstore. Many fans and followers were present. He was talking with high emotion and people were cheering down the stage. Liu Xiaobo appeared near the end of his talk and joined He. Wang Zhongxia later explained that it was the occasion when they discussed the 08 Charter. Four years have passed and Liu has lost his freedom for four years. Teacher He has changed his position from standing to kneeling in co-signing An Initiative on Reform Consensus. I wonder how Liu Xiaobo feels in prison.

Independent scholar Mo Zhixu is disappointed with the initiators’ bowing gesture:


With a sense of drunkenness, between the lines of the reform consensus petition, I see some words: I am not anti [CCP] bandits.

WuyouLan echoed Mo Zhixu:


Charter 08 has some problems, but it is initiated by the civil society and its proposal is revolutionary. An Initiative on Reform Consensus is a mockery of Charter 08. It bows to the CCP, begging for reform. It has no moral baseline.

Ptog on the other hand believes that the moderate position is a calculated strategy:


When compared with Charter 08, the 2012 An Initiative on Reform Consensus is taking the opportunity of the transition of CCP's leadership, a time for the new leaders to show their openness to their alliances. That's why the initiators of the petition have restrained their reform suggestions within the framework of the 1982 revised constitution and do not challenge the ruling status of the CCP. The initiators are leading intellectuals in the public sphere, they intentionally detached themselves from the dissidents.

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