A nation’s constitution is its most fundamental law, the one that takes precedence over all others. It should be written with the public in mind to reflect the desires and needs of the citizens of that country and to be appropriate to the times. However, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the communists in China under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) — two political anomalies — view a constitution merely as a means to fool the people they rule over.
Both have constitutions with “Chinese characteristics,” born of the barrel of a gun. Whosoever rules the land gets to write the constitution; whosoever wields the constitution gets to claim they are democratic, while actually implementing authoritarian rule.
The CCP inherited the framework of its constitution from the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution first implemented by late president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), then head of the KMT, in the parts of China under his control in 1947. As such, it makes more sense in the context of China’s territory. Nevertheless, despite the grandiose nature of the text, it is little more than a museum piece over there: The public can read it, but have little hope of seeing it implemented.
China’s constitution actually speaks of “Chinese characteristics.” It is no wonder that the Guangdong publication Southern Weekly, in its New Year’s Day editorial entitled “The China dream, the dream of constitutional government” — a reference to Xi’s phrase the “China dream” — called for the constitution to be implemented. The sentiment ended up being less a dream and more a fleeting fantasy: The censors got their hands on the editorial before it was ever published, rewriting it as an adulatory piece praising Xi’s “revival of the Chinese nation.”
The title of the Chinese political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu is a reference to Yandi (炎帝) and Huangdi (黃帝), legendary ancestors of the Chinese people, and as such is almost synonymous with Xi’s “Chinese nation.” That did not stop the magazine from enumerating the ways in which the constitution is not being implemented and pointing out that “there already exists a consensus on [the need for] political reform” — by which it means the implementation of the constitution. Neither did its stand on the implementation of the law protect the magazine from the ignominious fate of having its Web site closed down.
In a way, Ma is just as unreasonable: He insists on “implementing” an ROC Constitution that was not written by Taiwanese and which he selectively and loosely interprets. When Chiang was trying to implement the ROC Constitution in 1947, his party was still embroiled in a civil war against the communists, who were not bothered by Chiang’s attempts to enforce “his” constitution, for they planned to defeat the nationalists and to discard the KMT and its constitution in one go.
While the young guns promulgated a new constitution, the old guns continued to plod along, saddling the citizenry with a landless, nationless constitution.
There are a considerable number of Taiwanese unwilling to accept an ROC Constitution that runs counter to the democratic process and which is manifestly unsuitable to Taiwan, and who reject the assertion that our Constitution covers the territory of China. Despite this, Ma seems particularly fond of the yanhuang flavor of the Constitution and regards it as a kind of Buddhist mantra.
What we have is the case of one country with a constitution that its government should be implementing, but is not, and another with a government that should be writing a new constitution, but prefers to use an unsuitable ROC Constitution. The result is two aberrant states living a lie.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper