The resulting document guaranteed full powers for a representative legislature, the right to ownership of private property, and freedoms of speech, press and assembly. But the idealism of the founding fathers was short-lived. Though the Constitution was ratified in 1982 by the National People’s Congress, it has languished ever since…

After the end of the party’s leadership transition last November, liberal intellectuals held a meeting at a hotel in Beijing to strategize on how to push for reform; constitutionalism was a major topic of discussion. At the end of the year, 72 intellectuals signed a petition that was drafted by a Peking University law professor who had helped organize the hotel meeting. In early January, a censored editorial on constitutionalism at the liberal newspaper Southern Weekend set off a nationwide outcry in support of press freedoms…

Through the decades, party leaders have paid lip service to the Constitution, but have failed to enforce its central tenets, some of which resemble those in constitutions of Western democracies. The fifth article says the Constitution is the supreme authority: “No organization or individual may enjoy the privilege of being above the Constitution and the law.” Any real application of the Constitution would mean severely diluting the party’s power.