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CHINA: Anniversary of Communist Victory Showcases New Liberalism

Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Oct 3 2003 (IPS) - China celebrated 54 years of communist rule with an outburst of evident liberalism, designed to showcase how the country is evolving into a modern society, governed by populist and responsive leaders where ordinary people are entitled to private lives.

China celebrated 54 years of communist rule with an outburst of evident liberalism, designed to showcase how the country is evolving into a modern society, governed by populist and responsive leaders where ordinary people are entitled to private lives.

Beginning Oct. 1, which marks the anniversary of the communist victory in China, the state is going to allow its 1.3 billion citizens to marry or divorce without permission from police or workplace bosses.

Pre-marital health examinations currently forced on both the bride and groom are no longer required for the couple to tie the knot.

Travel abroad would be also made easy as authorities would allow residents in 100 large and medium-size cities to apply for passports on their own. Currently, Chinese citizens must first get approval from their employers to apply and must wait for three to four months before obtaining their documents.

The new policies come amid a general relaxation of the intrusive state control over the lives of Chinese people – something that scholars attribute to the arrival of a new party leadership in the fall, when former party chief Jiang Zemin handed power to the incumbent leader Hu Jintao.

In a gesture underscoring the leadership’s new style as being less oppressive and less bureaucratic, on the eve of China’s National Day President and Party chief Hu Jintao delivered a speech calling for a bigger public role in government and ”democratic election”, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

”Implement the law to serve the people” and ”create a rule that is by the people” were the buzzwords of Hu’s speech, delivered to fellow members of the party’s Politburo, the second highest level of power body after the ruling Standing Committee.

Hu called for ”efforts to expand citizens’ orderly participation in political affairs and guarantee the people’s rights to carry out democratic election, decision making, management and supervision according to law,” Xinhua said.

China s party leader fell short of saying what he meant by ”democratic election”. The Communist party does not allow the existence of true opposition parties, and authorities continue to harass and imprison dissidents whose divergent views threaten its supremacy of power.

But Beijing has allowed non-partisan elections for low-level village offices for a decade. Hu had been expected to unveil competitive internal elections for party posts in a Jul. 1 speech on the anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding.

When the Jul. 1 speech omitted any references to political reform, devoting instead lengthy praise to his predecessor Jiang Zemin, observers concluded that new leadership was still struggling to consolidate its power base in factional feuding with the proteges of Jiang. As a chairman of China s military commission, Jiang still wields significant backroom power.

Nevertheless, with a series of well-timed gestures in recent months, President Hu and Premier Wen have signalled an era of more openness and greater individual freedoms for Chinese people.

In addition to relaxing marriage laws and easing curbs on travel, authorities have loosened rules on where university graduates, investors and entrepreneurs may live, thus allowing more migration inside the country.

Some cities now allow migrant workers from the countryside and other non-residents to work without applying for special permits.

The liberalisation drive further weakens the role of once all-powerful work units and residents party committees in citizens’ lives. By the start of China’s reform era in the 1980s, the party-controlled work units, or ‘danwei’, were policing all aspects of people’s private lives, including whom they married and when they had their children.

But with the dismantling of the cradle-to-grave system of social welfare, the state gradually ceased control of citizens lives by leaving them to fend for their own housing and living.

‘Beijing Youth Daily’ reported that some 1,708 couples in the capital tied the knot on Oct. 1, queuing up from early morning at the registrar’s offices to make use of the ‘new’ and ‘simplified’ marriage procedures. Under the new rules, people wanting to wed will only have to provide their identity cards and residence permits, and promise that they are not already married.

Some however, thought the changes of rules are more than overdue. ”So many people work in the private sector nowadays that no one really cares about what the work units can do any longer,” said Gao Huiwen, a private businesswoman herself.

The new leaders have also repeatedly declared that the views of ordinary people must be given a higher priority in the Chinese system and that the government should strive for more professionalism and responsiveness to the people’s needs.

This philosophy was highlighted in a widely publicised case of a migrant worker who was beaten to death by the police for failing to present his city resident permit in Guangdong province.

After a trial in June that generated public outcry, the central government responded by abolishing a law that gave the police power to treat rural migrants as vagrants who could be detained at will.

 
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CHINA: Anniversary of Communist Victory Showcases New Liberalism

Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Oct 3 2003 (IPS) - China celebrated 54 years of communist rule with an outburst of evident liberalism, designed to showcase how the country is evolving into a modern society, governed by populist and responsive leaders where ordinary people are entitled to private lives.
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