China tries to stop academics from taking its constitution literally

The Economist:

A year before Xi Jinping became China’s leader, a 47-year-old professor at Peking University, Zhang Qianfan, delivered a talk to mark the 100th anniversary of the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty, in 1911, charting the history of efforts since then to instil respect for constitutional principles. Students unable to find seats in the packed lecture theatre stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the walls. They grinned and clapped when he started by saying: “I have written down my true feelings…They may sound fierce. Forgive me if they cause offence.”

The thin, bespectacled academic held his audience spellbound. Those who, unable to find space in the room, had crowded by the doorway, were still there when he finished, almost two hours later. That was fortunate, because his final point was the most powerful in a lecture packed with indictments of China’s failure to implement the guarantees of its constitution, including freedom of speech, of assembly and of association. Mr Zhang wrapped up by listing 12 places where authoritarian rule had (at least briefly) crumbled, from the Soviet Union to Taiwan to countries that had recently experienced the Arab spring. “What [their] people can do,” he said, “the Chinese”—and here he paused briefly while the audience began to laugh and clap—“people can certainly do.” Wild applause ensued. Someone cried, “Good!”