Abolition of forced labor creates a more 'civil society'

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily USA) Updated : 2015-10-27

Aug 18, 2011, should have been Ren Jianyu's first rung on the ladder to success as a government official. Instead, just hours after being formally recruited as a civil servant, the then-25-year-old Chongqing native was arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the State.

Ren, who admitted posting defamatory messages online, but denied any treasonous activity, was sentenced to two years in jail by the laojiao, or "reform through labor", authorities, which had the power to sentence offenders to as long as four years without an open trial.

During the 15 months of forced labor that followed, Ran lost 15 kilograms in weight as he repeatedly petitioned the courts for his release. His appeal was heard three times, and rejected twice.

However, Ren was released at the third hearing after the court ruled that the laojiao authorities had made what it called "improper decisions", including an unduly harsh sentence, given his offense.

Mo Jihong, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the court's decision was a landmark in China's progress toward better rule of law.

The case facilitated the abolition of laojiao, Mo said. "What's more, it helped make the government realize that it had to meet the growing public demand to build a civil society," he said.

Experts say the end of the laojiao system is an indication of the progress China has made since 2011, when it embarked on the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), which included legislative and judicial reform.

In the past four years, the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body, has drafted or revised 61 laws and issued 10 clarifications of existing laws, according to Li Shishi, chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

By the end of September, China had 244 national laws, 746 government-issued administrative regulations and more than 9,000 laws formulated by local authorities, he said.

The moves to abolish laojiao started at the grassroots level, instead of as a top-down initiative, and that new approach is characteristic of the country's legislative process now, Mo said.

Since 2013, the NPC has publicly released draft laws after their first reading, a major change from the old system, under which the details of legislation were only released after the draft had become law.


 Abolition of forced labor creates a more 'civil society'

Legislators vote at the Second Session of the 12th National People's Congress in Beijing last March. The top legislative body has drafted or revised 61 laws in the past four years.  Liu Weibing / Xinhua

(China Daily USA 10/27/2015 page6)