If there is a country that has been reputed as quickly rising by leaps and bounds economically, then it is China. So rapid is this growth that Americans are accusing China as using protectionism to gain a competitive edge over its international counterparts in world trade. However, the growth is not limited to the economic sector as China is at the moment being seen to open to the prospects of democratization. One of the indicators of China’s tending towards democratic ideals and the embracing of the same is seen in the releasing of the China’s Charter 08 by a group of 303 Chinese intellectuals, writers, retired party officials, peasants, businesspeople and lawyers. The document had been released in 2008 as an open letter calling for constitutional reforms, the realization and safeguarding of human rights and the democratization of China.
Thesis Statement: it is true that China’s Charter 08 was a radical attempt to improve China’s approach to constitutional reforms, human rights, individual freedom and democracy in China; and not a public relations tool as some argue.
Both critical and casual readings of the letter, China’s Charter 08 reveal an unrelenting and painstaking effort in the quest for the realization of the aforementioned values in China. In the first place, the fundamental concepts of the letter underscore the veracity of the claim that letter vouched for democracy. The letter reflects upon the developments that had been being realized in China in the previous century and then above all, attributes the same developments to: freedom; human rights; equality; republicanism; constitutionalism; and democracy.
Concerning freedom, China’s Charter 08 says that as the core of the universal values, it accounts for the rights of speech, belief, publication, assembly, association, mass action, strikes and demonstrations. The letter maintains that in the absence of freedom, no modern civilization can be spoken of. The same letter speaks of human rights as inherent values that are to be enjoyed by all, so that guaranteeing human rights and putting people first, is the most important government objective.
The same letter speaks of equality, saying that an individual is to be accorded equal treatment with others, irrespective of color, religion, political ideology, ethnicity, race and social class or status. This same value of equality is to be observed in the law and in the dispensation of justice.
The letter goes on to vouch for the nationwide and constitutional adoption of republicanism as a way of ensuring that there is an equal and joint governing of all, for the realization of a peaceful coexistence in China. On the same matter of republicanism, the same letter goes on to maintain that it is through the same (republicanism) that checks and balances, plurality of cultures, fair competition, joint discussion and open participation can be realized and consolidated in China. Esherick (19) and Suisheng (17) point at these as the basic tenets of democracy.
China’s Charter 08 goes on to maintain that it is through democracy in China that the concept of sovereignty as being rested on the masses can be seen to be rightly upheld. China’s Charter 08 rightly and consistently maintains that only when China realizes that: power comes from the people; political control and processes are to be controlled by the people; and universal suffrage is the only gateway to the formation of government, can it be claim that it is democratic. The same document that is being falsely decanted as a political ploy and public relations gimmick vouches for constitutionalism in China. The article maintains that it is only through constitutionalism that basic freedoms and rights of the citizens can be defined and guaranteed in and by the constitution. In this sense, it is the rule of law that is to define, restrict and modify the conduct and power of the government and its several departments and different arms. China’s Charter 08 proposes the culture of constitutionalism as opposed to the reliance on the supposed upright officials or enlightened rulers which Zhao (56) and O’Brien (18) maintain has been the case.
It is important to note that the China’s Charter 08 in the third section which states the authors’ basic position is concomitant with the very tenets of democracy. Some of the principles in the authors’ positions vouched for constitutional amendments; the separation of powers; checks and balances; judicial independence; democracy in the legislature; the guarantee of human rights; the sanctioning of public use of public instruments and the election of public officials through universal suffrage. The basic position of the authors also emphasizes the importance of having public officials being elected; the freedom of assembly, freedom of religion; freedom of expression; the need for fiscal reforms; civil education; property protection; social security; a federal republic; environmental protection; and transitional justice.
All these above are as far as the logos of the China’s Charter 08 is concerned, it is a fact that the arguments that are presented therein are cogent and solid enough to be considered the magna carta needed for the democratization of any country that is gripped by the strongest despotic tendencies (Dryzek, 12).
At the same time, it is interesting to note the fact that the events that surrounded the authorship and release of China’s Charter 08 are totally in congruence with the democratization of any country. The charter was made as China released political prisoners who had been being held in incarceration for political dissent. It is against this backdrop that the chief author of China’s Charter 08, Liu Xiaobo, was released from prison. The same had been in prison for 11 years for having “instigated the subversion of power” (Zhao, 56).
The release of political prisoners by a totalitarian state is a hallmark in the democratization and a quite a matter, but the accordance of the freedom of expression, speech and assembly is seen to be a totally different matter, in that it is very radical. It would have bee easier for China to merely release the political prisoners while muzzling their freedom of expression, if it is true that China was playacting on the stage called public relations. Nevertheless, China chose to allow Liu Xiaobo and his protégés to express their views in a letter that is heavily and pervasively punctuated with the call for democracy. There is no way China could have left the China’s Charter 08 into the social mainstream, if China was merely playing to the gallery. This is because the letter is too radical that it serves as a clarion call for the country’s democratization.
At the same time, it is important to note that considering the ethos of the letter, the move towards the democratization of China can be seen. The 303 coauthors of China’s Charter 08 are men of repute, great intellectual standing, and authorities in different professional backgrounds. These same men had already been incarcerated for having boldly championed for the ratification of democratic ideals and constitutionalism in China. Thus, to postulate that the China’s Charter 08 and the release of the political prisoners from imprisonment is to insinuate that the 303 authors had been compromised, probably financially or in exchange of their freedom.
A critical observer must really debate within himself if a defiant country such as China would revert to gimmicks by releasing political dissidents it had once labeled as being responsible for the breach of national security. The gains China would register from the same and the party to be pleased by China’s supposed gimmicks remain totally unaccounted for.