Law and (Dis)order in China

Source : Daily World

When Mao took over in 1949, his Red Guards had all the power and no responsibility. A person had to be only branded an enemy of the revolution and then the revolutionaries had the freedom to do what they liked with him. There were no trials and no prescribed punishments. Burning alive, mutilations and drowning, were all accepted as proper punishments for the counter-revolutionaries and the landlords. It would be justified to conclude that the foundations of communist China rest on the breakdown of the rule of law. Mao himself had said in 1948 that a tenth of the peasants would have to be destroyed. He boasted in 1957 that he had already killed 400,000 intellectuals. Without even the semblance of a trial, 15 percent of the landlords were executed, 25 percent were sent to camps and 60 percent put to forced labour. The Economist in its September 10, 2016 issue said that Mao even prescribed a quota for executions in each province.

Political violence, handmaiden of the revolution right from the 1949 Land Reform Movement, resulted in the death of 10 percent of the population.Deaths due to famine caused by the Great Leap Forward were of the same order as the worldwide deaths in WW II. Deng Xiaoping, the head of state from 1978 to 1989, and a victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, claimed that one million people were killed by mobs in that period. The anarchy that reigned during the Cultural Revolution has been compared to William Golding’s dystopian novel, “Lord of the Flies.”

The Chinese communist’s lust for blood continues with annual executions exceeding the total of the rest of the world. This number is claimed to be a state secret but is estimatedat several thousand each year. The number of capital offences is 45, with many of these being non-violent. The leading one iscorruption, which is called “serious violation of party discipline”. CCDI, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspections is the feared organ of the party and is liberally used to silence opposition. Corruption is pandemic in the party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the bureaucracy but as long as one is loyal to the party, there is acceptance. The old system of guanxi or relationships and connections ensures that ‘princelings’ float on wealth as long as they are loyal to the party. Xi Jinping, the head of state who dons multiple hats in the party and the government, is one such princeling,being the son of Xi Zhongxun, the former vice-premier. Xi’s wealth is estimated at a billion dollars in a country where the Foreign Policy magazine reported that in 2018, 500 million people earned less than $5.50 a day.

Until 1984, the condemnedwere a spectacle paraded through the main streets in police vehicles.Large crowds gathered to watch dozens being executed in succession. After execution the body was rushed for organ harvesting. As public executions became less common, aTV reality show, “Interviews Before Execution” began to be aired in 2006 on the Henan Legal Channel. It remaineda big hit continuouslytill it was stopped in 2012. A BBC report documented in March 2012 how Ding Yu, a journalist, and her team rushed to interview prisoners who were about to be executed. At times Ding rebuked the prisoner for her crimes even as the person was about to be executed in a little while.

For the privileged, lethal injection is administered in execution vans, as “some places cannot afford to send the convict to Beijing”. Nearly 40 of these vans are in operation with the party saying that these are cost-effective and humane. The powerful mining tycoon and Mafioso Liu Han went about his business for two decades amassing more than $6 billion with no call from the CCDI. Then he fell foul of the powers that be and was convicted and executed by lethal injection. Not surprisingly, Jack Ma the owner of Alibaba and the richest man in China is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. His personal wealth of $35 billion apparently is no hindrance to being member of a party committed to socialism and Marxism in China. Some writers refer to the billionaire supreme leader Xi Jinping as the capo dei capi, the boss of all bosses or the Godfather, an allusion to the rich, powerful, and ruthlessly cold-blooded character in Mario Puzo’s eponymous book. Did execution of a few thousand every year have a deterrent effect on crime? During a visit to Beijing in 1993, the present writer noticed that the drivers in taxis were protected from the passengers by a strong steel grill. It turned out that incidents in which passengers had robbed and murdered the driver were unpleasantly frequent. China seems to be the only country where taxi drivers have to be protected with a steel cage.

During the SARS epidemic in 2002-03, China had threatened death sentence for citizens who avoided quarantine. Again, during the present Covid19 epidemic, state officials threatened that concealing infection would attract the death penalty. Capital offences like “separatism” and “seriously endangering public safety” are flexible enough to permit a prosecutor’s creativity to cover many situations. The United Nation’s 2016 publication “Death Penalty and the Victims” states that in China “diverse forms of torture and inhumane treatment, to extract information about the accused” create a high risk that innocents will be convicted on the basis of false confessions extracted by torture. It further notes that the Supreme People’s Court review of death sentences remains rudimentary and lacking in transparency.

The party, reassured of acquiescence not only from domestic intellectuals but also from the international community, has created a standard operating procedure for dealing with “inconvenient” high profile persons. A person “disappears”, and after a few months reappears in custody to make a confession thereby obviating the need for a trial and evidence. The allegations invariably involve immorality. Meng Hongwei, former vice-minister of public security was president of Interpol when he disappeared in 2018 during a family visit in China. After a year, he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced in January 2020 to 13 years in prison. Meanwhile, Interpol received his resignation through Chinese officials and quietly appointed a new head. When his wife,Grace Meng,alleged that the person who pleaded guilty was not her husband but a double, she was also accused of corruption. Now six months later, the CCDI has published a document accusing Meng of indulging in “lust.”

Xu Zhangrun, professor of law at the prestigious Tsinghua University has been critical of the party and Xi. The university banned him in 2019 and he remained prepared for arrest with a small bag packed with some clothes and a toothbrush. He was taken prisoner on July 6, 2020 and accused of consorting with prostitutes. The long list includes Ren Zhiqiang, who fell foul of Xi for calling him a power-hungry clown, in an online essay and Xu Zhiyong, a law teacher imprisoned for criticising Xi’s handling of the epidemic. Many Chinese rulers have been followers of Confucius who lived 2500 years ago. He prescribed personal and state morality for rulers along with justice, kindness and sincerity. A vegetarian, he promoted the use of chopsticks as knives and forks at the food table reminded him of the slaughterhouse. Other rulers followed Wang Anshi, who advised emperor Shenzong in 1071, “After our treasury is abundant, we can use force.” Mencius said that it is justified for people to overthrow or even kill a ruler who works against their happiness and is harsh on them. On the overthrow of the hated king Zhou, he said that he had merely heard of the killing of villain Zhou, not of the murder of the king. Before it is too late, Xi Jinping may better start reading the wise words of Mencius in addition to the realpolitik of Wang Anshi.

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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