China’s Capitalistic Socialists
Journalist, Commentator in Hong Kong
Last month, the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, adopted a landmark property law that grants equal protection to public and private property ? a revolutionary move for a country that still calls itself socialist and is run by a Communist Party.
After all, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in the “Communist Manifesto,” declared: “Communist theory may be summed up in one sentence: Abolition of private property.” And now, China’s communist party has moved to elevate private property to the same level as public property.
No wonder, then, that the legislation was so controversial that it took 14 years for it to be drafted and finally approved. The draft legislation underwent an unprecedented seven deliberations by the legislature.
Left-leaning intellectuals and scholars opposed the legislation on ideological grounds while others opposed it for fear that illgotten gains would henceforth be protected. In the quarter century that China has been moving from a planned to a market economy, many state assets have been transformed into private ones through dubious means.
The new law is due to come into effect on October 1. But already Chief Justice Xiao Yang has announced that the Supreme People’s Court will be issuing legal interpretations so that courts around the country will properly understand the law.
The need for such a law arose from the country’s economic reforms. The private sector now accounts for 65 percent of the country’s output.
The law is also meant to better protect farmers and their land because, in many localities, officials have made lucrative deals with developers, seizing agricultural land for the construction of luxury housing or shopping malls. The government acknowledges 90,000 cases of illegal land seizures last year.
Currently, all land belongs to the state. Any attempt to privatize land will no doubt encounter even more vociferous opposition. And yet, this is a step that might well have to be taken if China is to truly have a market economy. As recently as the 1990s, virtually all urban housing was state-owned. But today, most urban housing is privately owned, and this has created a need to protect private property from state interference.
In recent days, there has been a great deal of publicity about one particular house in Chongqing, in southwestern China that is threatened by developers who are working with city officials. The owners, Yang Wu, a martial arts champion, and his wife, Wu Ping, refused to move even though hundreds of families around them have given up and accepted whatever terms the developers were willing to offer.
Now, their two-story house, which used to be a restaurant, stands perched all alone on a needle of earth in the middle of a giant construction site. Water and electricity have long been cut off.
The Chinese press and the blogging community have given the matter a great deal of publicity. But the government has recently clamped down.
Because of the timing, many think that this standoff will be a test case for the newly passed property law. However, a local court issued an order for the house to be torn down on March 22, and the law will not come into effect until October.
Yang showed his defiance of the court by returning to the house after the court order, using his martial arts skill by climbing up the steep mound using two pipes. He unfurled a Chinese flag atop his house, as well as a banner that proclaimed: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached upon.” However, on March 30, the court issued a public notice ordering him to move out before April 10.
The Yangs through their defiance have won much sympathy and admiration. They have been battling the government and developers since 2004. They say that they do not want money, only space of the same size ? 219 square meters ? in the same general area facing the same direction.
The Chongqing case has focused attention on the new property law, which is part of the government¡|s attempt to turn China into a nation of laws. There are likely to be other steps in the years ahead. Through this process, the party will inevitably see its power diminish. But that is the direction in which China will have to develop.
Postscript: Shortly after this column was written came the news that the developers and the Yangs had reached an agreement. Yang left the house Monday afternoon and by nightfall it had been demolished. The Yangs will be given a comparable house in another part of Chongqing.