On Tuesday, September 24, 2013 USALI directors Jerome Cohen and Ira Belkin sat down with Zhai Guoqiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), to talk about current debates in China over the topic of constitutionalism.
In front of an audience of over twenty students and scholars from NYU Law, Fordham Law and Columbia Law, Professor Zhai argued that, despite news articles depicting China as increasingly antagonistic toward both “constitutionalism” (xianzheng) and “constitutional law” (xianfa), only a small fraction of Chinese legal scholars take issue with these topics. At present, Professor Zhai contended, the Constitution mainly operates as a declaration of political ideals rather than an authoritative document on the country’s overarching laws, and concluded that the more pertinent issue is the lack of constitutional review in the Chinese legal system, a situation which prevents legal questions regarding the Constitution from being dealt with effectively.
Professor Zhai’s comments were followed by a Q&A session, during which the audience asked questions concerning the future of constitutional law in China, early debates on this topic between Mao Zedong and Wang Ming, and the extent to which the Constitution can be used to protect citizens’ rights.
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