At the start of January, the office of the National Teaching Material Committee issued the “Notice Concerning the Launch of Comprehensive Fact-finding Work on University Constitutional Law Teaching Materials.” The notice required all colleges and universities to thoroughly explore the constitutional law material they were currently using and submit their findings to the Ministry of Education Textbook Office by January 15. . . . Meanwhile, there have been rumors that University of Political Science and Law Professor Ke Huaqing denounced several constitutional law scholars for participating in compiling a constitutional law textbook that “adulated the West.” . . . The teaching material denounced online included “Introduction to Constitutional Law: Theory and Application” compiled and edited by Peking University Law professor and constitutional law scholar Zhang Qianfan. . . . The National Textbook Committee’s notice led to a heated debate. (From China Digital Times Translation).
The resulting controversy has brought to foreground critical points of potential change in the way in which constitutional narratives are constructed, and thus constructed, taught to rising generations of Chinese leaders. It suggests as well changes in the relationship between the political vanguard and its intellectuals, and the increasingly important role of knowledge narrative in the construction and operation of the (post)modern state through its vanguards.
更新于2019年3月6日 07:05 华东政法大学教授 童之伟 为FT中文网撰稿
Updated on March 6, 2019 07:05 Professor of East China University of Political Science and Law Tong Zhiwei Written for FT中文网
Recently, some people have raised some questions about the constitutional textbook disputes in Chinese universities and hope that I can clarify. My intention is to take this opportunity to make a rational and balanced comment on this controversial thing from a professional perspective. Below is the question (Q) and my answer to the question (A).
Q: May I ask how you see the "constitutional College Textbooks comprehensive diagnostic" work Chinese Ministry of Education recently launched?
A: I have noticed that the “National Textbook Committee Office issued the “Notice on Carrying out the Comprehensive Mapping of the Constitution Textbooks in Colleges and Universities” and decided to carry out a comprehensive survey of the constitutional textbooks of colleges and universities”. According to reports, the main task of “searching at the bottom” is to find out whether “the constitutional textbooks that are being used by undergraduate, master, doctoral, and prep students in ordinary colleges and universities.” The basic requirement is that they are “paid high levels of attentions to, carefully organized, and effectively carry out good and conprehensive survey of constitutional textbooks, so that there is full coverage of issues, no omissions, and true and accurate data."
I have been teaching in universities in Shanghai for nearly 20 years. I first went to Shanghai Jiaotong University and then to East China University of Political Science and Law and I have always been the leader of the constitutional discipline. My personal feeling is that it is very necessary to examine constitutional textbooks used by law schools. This is first of all because there are too many types of constitutional textbooks and quasi-textbooks of different names, and the academic level and quality of writing are mixed. To solve the shortcomings caused by this, it is necessary to find the lowest quality texts, and then correct them so that in this way it would be possible to regulate the use of teaching materials, to ensure the quality or academic standards of constitutional teaching.
However, China's constitutional textbooks are mainly aimed at undergraduates, and there are very few college students and master students, and there is almost no constitutional textbook for doctoral students.
What is the course in Chinese colleges and universities targeted by this survey? Do they want to clean up content related to the Western constitutional system?
A: The survey is targeting constitutional textbooks and thus naturally aimed at the constitutional courses of colleges and universities. The survey on constitutional textbooks will have multiple purposes, the first of which should be to improve and guarantee the quality or standard of constitutional teaching.
As for the content related to the cleanup of the Western constitutional system in the constitutional textbooks, I believe that it is also one of the purposes of the survey. However, there is a huge difference between clean-up and survey (in Chinese they are similiar words), there can be misunderstandings. In China, how to treat the Western constitutional system is both a political issue and an academic issue, and it is difficult to separate them from each other. It is a political issue, mainly because the constitutional textbooks must have an attitude that conforms to the basic principles of Marxism in the Western constitutional system. It cannot be said to be worse than the feudal autocracy, completely negated, and cannot be totally copied to China without consideration of the actual situation in China, neither should it deny the socialist constitutional system on the basis of the Western constitutional system. It is an academic issue because that there are some such issues that need to be dealt with well in the narration in constitutional textbooks on the Western constitutional system: whether the textual description deviates from the real situation in the West, the true relationship between various specific constitutional phenomena in the West, and the Western Constitution. Whether the internal and external connections of the phenomenon are sufficient, whether the evaluation is appropriate, and so on.
I think that the Chinese education administration has done a minimum of two objectives for the survey on constitutional textbooks: one is to clean up the existing constitutional textbooks, and on this basis, the new constitutional textbooks are correcting the political attitude towards the Western constitutional system; the second one is to improve the quality of the description of the Western constitutional system and the level of understanding of Western constitutional phenomena and their internal and external connections.
Of course, there is a benchmark issue in judging whether the attitude of constitutional textbooks to the Western constitutional system is correct at the political level. It should be said that at different stages of development in China, the official benchmarks are not, and cannot be, static. However, when constitutional scholars talk about related issues, they should be mainly based on the attitude of seeking truth from facts and the general principles of Marxism in related aspects instead of trying to figure out the intentions of the leadership and follow the trend.
Q: I am very curious about your views on the "Ke Huaqing's report on constitutional textbooks" circulating on the Internet. Did this report incident really happen?
A: I understand that you want me to talk about the views of the internet rumor of Professor Ke Huaqing's report on constitutional textbooks. OK, I will first answer the question of “Is this reporting incident really happening?” I have read all the materials I can read on the Internet. I have to say that I am not sure about the authenticity of the "report". Combining various information, the actual situation is more like this: Professor Ke Huaqing of China University of Political Science and Law wanted to make some comments on the state of existing constitutional textbooks and submitted the conclusions to the Chinese leadership. The original intention seems to be to pass on his own views without any intention of making a“report”. The formal object itself was not to report or denounce in nature, but objectively it has produced some real effects of making a “report”.
My opinion on the online discussion of Professor Ke Huaqing’s “report” on constitutional textbooks is divided into two aspects.
From the perspective of the field (philosophy and jurisprudence) studied by Professor Ke, he pays attention to the correctness of the political attitudes of the various constitutional textbooks in China to the Western constitutional system from the perspective of ideology. And using the form of special reports and other forms of submission to convey his opinions to the central leadership is a manifestation of his exercise of basic rights and is a legitimate act. If that was indeed Professor Ke’s intention, the resulting decision of the National Textbook Committee to make a comprehensive examination of the constitutional textbooks of colleges and universities should be regarded as a positive social benefit yielded from his actions.
On the other hand, from the resumes and publications published by the institution where Professor Ke is working, he has received a good education and have a nice list of publications in philosophy, but he does not have a degree in law or education experience close to law, neither his professional activities and research outcomes mainly in the field of law and constitutional law, and he also has not published research-type law papers (with a few commentary articles) in mainstream legal journals. These factors lead to insufficient professional qualifications of Professor Ke and thus the credibility of his evaluation conclusions is not enough. Law is a highly specialized discipline in the world, and among all legal disciplines, constitutional science is one of the most profound and complicated secondary disciplines.
It is a major feature of constitutional law that it seems easy but it is extremely difficult to understand it. As far as the text is concerned, the Constitution is mostly a set of abstract principles. It seems that there is no difficulty for any people who reads to understand.. However, it should be noted that in the ordinary countries ruled by law, the true and specific meanings of these principle principles are reflected in specific departmental laws such as criminal law, civil and commercial law, administrative law, procedural law and international law. Therefore, if there is no deepened understanding of specific departmental law or departmental law with a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the system, it is impossible to truly understand the constitution and constitutional law. Therefore, for those who do not have a legal education or a similar professional qualification, neither been engaged in constitutional teaching and research for a long time, their eager to enjoy the constitutional spirit is admirable but they are absolutely not suited to take the position of a constitutional expert, nor are they able to be regarded as constitutional scholars or constitutional experts. Otherwise, it is very possible to mistake themselves, mislead students, and harm society.
Furthermore, the content of the constitutional law studies is based on the restriction of public power, the protection of basic human rights or the basic rights of citizens. And it is impossible for a young man who is born in the Chinese political and legal cultural environment lacking in the tradition of democracy and the rule of law without years of constitutional professional education or professional education. Neither would it be possible to establish a strong awareness of power limit and a basic awareness of human rights protection. The lack of this basic professional awareness and only focusing on the constitutional provisions will make the constitutional teaching and research deviate from the spirit of the constitution, and even directly go to the opposite side of what a constitutional law designed to do. The typical manifestation of the anti-constitutional spirit in the academic circle is that a few scholars have no bottom line in the name of the constitution to promote abuse of power, and no bottom line to support the neglect, derogation, denial or deprivation of the basic rights of constitutional citizens.
I say this to suggest that if there is an academic dispute about the merits or the content of the constitutional textbooks, public administrations such as education administration should advance and judge based on academic or professional standards. For example, an evaluation by the Chinese Constitutional Research Society or an academic organization established by the Chinese Law Society is a better choice.
Of course, based on freedom of speech, anyone has the right to talk about constitutional and constitutional studies, and laymen can fully evaluate the experts as they like. However, in terms of public authority interventions, the situation is different. When they listen to opinions and make decisions, it is not appropriate to use the opinions of constitutional amateurs as the basis for their evaluation of constitutional works. This is just as a natural dialectic teacher or a philosophical teacher from the liberal arts can write an article on Einstein's theory of relativity, but the government should not treat these teachers as physicists when hiring people.
However, as far as Professor Ke or anyone else is concerned, if he decides to switch from the field of philosophy to the field constitutional law, it may be a good thing. But if that is so then he might have to undertake to change the image of the ignorant and fearless revolutionary rebellious teenager who is now left to the legal profession in the field of constitutional law, and strive to do what Marx said as "people who are not afraid to work hard along the rugged and steep mountain roads." I think that Professor Ke does not have the idea of breaking the path of academic ethics and breaking the path of "overtaking the curve".
Q: According to the information on the Internet, some constitutional textbooks have been reported because of the content of “promoting Western thinking and advocating the Western system”. What do you think of this statement?
A：关于举报原因，如果确实是这么写的，那我得说，这些说法都不严谨、不专业，甚至缺乏确定的意思。“宣扬” “鼓吹” “西方思想”“西方制度”在特定语境下都是含义宽泛、夸张而主观性极强的贬义词。就平实的含义而言，“西方思想”不过是欧美等地域的具体宪法学者的具体观点，“西方制度”也只能是欧美等地域的国家宪法制度中的具体规范性安排。对西方宪法制度，中国官方的立场一直是：“积极借鉴人类政治文明有益成果”，“借鉴国外法治有益经验”，但“绝不照搬西方政治制度模式”。其实，中国人祖上并没有宪法，宪法本身就是自西方泊来的，人大制度所属的代议制度也源自西方，这都是常识。
A: Regarding the reasons for the report, if it is indeed written, then I have to say that these statements are not rigorous, they are unprofessional, and even lack a certain meaning. "Promotion" "Advocacy" "Western Thought" "Western System" is a derogatory term with broad meaning, exaggeration and subjectivity in a specific context. As far as the plain meaning is concerned, "Western thought" is only a specific viewpoint of specific constitutional scholars in Europe and the United States. The "Western system" can only be a specific normative arrangement in the national constitutional system of Europe and the United States. For the Western constitutional system, China’s official position has always been: “actively draw on the beneficial results of human political civilization” and “learn from the useful experience of foreign rule of law”, but “never copy the Western political system model”. In fact, there is no concept of constitution in the Chinese past. The forms of the Constitution itself is imported from the West. The representative system of the NPC system also originates from the West. This is common sense.
However, once we label the various specific contents of European and American constitutional thoughts and constitutional systems into "Western thoughts" and "Western institutions", in the context of the specific context of the arguers, they actually negated them in their entirety. This tendency of total negation is contrary to the general principles of Marxism and to the policy principles that the Chinese ruling party has solemnly declared at home and abroad. In a plain sense, “promoting” and “advocating” is nothing more than “introducing” or “speaking and giving a positive evaluation”. We must engage in reform and opening up and thus it is importatant and sometimes necessary to introduce and talk about the ideas and constitutional systems of European and American constitutional scholars. The use of these words "promoting" and "advocating" completely denies the necessity of introducing the thoughts of the European and American constitutional scholars, the constitutional system, and evaluate the ideas and constitutional systems of European and American constitutional scholars by seeking truth from facts . Therefore, the words "promoting" and "advocating" are used in such occasions and are themselves extreme statements.
Some scholars believe that the existing textbooks of some kinds of constitutional textbooks spend too much words introducing the words of European and American constitutional scholars and introduce the content of the European and American constitutional systems, and also the evaluation of them is too high. For such cases that may be inappropriate, the reasonable attitude of the relevant scholars should be to put forward specific views and reasons for compressing the length, compressing the amount of text or moderately adjusting the evaluation language, discussing and forming consensus in the academic circles, and then modifying the teaching materials. There is absolutely no need to use the old and extremely critical extreme remarks on the political level.
I have noticed that it seems that some scholars not only propose relevant constitutional textbooks to "promote Western thoughts and advocate Western institutions", but also believe that some constitutional scholars "engage in "revolution" in the name of the constitution", which is even more outrageous. Because politically speaking, the former is accused of people violating the four cardinal principles, and the latter is tantamount to accusing others of the crime of alleged subversion of state power or inciting subversion of state power. It should be noted that such allegations will make people lose their jobs, end up in jail and even lose their lives. In terms of their professional nature and way of earning a living, scholars should be relatively loyal and kind. Scholars should not be too fierce, and should avoid making an ordinary career field a life and death struggle. Although it is inevitable that there will be competition in the professional field, it should not be escalated to the struggle between life and death.
There are also thirty or forty kinds of Chinese constitutional textbooks (including my own editor and the East China University of Political Science and Law), which are far more diverse than countries such as the United States and Britain where the constitutional law studies is relatively more developed. I have noticed that although all these constitutional textbooks vary greatly in quality or academic level, they are politically peaceful and cautious, and there is no such thing as deliberately "proclaiming Western thoughts and advocating Western institutions." In the process of compiling the constitutional textbooks of Chinese universities, there are strict self-censorship of chief editors, deputy editors, and editors. After the completion of the draft, there is a very strict three-level review conducted by the publishing house, and the use of the textbook is also strictly supervised and judged upon by law teachers and students. It is almost impossible to have political mistakes such as “promoting Western thoughts and advocating Western institutions”. I am familiar with the three "levels" of constitutional textbooks mentioned by Professor Net Chuan. I think they are constitutional textbooks with relatively higher qualities used by Chinese universities and no political mistakes are seen.
Any constitution is a constitution of a specific country, and constitutional law should be only a constitutional law of a specific country. The United Kingdom and the United States are typical constitutional powers. Both the constitutional law studies of the United Kingdom and the United States, all without exception, fully or simply teach the formation and changes of their own constitutions and discuss the implementation of their own constitutions. However, constitutional and constitutional studies in countries such as China there the term were originally constitutional post-developed countries with foreign imports cannot be like the United States and the United States. It is impossible to ignore the situation of the "original" stage of constitution and constitutional studies and its subsequent development. Therefore, according to the same standard, the main task of Chinese constitutional law in terms of content is to explain the normative requirements of China’s current constitution and its implementation on the basis of explaining the ins and outs of the constitution, and to explore ways to improve and promote the current constitution, lastly locate the method and path for effective implementation.
According to the above criteria, the above-mentioned "three levels" of constitutional textbooks have some disadvantages in different degrees: some are more clearly separated from China's economy, political life and reform reality, and even miss many important normative contents of the Chinese constitutional text. For some others, even though the coverage are complete, the meaning of political propaganda might be too strong and there might be a lack of academic rationality, the system of cases is awkward; and so on. These three "levels" of constitutional law textbooks also have a common prominence: they are not able to describe or explain a large number of realistic constitutional disputes and conflicts, especially in the two major areas of protection of basic rights of citizens and the relationship between the ruling and state organs. Therefore, in my opinion, China has not yet seen an excellent constitutional textbook that can basically meet the objective requirements of constitutional law and seek truth from facts to face China's reality. Some people may ask: How do you evaluate the constitutional textbooks edited by yourself and used in your own school? Frankly speaking, due to the limitations of various objective factors, my own constitutional textbooks are also very limited in quality, and the academic level will not be higher than the textbooks of three "levels" mentioned above.
I would also like to add that since the critics of the aforementioned constitutional textbooks are only amateurs of constitutional law, not constitutional experts or constitutionalists in the strict sense. The constitutional works that got laymen’s the most criticize is not necessarily very bad, those got laymen’s most praise are not necessarily very good either. By the same token, there is no reason to believe that the constitutional textbook that has been criticized by laymen must be the best constitutional product.
Q: Is this statement politicizing constitutional law?
A: The Constitution is the institutionalization of democratic politics. Therefore, constitutional studies must study political issues, and will affirm certain political elements or negate some others, which will unavoidably benefit or undermine the interests of some political relations subjects, and thus cannot be completely insulated from politics. However, acknowledging that constitutional science cannot be insulated from politics does not mean that politics and constitutional scholarship should not be relatively separated. In fact, the two should be distinguished as strictly as possible. In the context of contemporary China, the core of politics is the need to consolidate political dominance, and the core content of social science academic activities is to reveal or restore various internal and external connections from the academic perspective. In this sense, the politicization of constitutional law on the academic side would disregard the facts and the spirit of seeking truth from facts, and to arbitrarily explain the various internal and external connections of constitutional phenomena according to the needs of politically dominant social groups.
Is it advisable to politicize constitutional law? I think this is not something that can be generalized, but rather it depends on context. If one speaks of politicians or officials of state organs recommended by the ruling party, they use their constitutional or constitutional knowledge in the service of political objectives, and they have legitimacy and rationality. However, scholars with academic ethics should not politicize constitutional law, because their professional responsibility is first and foremost to reveal or restore various internal and external connections of constitutional phenomena. They must first fulfill their professional responsibilities. This is a requirement to improve social division of labor and form a normal social order, and meet the needs of the overall interests of society. Therefore, far-sighted politicians in power will fundamentally respect the constitutional scholars who faithfully perform their professional responsibilities, even though the politicians in power may be inevitably be disappointed or dissatisfied with the latter's "non-cooperation."
The politicians in power hope and strive to urge the constitutional scholars to explain the various internal and external connections of the constitutional phenomenon according to their wishes. Constitutional scholars expect and work hard to promote the true internal and external connection of the behavior of the politicians in power and the development trend of the constitutional phenomenon. Both are very normal things. Therefore, the relationship between politicians in power and other actors of power and constitutional scholars will inevitably have some degree of tension and competition, thus affecting each other. Here, both sides should have somthing to insist on, otherwise they will actually lose their autonomy within their sphere of responsibility and become the vassal of each other, thus denying their unique professional identity and even eliminating the normal social division of labor. Negating the unique professional identity and eliminating the normal social division of labor is certainly not a requirement for a normal social order and a normal rule of law.
Constitutional science is a social science, and constitutional scholarship also requires the use of the world, but its usefulness should not be used by one-sided subjects such as individuals, neither should it be used by power subjects such as politicians in power. However, in under the premise of the balance of rights and power structure, it is used to realize the overall interests of society (including the common interests of the two subjects). At the same time, in the context of the balancing of rights and powers, the interests of rights subjects and the interests of power subjects is the moral imperative of the constitutional and constitutional studies of full-time constitutional researchers.
The simplistic labeling of the constitutional work’s to that of “promoting Western thoughts and advocating Western institutions” is a manifestation of a bad academic style. But the immediate consequence is the degeneration of the constitutional scholarship that the leaders expect to acquire, that is, the unconsciously self-denial of the identity of the scholar, including the identity of the legal scholar. If the public authority transforms the behavior of such acts into officially supported behaviors and impairs the basic rights of those who got labeled, it may indeed be seen as a political process and its outcome. However, this kind of practice is undoubtedly a departure from the normal ethical relationship of social occupational division of power between political powers and constitutional scholars.
It should also be noted that certain practices that have traditionally been considered to be political, such as the labeling of “promoting Western ideas and advocating Western institutions”, are not political or academic, but extreme. Clashing speech publishing activities are very destructive to healthy social order, including China's current constitutional order.
Q: Is knowledge about the constitutional system of the West and other countries an important part of constitutional law?
A: In China, the foreign constitutional system has always been an important part of constitutional law studies. It is quite common for Chinese constitutional studies to be divided into three directions or three courses in the Chinese constitution, foreign constitution, and comparative constitution at the master's and doctoral levels. Some law schools in China also divide the content of constitutional teaching into two parts: the Chinese Constitution and the Foreign Constitution. The textbooks are also divided into the Chinese Constitution and the Foreign Constitution. Due to the originality of the system, the so-called foreign constitution is the most representative of the constitutional system of the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, followed by the constitutional system of Germany and Russia. The constitutional systems of other countries are mostly their early or late forms of derivation.
Q: Are you familiar with the teaching materials of "Ma Project"?
A: I am relatively familiar with the "Ma project". The legal textbooks for the Ma Project are divided into two levels: the general textbook for the project is under the oversight of the Chinese department of education , and the key materials for the project are under the overseening of higher level institutions. The key legal textbooks for the Ma Project are only jurisprudence and constitutional science, and they have been published for a long time. You can see the list of chief experts and main writers from the page after the copyright page of the 2017 edition of the key textbook "Constitutional Law". I am also on this list. I participated in the preparation of this edition of the constitutional textbook and wrote a draft for one of the chapters. I heard that a revised version was made last year, but several constitutional professors, including the President of the Chinese Constitutional Research Association and me, who participated in the original works, did not receive a notice to participate in the revision. The reason is unknown. A number of sources confirmed that Professor Ke Huaqing was added to the main members of the Ma Project Constitutional Writing Group.
I think it is meaningful to initiate the "Ma project" constitutional textbooks, but it is best to only have a teaching outline to guide and standardize the preparation and teaching practice of constitutional textbooks. To set one detailed and definitive constitutional textbook is not conducive to the healthy development of constitutional law studies. In addition, if you want to establish the authority of the "Ma project" constitutional textbooks, and let the political and legal colleges are willing to choose them, then it must be written by the first-class scholars recognized by the discipline, and they must decide their own style and content. It is possible to bring the teaching materials to a first-class academic level. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the "Ma Project" constitutional textbooks to occupy enough academic market. Using administrative means to push the poor quality constitutional textbooks may make them a mockery of law schools and the academia. This situation must be avoided.
Perhaps, you want me to evaluate the quality or level of the existing "Ma project" constitutional textbooks, and I am willing to say a few words. The original principals and main participants of the "Ma Project" constitutional textbooks are all first-class constitutional professors in China. However, the impact of non-academic factors is still high. Some important references and content, developed outside the group consensus. I remember that there was a consensus that everyone of the writing group agreed on, after being negated in the process of writing, the writing team had tried to report and seek for support, but it was still not adopted in the end. Non-academic factors that play too big a role will inevitably have a negative impact on the quality of teaching materials. The main person in charge of the original "Ma Project" constitutional textbook writing group is Professor Xu Chongde, who is highly respected. Almost all of the constitutional scholars know that Xu Lao’s evaluation of this textbook, which he has spent a lot of hard work on, is quite low. I agree with Xu's opinion. If I have to make the evaluation, I would like to say this: in general, the quality is not good, but rather is sloppy.
Professor Xu has passed away and some professors in the original writing group have also left, and it is normal for the writing group to accept new members. I am looking forward to the improvement of the academic standards or quality of the newly revised "Ma Project" constitutional textbooks, which cannot be deteriorating generation by generation. Unfortunately, it seems that this textbook has the tendency of the overweight lady who always sighs.
Q: in the end, how do you think of the overall environment of China’s legal academia? Some observers says the “reporting” and the “survey” shows that the regulation is getting tighter, would you agree with them?
A. Currently there are differences between different disciplines and individuals to feel the current environment of teaching and researching in legal academia. Generally speaking, scholars teaching and researching in the field of business and civil law, criminal law, administrative law, economic law and legal procedures will feel relatively better while those who do constitutional law might feel worse. The publication of papers and books in constitutional law has been always stricter than others but recently getting even stricter. Some publishing house has already set the rule that the term “constitutional law” in the title will automatically trigger additional approval process. To make a joke, in such an environment, it is not easy for a scholar to deliberately make mistakes and go beyond the limits because there are too many goalkeepers and safeguards. So it might be imaginable for a a constitutional law teacher to make minor verbal mistakes in class, but it’s unimaginable for one to make huge mistakes in textbooks he or she wrote. I have read Professor Zhang Qianfan’s constitutional law textbook from the first edition to the third one and I reviewed them those days but still did not find any problems. I guess mayby some people think the length of Professor Zhang’s introduction to western constitutional law system might be too long and they don’t like it, so labeled his book “advocating” western constitutionalism. To my knowledge, Professor Zhang has been preparing for the fourth edition of this textbook and he invited me to write the new chapter of supervision system adopted by the revision of the constitution in 2018. Recently Professor Zhang told me that the textbook failed to be approved and thus can not be published, so the chapter I wrote also ended up in vain. He did not tell me the reason but I can understand as this is not rare in our profession.
It is hard for me the assess whether there is a trend of tightening up the opinion and publication environment in legal academia. Reporting is a personal act and the survey in its nature should be a measure of knowing a situation in response to certain concern, the result is yet to be seen. Anyway, whether it’s rule of law or rule of people, there is a normal fluctuation in specific governance, every one knows that string might break up when it’s tightened up too much. In the current legal academia, the string that connects the subjects of power and those of rights has been tightened up to a saturated extent and I don’t know whether there is still some more space ahead to further tightening. But what people know is that it’s definitely not the tighter, the better. Rather, it should be maintained in a range with certain tension.
Moreover, whether it’s strictly implementing the constitution or governing according to the constitution and law, the result should be anchored at the constitutional protection of citizen’s basic rights confirmed by the constitution, otherwise it will be empty --- I am not sure whether it’s the belief shared only among constitutional scholars. Do what one preaches, protect citizens’ basic rights in a practical manner, improve the protection of citizens’ basic rights including personal freedom, freedom of speech and publication and freedom of scientific research is a good undertaking for the ruling party and the government both domestically and internationally. It will yield multiple benefits once being done in the right way, including upholding the political legitimacy of ruling and improving overall image. Otherwise it will undermine those valuable elements. I believe decision makers will have more profound understanding of such a situation and will further the improvement of the protection of citizens’ basic rights.
Disappearing textbook highlights debate in China over academic freedom
BEIJING (Reuters) - A constitutional law textbook written by one China’s best-known reform-minded legal scholars has been pulled from book shops, apparently the latest text to run afoul of a government campaign against “Western influence”.
The author, Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University known for his advocacy of constitutionalism and judicial reform, dismissed any suggestion his writing excessively promoted Western ideas as “utter nonsense”, and said the academic world should not be politicized.
Since taking office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has tightened the Communist Party’s control over society including the legal system and education.
While authorities have not confirmed they ordered the book withdrawn, and no reason for its disappearance has been given, it comes after the government launched a sweeping review of teaching materials.
The Ministry of Education in early January launched a nationwide check on the content of all university constitutional law textbooks, according to posts on the Jiangxi and Zhejiang province Education Ministry websites.
Universities were told the “fact-finding” sweep was of great importance and they must accurately fill in a chart detailing titles and authors of the books they used, with “no omissions”, according to the ministry’s posts.
The campaign drew criticism from some legal academics, which was amplified by a rumor that the sweep was sparked by an accusation by a professor that certain texts were “promoting Western thinking and agitating for a Western system”.
The Education Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
China’s constitution promises freedom of speech, religion and assembly, but it is trumped in practice by legislation and regulations, and it is rarely invoked in legal cases.
The constitution has long been a focus for political reformers, who argue that its status should be elevated within the legal system.
Zhang’s book could not be found on China’s main online bookstores when searched by Reuters on Friday.
‘EVERYONE IS SCARED’
Zhang, in an interview published on the WeChat social media platform, rejected any suggestion his texts promoted a “Western” system over alternatives.
“To criticize purely for the sake of it and to shut our nation off to the outside world is closed-minded thinking,” Zhang said.
“Constitutional law, as an academic discipline, should not be politicized,” he said. “Any academic discipline should retain a certain political neutrality.”
“At this time, constitutional law is a ‘sensitive’ topic. As far as I can see there is basically no public discussion. It seems that everyone is scared,” he said.
Zhang’s interview disappeared soon after it was posted, to be replaced by a notice saying the content had broken “relevant laws and regulations”.
Zhang did not respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.
Many legal scholars took to social media to voice support for Zhang.
Some posted the foreword from his book, in which he stresses the importance of giving people who have suffered injustices the chance to defend themselves using the constitution.
Some voiced concern that some academics might accuse others of failing to toe the party line.
“The worst part about this incident is that in the current environment, not only are these people not inhibited, but rather they are given a channel, or even rewards,” Zhang Taisu, an associate professor of law at Yale University in the United States, wrote on Weibo, referring to the accusers.
Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel