A colleague and friend sent me a link to a post about a Chinese blind activist lawyer released from prison. Isolda Morillo, for the Associated Press, wrote the post that appeared on CBS.com.
Chen Guangcheng was the blind lawyer. In 2006, he was sent to jail after documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilizations and other abuses in his rural east China community.
Morillo wrote that Guangcheng was an “inspirational figure to others in China”.
According to the AP reporter, Guangcheng is under house arrest and, along with his family, is watched closely. The piece points out how horrible he was treated by Chinese authorities.
One fact stood out, “He expanded his activism after hearing complaints from people living in nearby villages that family planning officials were forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations to enforce the government’s one-child policy.”
I’m sure there will be people who will see me supporting China’s government when I do not condemn China for how Guangcheng was treated.
With more than 1.3 billion people and only 16% of the land capable of growing food crops and a looming shortage of fresh water, China is facing a possible melt down in a few decades that could dismantle all the progress made since the 1982 Constitution.
To understand China better, it would help to learn that China’s legal system is reinventing itself.
Up until 1911 when the Qing Dynasty collapsed, Chinese law leaned heavily toward Legalism influenced by Confucianism.
Near the end of the Qing Dynasty, efforts were made to reform the law by mainly importing German codes with slight modifications.
After 1911, the Nationalists continued this effort. When Mao and the Communists came to power in 1949, the ranks of intellectuals and legal professionals was devastated during the purges. A Soviet-style legal system was then adopted but that system suffered due to political turmoil that ended with the Cultural Revolution.
It wouldn’t be until 1982, that the idea of individual rights would reemerge as a signify influence on Chinese Law. Even then, business law developed much faster than civil law, which is the laws of a state or nation that deals with the rights of private citizens.
In an interview with James Zimmerman, about China’s Changing Legal System, Megan Rhodes wrote, “China is transforming its legal system at an amazing rate.”
When Rhodes asked Zimmerman if foreign law has influenced Chinese law, he answered “Yes, absolutely.”
At the end of the interview, Zimmerman says, “China is going through remarkable times, and should be proud of its ongoing judicial and legislative reforms. It has developed—and continues to develop—a legal system from scratch in just over 30 years.”
American law also evolved and reading Law and History: The Evolution of the American Legal System might give you a better understanding of what is going on in China.
In 1783, America signed a peace treaty with the British Empire and the U.S. officially became a nation state. However, slavery wouldn’t be abolished for eighty-two years in 1865, after the bloody American Civil War.
In addition, women in America even after the Civil War, were still second-class citizens. Source: Women’s history in America
Forms of child labor, including indentured servitude and child slavery, have existed throughout American History. In fact, it wasn’t until 1938 that the US had, for the first time, Federal regulations for minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children. Source: Child Labor in U.S. History
Then Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
China has had about thirty years to change since 1982 while America took 182 years to cover the same ground. However, there may be another reason why the American media and so many Americans condemn China so often, and that can be explained by the history of Discrimination Against the Chinese in America. Maybe that discrimination is not dead yet.
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