Home > Law, Politics, Society and Culture > The Law is an Ass

The Law is an Ass

A quick primer on Chinese law:

The Chinese chief justice, Wang Sheng Jun has never been to law school.

Wang Sheng Jun says that Chinese courts should work on the principle of interests of the Communist Party first, the people’s interests second, and the rule of law last.

At the end of November, No 1 Intermediary People’s Court handed down the surprise decision that Microsoft should stop selling copies of its software that contains the illegal material. The argument has developed into an intellectual property (with no intellectual property, they’re fonts) row that has no doubt fired up nationalists across the country, ready to both espouse the glories of China’s modernization and they’re able to cheer on the fact that according to Chinese law, an American company has been told to where to stick it’s nasty pirated goods (outside the subway station on Chongwenmen) by the little court that could. In a report in the Financial Times, Zhongyi, the Beijing software company that developed the fonts for MS, reckons that the big bad evil Microsoft has been using the Chinese character set and the input system as “a pillar for the windfall profits Microsoft is extracting from China.”

Also in November, Huang Qi was sentenced to three years imprisonment after he was found guilty of being in possession of state secrets.  As well as establishing an organization that spoke out against human trafficking, Qi had doggedly pushed and criticized both the national and local governments over the shoddy building practices that helped to kill over five thousand schoolchildren when northern Sichuan was hit by the biggest natural disaster in China for decades. During a 10 minute “hearing”, Qi was charged with illegal possession of state secrets, officially having “certain documents from a certain city” in his keep.   Of course, we never actually find out what the documents are, or which city they came from.Similarly,  Beijing artist, Ai Wei Wei, who helped design the Olympic National Stadium  2008 Olympic Games has been documenting the deaths of the schoolchildren, and publicizing them has been routinely harassed by Beijing police officers, who have repeatedly been trying to invent crimes for him to be guilty of.

Anyone who reads James Fallows excelleny blog at The Atlantic will have followed the stories that have emerged from across China after it was ruled that foreigners over the age of 60 years will not be eligible for a work (Z) permit.  Before we continue I must point out that this age limit on teachers is not uncommon.  Singapore has the same age limit, and lots of other countries have limits around the age of retirement (55, 60, 65, etc).  The problem has been that although the law has been passed, it’s not really been enforced with much consistency across the country.  There was a typical lack of transparency from the authorities, with conspiracy theories and excuse being made in favour of the decision, ranging from the idea that older men are much more of a “sex predator” problem than the younger men to the theory that people over the age of 60 are just health problems on legs that the local doctors and hospitals either don’t or can’t deal with.  One reader emailed in:

“I read your article on the banning of teachers over the age of 60 in China and I just wanted to let you know that this is not true across the country.  For years, we [a volunteer group] have been sending  60-100 teachers a year to teach in a number of universities in China and for the most part, they are retired, over the age of 60 and the schools are now saying that they should be under the age of 80!  Many of the teachers we send are for short-term summer and fall classes, but many stay on for long-term teaching assignments.  I suspect that they are watched closely to see that their characters are acceptable before the offers of longer contracts are made.”

All of which brings us the merry little Christmas present that was the execution of bi-polar wannabe popstar Akmal Shaikh who was arrested in 2007 for possession of 4,030 grams of heroin.  The Chinese spokeswoman (who also mistook Shaikh for a drug dealer) said that this would enough to kill 26,800 people.  The Chinese have done a good job of demonizing him in the Chinese press – assuming that they’re the same officials who called the Dalai Lama a devil with horns – but have talked little about his mental illness.  Shaikh, unfortunately, was not the wicked drug baron that the Chinese had made him out to be. Polish smugglers had convinced him that he would be a pop star in China with the release of his awful, self written single, Come Little Rabbit, which Shaikh hoped would bring about world peace.  Conveniently avoiding the truth once again, the mission statement of the Chinese Propaganda Department seems to be “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as we can convince everyone that the cat doesn’t have a history of mental illness that would, in other countries, be taken into consideration.”  Chris Hogg, the BBC’s Beijing Correspondent followed the trial up to the execution, and commented that “There’s very little discussion of the mental health issue on the websites and discussion boards. In terms of the discussions here in China, it doesn’t seem to be registering.”  In response, the Chinese spokesperson Jiang Yu said quite bluntly, “Nobody has the right to speak ill of China’s judicial sovereignty,”.

Which is of course, where it’s all wrong.  Everyone has the right to speak ill of China’s, and indeed any country’s judicial sovereignty.  Especially if it’s sovereignty built on corruption and nepotism.  What is clear from the attitude that Chinese officials had towards the Briitish lobbyists and petitioners and the way that China was represented at the Copenhagen talks is that China is settling into its role as a major superpower quite nicely – they’re being nasty to everyone on the way up, and one can only assume that they’re going to be nasty to everyone on the way down too.  Everyone has the right to criticize, especially when the Chinese are ignoring their own Criminal Code (in this case, Article 18 of the 1997 Criminal Code which states that the mentally ill should be treated more leniently in criminal cases).

Some say (that is, Chinese netizens) that the British let him die because they didn’t negotiate “in secret” with the Chinese government to obtain his release.  Others say (that is, Chinese netizens) that he was guilty of a crime in Chinese territory and should be punished according to the published law, and others (that is, Chinese netizens), including the judge who was hearing him beg for clemency in the Supreme Courts of China, laughed at him as he made his final, desperate and somewhat rambling statement in Xinjiang pleading for his life.  Beyond anything else, the timing of the execution was almost bang on perfect, and maxmised the coverage of the execution in nearly all the national British and European newspapers.  For future reference, the Chinese should make note that executions over Christmas are usually frowned upon in most western countries.  Unless you’re a turkey, which Wang Sheng Jun almost certainly is.

The reaction of the Chinese to the outrage from the UK has been to bring up the old evergreen sob-story, The Opium Wars.  Recycling events that not many people actually remember anymore, and that fewer survivors have partaken in, is part and parcel of the Chinese way of living. It’s not as overt as “look what good Chairman Mao has done for the country”, but the little reminders are always there to, well, remind Chinese people how bad things were and how good they are now, and how grateful they should be (please don’t riot and cause problems like you did last time).   Right now, it’s easy to make those comparisons between old China and the modern dragon that we all know and love today.  As time goes on, and the living standards of ordinary Chinese continues to improve, the less relevant these comparisons will be.  Soon the irrelevant will become immaterial, but for now double standards work wonders when you’re a one-party dictatorship trying desperately to find something to help you stay in power.   

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: