China's Power Gap

Essay: Why do powerful officials break the rules and earn promotions, while a migrant mother faces bureaucratic traps that don't allow her child to go to school? Facing up to the question of administrative power is fundamental for China'

Planting a new future? (Snow Kisses Sky)
Planting a new future? (Snow Kisses Sky)
Zheng Ge*

The 18th century English essayist Oliver Goldsmith once wrote: "Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law." Put a slight twist on that sentence from "The Vicar of Wakefield," and you get a glimpse into the uglier side of Chinese society where "Laws grind the poor, and the powerful rule the law."

China is in fact a society centered around officials. Wealth is based on having power, whereas simply being rich doesn't necessarily bring power.

Two recent incidents clearly highlight two different ways in which laws have been implemented. One is a case of several officials who had lied on their resumes about their age and academic degrees. Far from being punished, one of them was even promoted. The other case is about an ordinary woman who bought a fake authenticating seal because she needed it to stamp a paper enabling her to register her child for school. Schooling is after all a basic right of the people and such seals are hawked on every street corner. Now she faces criminal prosecution.

The fraud perpetrated by the public servants undermines the government's credibility and legitimacy. They should therefore be severely punished. Meanwhile, a rural emigrant who faked a processing seal has disrupted the normal working order of an administrative department. But this administrative procedure is itself a burden on ordinary civil rights, and its legitimacy can be questioned. In short, the case should have been dealt with leniency.

As these examples show, the "selective enforcement of law" is clearly before us. The proclamation in the Chinese Constitution that "All men are equal before the law" is obviously challenged.

Righting wrongs

The government's household registration system discriminates against the school enrollment of migrant worker children. In the face of this institutional wrong, there is no recourse to non-legal means of circumventing the restriction.

Nevertheless, according to the Criminal Law and the Public Security Administration Punishment Law, "Forging, altering or selling and buying official state seals' is defined both as a crime and as a threat to public order. Yet it is obvious that her offense is minor and does not cause serious harm, and this behavior does not constitute a crime. At most it is to be defined as a violation of the rules, and be penalized as such.

Put aside the specific details, the two cases reveal wider issues.

Chinese traditional political philosophy emphasizes ethics flowing from the top, down. Officials must lead by example and establish a model as upright citizens themselves. The reason why China is poorly ruled is in large part attributed to the fact that Chinese officials do not respect the law, and they are indulgent with themselves while being strict with others.

The fake seal case happened because of the existence of some importunate red tape. There's no victim. Instead, the constitutionality and legitimacy of such regulatory means should be the subject at hand. The citizen's right to education is a basic constitutional right. The local People's Congress or local authority have no right to enact local regulations or policies that detract from people's basic rights enshrined in the constitution.

In administration and law enforcement, the public ought to be admitted to a larger and deeper scope of participation during the decision-making procedure. It has long been an issue that the majority of migrant workers, whose children are affected by the schooling regulations, have been excluded from any chance of participating in debating such an important policy.

The public is all too familiar with having to go back and forth to administration offices for a missing seal or letter. Chinese bureaucracy costs people too much time and energy: the "Convenient administration" slogan should be more than just a slogan.

Fake seals and fake papers have long existed semi-publicly in China. The public security should focus more on cleaning up this seller's market so the public doesn't act with the misconception that it's somehow normal to use fraud, and that the authorities will look the other way.

The integrity of civil servants must improve. Once found guilty of fraud, an official should never be employed as such again. Integrity is the basis of public authority as well as the foundation of the government's legitimacy. If an official is allowed to cheat and remain in the government, not only might he use his power to commit even more evil, but the phenomena itself can undermine the people's trust. Keeping a dishonest official is like not removing a tumor- the malignancy is bound to spread.

Privileges run rampant in China today, while law enforcement varies from person to person. Chinese people want change; and if the government does not respond and guide the change, it could end up facing a critical situation.

*Zheng Ge is Assistant Professor of Law at Hong Kong University

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Snow Kisses Sky

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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