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Implications of the Attorney Li Zhuang Case

Posted by on 2010/01/19. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Liang Jing
Jan 19, 2010 – 6:08:14 AM

The implications of last week’s sentencing of Li Zhuang were quite profound. In terms of intellectual-led public opinion, Bo Xilai won the case but in moral terms lost. He clearly manipulated the case, unscrupulously framing Li, and his contempt for the concept of the rule of law in particular outraged many legal and otherwise knowledgeable people, damaging his liberal image, and doing his political future no good.

But there is a deeper question: what made him dare to do so? It seems clear now that from the first day he resolved to strike hard at crime in Chongqing, Bo paid no heed to the past three decades of progress in legal procedures, reverting instead to the Cultural Revolution tradition of “handling cases with campaigns.” This decision of Bo Xilai’s reflects his values, and incorporates one of his grand conclusions: namely that the reforms based on fooling oneself in order to fool others can no longer be kept going, and only politicians who “look as if they mean it” stand a chance of coming out on top.

Even prior to the Li Zhuang case, Feng Xiang, a jurist who has lived in America, could see that Bo Xilai’s “singing red while striking at crime” posed an ethical dilemma for professional “legal persons.” Feng Xiang profoundly criticises those “intellectuals” who can have it both ways in China’s “phoney reforms.” He points out that the rule of law and education failed to achieve substantive progress in China for over three decades and have in fact gone backwards, and the intellectuals believe in and promote freedom are to blame. He points out that China’s “pseudo-reforms” have created an overall environment in which “you indicate left while turning right, speech and action are inconsistent, and the apparent slogans are not the actual rules that are in operation.” “Those who are at home in such an environment are people with split personalities,” they “talk a lot about freedom, democracy, constitutionalism, human rights, etc., behind closed doors,” but in life cannot get along without the privileges granted by dictatorship, and hence become its slaves and tools both voluntarily and involuntarily. [1]

Li Zhuang is a typical example of such an intellectual; according to the latest issue of Nanfeng chuang [Southern Window], in recent years, the “Beijing lawyers” with “background” whom he represents “have become an eye-catching ‘brand.’ On the one hand, they come forward to uphold the rule of law in a lot of sensitive cases, striving to promote judicial progress in China, while on the other hand, they are seen as residents of the capital, where they are inextricably linked to the highest judicial authorities, interfering with the judiciary by aggregating expert and media resources.” [2]

Li Zhuang’ being set up for a prison sentence by Bo Xilai was tragic not only for himself, but also his legal colleagues who were ordered to find him guilty. The case confirms in the most dramatic way the plight of China’s jurists and scholars pointed out by Feng Xiang. The greater tragedy for these people lies in the fact that many people have no understanding and less sympathy for what happened to them. In other words, while Bo Xilai was considered by liberal intellectuals to be morally the loser, in the eyes of more people lower lower down in society, he is likely to be morally the winner.

The implications of Li Zhuang case for China’s future are very serious if this is so, because it means the emergence of a totally fascist China in the 21st century is indeed possible. The real danger in China’s future does not in fact, come from any political ambitions of the likes of Bo Xilai, but from the lack of a sufficient number of intellectuals devoted to the rule of law and justice, who are as resolved as he is to take action to win popular support. [3]

China does have a number of intellectuals and jurists who are committed to principle and to justice. Xu Zhiyong, mentioned in the Southern Window commentary, is representative of a group of public interest lawyers who threw themselves whole-heartedly into safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups, and who, low-key but persistent, offered legal services to the most vulnerable groups. There are as well brave souls like Ai Weiwei who make high-profile challenges to the authorities of injustice and at the risk of being “disappeared” “pick fights” with the public security organs. However, having seen Ma’s Hooves produced by Ai Weiwei, I can only sincerely admire his character and courage, but likewise can only worry how, in the face of such a powerful and irrational authoritarian regime, such heroic “hopeless battles” can mobilise countervailing power against it?

Not long ago I read a report by Fan Yafeng, whome the authorities recently removed from his public employment [as a research fellow of the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Science], and found a representative free intellectual of equally firm resolve, as well as ideological influence. Fan argues that China’s “society has entered a stage of collision between the biggest tectonic plate (Christian Family Church) and the party-state”, “if the family church plate can not be controlled by the party-state, it can be said without exagger–ation that it will amount to a breakthrough in China’s democratic transition, which will have a great impact on the whole pattern of Chinese society and the world.”[4]

The Li Zhuang case shows that the game of institutions determining China’s future is being played at different levels. The likes of Bo Xilai use the power resources they control, to set about building an “equitable society” in which there is no rule of law. more intellectuals and jurists with true faith in the rule of law may win a truly bright future for China only in throwing their lot in with society and resorting to action. [5]

* 梁京:李庄案的深层意义

[1] “Feng Xiang: Chang hong da hei zheshe chude zhiye lunli kunjing” [The plight of the professional ethics reflected by singing red and hitting black], Gongshi wang, 2 December 2009 [: “冯象:唱红打黑折射出的职业伦理困境”, 共识网, ,2009年12月 2日 (<http://www.21ccom.net/newsinfo.asp?id=4224&cid=10342200>here).].

[2] Tian Lei, “Li Zhuang an de shenceng jiazhi” [the deeper value of the Li Zhuang Case], Nan fengchuang, 17 January 2010 [田磊: “李庄案的深层价值”, 南风窗,2010年1月 17日 (<http://www.nfcmag.com/articles/1839>here).].

[3] He Weifang, “Lüshi bei nan ri, guomin zaoyang shi—da ‘xingzhe’ jun wen” [When lawyers are oppressed, the people suffer – reply to ‘Walker’s’ question], He Weifang de bo laodao, 5 January 2010 [贺卫方: “律师被难日 国民遭殃时——答“行者”君问”, 贺卫方的博唠阁,2010年1月 5日 (<http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_488663200100gwba.html>here).].

[4] Fan Yafeng, “Fazhi yu gongmin shehui—dang yu shehui de hudong (shang)” [Rule of law and civil society—Intereaction between party and society], Gongshi wang, 17 January 2010 [范亚峰: “法治与公民社会——党国与社会的互动(上)”, 共识网,2010年1月 17日 (<http://www.21ccom.net/newsinfo.asp?id=5188&cid=10342200>here).].

[5] Chen Lei, “Li Zhuang an youyin shi Zhao Changqing chenggong bianhu shajihaihou” [Li Zhuang case prompted by Zhao Changqing’s successful defence, killing chicken to scare monkeys], Boxun, 10 January 2010 [陈磊: “李庄案诱因是赵长青成功辩护后杀鸡骇猴”, 博讯,2010年1月 10日 (<http://news.boxun.com/news/gb/china/2010/01/201001102232.shtml>here).].translated by David Kelly

China Research Centre
University of Technology Sydney

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