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Jiang Ping, the “conscience of the Chinese legal community”, dies at the age of 92

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Jiang Ping, a legal scholar who helped lay the foundations for China’s civil code and whose experiences of political persecution shaped his tenacious defense of individual rights in the face of state power, died in Beijing on December 19. He was 92 years old.

His death at the hospital was confirmed by China University of Political Science and Law, where he was president and a longtime professor.

Often referred to as the “conscience of China’s legal community,” Jiang established himself as a highly regarded teacher and leading scholar in the 1980s, joining four professors who helped oversee the drafting of China’s first civil rights framework. One of them. His reputation was cemented during the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, when, as university president, he publicly supported student demonstrators.

Jiang was removed from his post as university president after the government crushed the protests and massacred the participants. However, he remained extremely popular on campus. Even after his dismissal, law students continued to wear T-shirts emblazoned with one of his most famous phrases: “Bow only to the truth.” And his words – “The rule of law for the whole world” – are carved in stone there.

In the preface to his 2010 autobiography, Jiang outlined two qualities he said were important for Chinese intellectuals. The other is a critical spirit,” he wrote. “My only wish is to seriously inherit these two qualities,” he added.

His moral authority was strengthened by his own story. As a young teacher in the 1950s, he was accused of being anti-communist for criticizing the government’s overreaching top-down bureaucracy, and was ordered to undergo what the government called “reform” through labor. He was not allowed to teach law for 20 years. And while he was at work, he was hit by a train and ended up with a prosthetic leg.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as China began to recover from the chaos of Mao Zedong’s rule, Jiang returned to his quest for reform, teaching at universities, holding administrative positions, and serving as a senior member of China’s Legislative Yuan. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee. In addition to his civil rights framework, he also helped develop the country’s property, contract, and company laws as China transitioned to a market economy.

But it was in the decades after the Tiananmen massacre that he advocated for change most radically, when he held no government or university positions. He argued that human rights and constitutional democracy were inseparable from the property and commercial rights that he helped introduce. He signed an open letter criticizing censorship. When the Chinese government launched a crackdown on hundreds of human rights lawyers in 2015, Jiang said Chinese society as a whole should be concerned about protecting lawyers as observers.

In recent years, as the rule of law has further retreated under China’s current leader Xi Jinping, Jiang has continued to lecture widely.

“He was the legal leader of our time and the legal leader of our people,” said He Weifang, a prominent Chinese legal scholar and former student and friend of Jiang.

Jiang Ping was born on December 28, 1930 in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, his real name Jiang Weiliang. His father, Jiang Huaichen, worked in a bank, and his mother, Wang Guiying, was a housewife.

He entered Beijing’s Yanjing University to study journalism, but dropped out to work for the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese Communist Party was recruiting students as it fought against the ruling Kuomintang in the civil war. He changed his name to protect his family.

Two years later, in 1951, the new Communist government sent Jiang to the Soviet Union along with other students. Mr. Jiang was assigned to study law and obtained his bachelor’s degree. While there, news broke that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had given a secret speech denouncing Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. Jiang said this was one of the first signs that the name socialism alone did not guarantee freedom from tyranny. He was determined to continue working for freedom upon his return to China.

However, his return to teach at the Beijing Institute of Political Science and Law (later renamed China University of Political Science and Law) in 1956 coincided with a movement to quell criticism of Mao Zedong. Like many intellectuals, Jiang was labeled an enemy of socialism and sent to the outskirts of Beijing as a labor force. His wife, whom he had married a month before, divorced under political pressure.

One day, he was tired and was dragging a wire across the railroad tracks when he couldn’t hear the oncoming train. His leg was crushed.

In 1978, after the Cultural Revolution (another campaign by Mao Zedong to consolidate his power), the government’s persecution of intellectuals abated. Jiang has returned to teaching law at the university as the Chinese government rebuilds its education system and seeks to re-engage with the outside world.

He mourned the lost decades, but he was never bitter.. “Adversity has allowed me to meditate, reflect on the past and look at things calmly,” he said at his 70th birthday celebration. “There was nothing I could trust blindly anymore.”

After Jiang returned to politics, he quickly rose to prominence. He not only oversaw the drafting of civil and commercial laws, but also the drafting of China’s first Administrative Procedure Law, which gave citizens limited rights to sue public authorities for wrongdoing.

In 1988 he was appointed president of the university. The following spring, protests erupted in Tiananmen Square. Fearing bloodshed, Mr. Jiang sat on the ground at the campus gate and begged students not to go, despite his poor leg status.

When the students were still going, Mr. Jiang gave support. He, along with nine other university presidents, signed an open letter calling on the government to open a dialogue with students.

Even after his ouster in 1990, Jiang remained as a professor. A passionate teacher, he once said that he considered himself more of a legal educator than an academic.

Although he established himself as a firm spokesperson for reform, he was careful not to become an opponent of the party. Although some of his prominent disciples have been imprisoned or blacklisted for their advocacy work, Jiang remains invited to report before China’s highest court. Ta.

“Mr. Jiang was not seeking martyrdom and knew how to express his disdain for the dictatorship without going to prison,” said Jerome A. Cohen, professor emeritus of law at New York University.

Although Jiang refrained from openly confronting authorities, he was quick to point out inconsistencies in authorities and consistently rejected actions that betrayed his own values.

Pu Zhiqiang, a former student who has become one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, said: “He did not go against his nature for the sake of his influence, his superiors or the publicity cameras.” .

Ultimately, he said, Jiang maintained a “normal state of mind” despite the rapidly changing circumstances. “But I don’t think there will be many people in the next generation who can do that.”

Jiang’s second wife, Choi Ki, passed away in July. He is survived by a son, Jiang Bo, a daughter, Jiang Fan, and his sister, Jiang Weishan, and two grandchildren.

Jiang’s famous optimism has begun to waver in recent years as the political environment deteriorates. However, he never lost his passion to teach younger generations about the possibilities of law and spoke to his students until his last days.

“We should have a spirit of tolerance to see how far we can compromise with reality,” Jiang told a Chinese publication in 2009. Time slowly changes everything. ”

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