Tong Zhiwei is a professor of law at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai. He serves as vice-president of the Constitutional Studies branch of the China Law Society 中国法学会宪法学研究会 and has been the editor-in-chief at the journal Legal Science Monthly 《法学》. Aside from his academic career, he is also an active commentator on a range of social issues related to Chinese laws and politics.
Tong has published extensively on constitutional questions, including On the Structure of the State 国家结构形式论 (Wuhan University Press, 1997) and Legal Rights and Constitutional Government 法权与宪政 (Shandong People’s Publishing House, 2001), and he continues to be an active participant in debates over socialist constitutionalism, which he defines as:
Without denying the constitutional legitimacy of the long-ruling status of the Communist Party of China, employing the constitution to constrain the scope of CPC power and regulate its use, as well as to effectively protect the fundamental rights of citizens and fully and effectively implement the Constitution. (From ‘On Constitutional Government, Part III’, link)
Unlike the group known as ‘Anti-constitutionalists’ 反宪派 Tong and his fellow ‘Socialist Constitutionalists’ 社宪派 insist that the constitution should limit the powers of the ruling party. Equally, they are different from ‘General Consitutionalists’ 泛宪派 in their justification of the role and legitimacy of the ruling (ie, Communist) party. In an exchange of views via blog and microblog in mid-2013, He Weifang 贺卫方, a well-known General Constitutionalist who has previously featured in Key Intellectuals, argued that officials within the Communist Party are aware that the present regnant leading party ideology is a dead end, therefore academics ought to point out the true origins of constitutionalism and generate a conceptual environment that can stand up against the Party’s dictatorial power (see He Weifang 对社宪派的一点商榷（答童之伟教授）, link).
Tong’s more pragmatic position takes the ruling status of the Communist Party as a given, and treats it as a force to be reckoned with:
Not only does the Party control economic and political powers, but it also retains support from a range of social classes, including government employees, high-level intellectuals, well-paid managers at state-owned enterprises, as well as some private entrepreneurs.
He goes on to say,
If we continue this unnecessary discussion regarding the Party’s legitimacy, it will trigger insecurity or even a backlash. This would cause even greater instability and would damage the freedom and rights of citizens. (From ‘On Constitutional Government, Part III’, link)
Still, Tong is far from the view that the current constitution is without blemish:
Though it was the political process rather than the constitution that decided the leadership of the CPC … . The problem with the Chinese constitution is that it does not clearly delineate the scope of CPC power and the procedures it should follow. (‘On Constitutional Government, Part II’, link)
Tong’s suggested improvements to the constitution (as stated in his series of articles on the subject) include introducing laws that would protect citizens’ rights to criticise and supervise institutions of power; expanding direct voting to more levels of government; establish an independent judiciary; and impose strict controls on the activities of the state security agencies.
Tong articulated his support for judicial independence and the limitation on state power in articles and papers he wrote about the ‘Chongqing Model’ and Bo Xilai’s ‘Smash the Black’ anti-crime campaign. In ‘A Report on Chongqing’s Anti-Organized Crime Management Methods’ 重庆打黑型社会管理方式研究报告 (available on his blog), based on an independent investigation he conducted between May and September 2011, Tong examined the abuses of legal procedure and violations of constitutionally and legally-defined powers by the city’s law enforcement agencies. Throughout the protracted saga of Bo Xilai’s downfall, Tong continued to write against the populism of Bo’s leadership in Chongqing. See, for example, ‘A Comprehensive Reconsideration of Bo Xilai-Style Populism’ 全面反思薄熙来式民粹主义 (Phoenix Online, 2012) and ‘The Chongqing Counter-current and its Lessons’ 重庆逆流及其教训 (blog link).
- Tong Zhiwei’s blog, frequently updated with his columns and papers
- ‘Abandoning Reeducation is a Step Toward Rule of Law‘, China US Focus, 5 February 2013
- Zhiwei Tong (童之伟) on Chinese Constitutionalism, Criminal Law and Justice in China, a series of essays translated by Larry Catá Backer