May 8, 2007
Senior Fellow Keith Hand Examines Citizen Constitutionalism in China
In an article published in the May issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Senior Fellow Keith Hand examines three recent citizen legal claims — two involving mundane tax and compensation issues, and a third involving a well-known constitutional challenge to China’s Property Rights Law, and their implications for China’s constitutional development. Over the past five years, a growing number of Chinese citizens have advanced challenges to the constitutionality and legality of government regulations and judicial interpretations. In the course of these struggles, citizens are shaping government action with constitutional arguments and strengthening expectations that state action must have a legal and constitutional basis. As Hand concludes, an institutionalized and independent legal process for constitutional review has yet to emerge in China, and there are many obstacles to the development of such a process. However, these citizen claims and the government responses to them suggest that concepts of constitutionalism are gradually strengthening in China. They also highlight one path forward for China’s constitutional development that is not solely dependent on the benevolence of an enlightened leader, but instead is a product of citizen-state interaction.