Comment - Xu Zhiyong - The Chinese Citizens’ Pledge

In the coming days or months, it may be worth observing what will (or will not, hopefully) happen to rights laywers and activists Xu Zhiyong, Teng Biao, Wang Gongquan, Li Xiongbing, Li Fangping, Xu Youyu and Zhang Shihe.

The reason is simple. Xu et alii are the authors of the Chinese Citizens' Pledge, a document in nine articles published on June 17 on Tiger Temple, Zhang Shihe's blog, and translated at China Geeks on June 20.

On the surface, the pledge is just a document attempting to awaken the conscience of Chinese citizens, and does not pose a challenge to the CCP monopoly on political power. Its signatories promise to advance justice and the rule of law, and to abide to norms and values already set by the party-state. In theory signing the pledge may even contribute to governance, making its signatories into self-governing, self-regulating subjects.

Those who want to scratch beyond the surface, will find out that the Pledge is much more than this. The Pledge is a social contract, an agreement whereby its signatories consent to subject themselves to a normative social arrangement. Article 7 contains provisions about a mechanisms to make the signatories' consensus operational:

once a certain number of citizens have made the pledge as communally agreed upon, mutually agreeable regulations will be created and a mechanism for implementing the pledge will be founded. Before the regulations and mechanism are created, the sponsors of this pledge are entrusted with discussing and deciding what work must be done to implement the pledge, including [what must be done with regards to] the legal system, investigating and researching public policy, pushing forward improvements in the system, giving legal support to the defendants in major cases, criticizing corrupt and illegal government departments, Party associations (政党组织), and social organizations, making recommendations and supervising. Citizens who take the pledge have the right to be aware or and participate in sponsoring the pledge and the associated actions taken to implement it, they also have the right to criticize and make suggestions about the pledge’s implementation, and to receive answers from the pledge’s sponsors.

The work to implement the pledge in the legal system and other areas (在规章制度和承诺履行机制建立前委托本承诺发起公民协商决定为承诺履行必要的工作包括对法律制度、公共政策进行调查研究,推动制度改良;对重大典型案件当事人提供法律援助...) may put the signatories on a direct course of collision with state power.

The form of citizens' power emerging from the Pledge, no matter how numerically small, will be a form of power based on the signatories' consensus. Its legitimacy will rest upon their agreement, whereas the party-state's power is premised first and foremost on the CCP military victory:

We have two radically different visions of political legitimacy - one based on a social contract, one premised on an original act of violence.

This morning I connected to the internet through a mainland ISP, finding out how the Chinese Citizens' Pledge could be found on no more than 10 mainland webpages, some of which have been deleted. It doesn't mean much. But, on various occasions Xu Zhiyong, Teng Biao and the others have been harassed, disappeared or prosecuted.

The government's reaction, if any, will reveal whether intellectuals are allowed to rework ideas on contractualism and act upon them, or whether these ideas should be confined to university lecture halls and libraries.

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