Chinese police take away constitutional scholar for urging political reform to save society after Covid-19

Zhang Xuezhong, constitutional scholar after he wrote an open letter to representatives of the country’s legislature, criticising the government’s handling of the coronavirus. (Photo courtesy: SCMP)

(, May12’20) – Chinese authorities had taken away on May 10 night a constitutional scholar after he wrote an open letter to representatives of the country’s legislature, criticising the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and calling for freedom of speech and a modern democratic constitution, reported the May 11, citing multiple sources.

Zhang Xuezhong’s letter, posted on WeChat on May 9 and addressed to deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC), was widely circulated online as China prepared to convene its most important parliamentary sessions in less than two weeks’ time, the report said.

“He was taken away on Sunday night. Three police cars came to his house,” Wen Kejian, an independent political analyst and a close friend of Zhang, was quoted as saying.

Another friend has said Zhang was mentally prepared for the consequences after he wrote his open letter.

Alongside his attached letter, Zhang, 43, was stated to have written: “The best way to fight for freedom of expression is for everyone to speak as if we already have freedom of speech.”

Zhang – a regular contributor to overseas newspapers and a well-known critic of China’s political and legal system – was quoted as saying that in the absence of a modern constitution, China’s governance was very backward, and “the outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 epidemic is a good illustration of the problem”.

The report noted that there were calls for freedom of speech in February, triggered partly by the death of Dr Li Wenliang, who had alerted colleagues in December about a pneumonia-like illness in Wuhan, only to be one of eight people reprimanded by police for “spreading rumours”.

Li, who was made to sign a document vowing he would “keep in line in thought and action” with the Communist Party, later died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Zhang was quoted as saying in his letter: “Twenty-two days before the [lockdown to contain the outbreak] in the city, Wuhan was still investigating and punishing citizens who had disclosed the epidemic, including Dr Li Wenliang … showing how tight and arbitrary the government’s suppression of society is.”

The letter was cited a saying the Chinese political system had resulted in a lack of transparency and scrutiny.

Zhang has also pointed out that “since Jan 3, 2020, the [Chinese] foreign ministry had been regularly notifying the US government about the epidemic, but the disease control department was not notifying the people of [China] at the same time. Such an irresponsible attitude towards their people’s safety is rare.”

He has said that the lack of independent professionals in the fields of media and medicine to provide independent advice to the public “only shows that the government’s long-term tight control of society and people has almost completely destroyed the organisation and self-help capabilities of Chinese society.”

Zhang was stated to have called on NPC deputies to turn the legislature into a “transitional authority” to create a broadly representative committee empowered to draft a constitution conforming to “modern political principles”.

His other calls on the NPC were stated to include drafting resolutions to immediately release all political prisoners, end bans on political parties and non-state media, and enshrine that no political party should enjoy the status of a national public service institution.

The report said Zhang, who teaches an online constitutional class, was removed from his teaching post at East China University of Political Science and Law in 2013 because of his critical commentary on China’s constitution, and was expelled from the faculty four months later. The university was stated to have accused him of “forcibly spreading his political views to the school staff and teachers, and also using his position to spread his political views among students”.


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