How one man in China strengthens the rule of law
Hao Jinsong, a Beijing lawyer, defies authorities with small lawsuits.
(Page 2 of 2)
This would not happen if Hao confronted the government head on over issues such as free speech. Instead, he deliberately restricts himself to less political cases, holding the government's feet to the fire on a goal it has publicly set itself – the rule of law.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"I would like to say the government and I are going forward together," he explains. "I don't want to strip the government of its power, but to curb it."
Achieving that goal starts with citizens knowing their rights and defending them in court if need be, Hao says. "Ordinary people have to change into independent- minded citizens before China will be strong," he argues.
Even independent-minded citizens, however, could be forgiven for steering clear of political action when they see what happens to the few who publicly demand an end to one-party rule in China.
A proponent of gradual change, Hao insists that democracy can only be won "at the right pace.
"It's like a running track," he says. "A few of the elite are leading the pack, but if ordinary people see that the track leads to jail they won't dare to get on it. My way is a way ordinary people can imitate" by going to court to defend their rights as consumers.
"When they realize they have rights," Hao hopes, "they will call for other rights, like freedom of speech or publication, later."
Fewer than 20 percent of Chinese public-interest lawsuits end in even partial success for the plaintiffs, according to a 2006 study by legal scholar Huang Jinrong. But that does not daunt Hao.
The public attention that such cases attract raises public awareness of the uses of the law, he says, and with each case "we change officials' attitudes."
Li Heping, a lawyer whose human rights work has earned him a round-the-clock police shadow and who was kidnapped and beaten up last year, also believes the sort of work Hao and his colleagues do is helping to change China.
"Each bit of progress has to be made step by step," he says. "It takes a lot of people working from different perspectives."
Hao is currently engaged in a suit against the National Forestry Agency, which he accuses of refusing to investigate a false claim by the Shaanxi provincial authorities that a South China tiger, thought to be extinct, had been photographed. The incident drew massive interest on the Chinese Internet, and widespread criticism of the authorities for trying to create a lucrative tourist attraction out of a faked photograph.
The lawsuit, Hao says, is designed "to show people that the government does not have the right to say whatever it likes. The government cannot lie, and ordinary people have the right to unmask the government's lies."
Such cases may not shake the world, but "they have a cumulative effect," says Dr. Lu. "When lots of people bring them, they contribute to positive change."
"Today I am just a butterfly flapping my wings in the Beijing sky," says Hao. "But in 20 years there will be a storm in the whole country."