Carta not welcome at Beijing university
Eight centuries after the Magna Carta, it is still making waves — this
time in Beijing, where nervous authorities have blocked plans to display
a rare parchment copy of the “foundation of freedom” charter.
Far from cementing a touted “golden era” of Sino-British relations,
authorities apparently worried that the Magna Carta, which threw
medieval Britain into a spin by curbing the monarchy’s powers, would sow
unwelcome ideas into the minds of Chinese students.
The exhibit, which was to have helped kick off next week’s visit by
President Xi Jinping to the UK, is now nestling in the quieter halls of
the British embassy rather than Beijing’s Renmin university campus.
China’s view of the rule of law chafes somewhat with that espoused by
the Magna Carta, described by the late English barrister Lord Denning as
“the greatest constitutional document of all times — the foundation of
the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the
despot”. 中国对法治(rule of law)的看法与《大宪章》支持的观点存在分歧，已故的英国大律师丹宁勋爵(Lord
China is promoting its own rule of law while in the throes of a
political consolidation under Mr Xi that has led to tighter controls
over civil society, the media and academics.
Observers quip that China’s vision is closer to “rule by law”, where an
authoritarian state exerts its own power through laws and courts rather
than itself being subject to those laws, as enshrined in the Magna Carta.
The charter itself, signed by England’s unpopular King John in 1215 and
handing justice and the right to a free trial to all, contains
provisions also found in China’s constitution. Indeed, the Magna Carta
is called “Da xian zhang” or “Great Constitution Charter” in Chinese.
However, the term “Constitution” is sensitive in modern days, after the
ruling Communist party squelched progressive lawyers’ efforts to force
it to adhere to China’s own laws, a movement known as
A leading figure in that movement, lawyer Xu Zhiyong, is serving a
prison sentence on charges of “disturbing public order” after he tried
to organise a public campaign for officials to reveal their wealth.
The eleventh-hour switch of venue for the Magna Carta, on loan from
Hereford Cathedral, was forced after Beijing’s approvals failed to
materialise. “There are some formalities they needed to go through if we
wanted to display it,” said a scholar affiliated to Renmin university.
Earlier in September Renmin university did manage to hold a seminar on
the Magna Carta and rule of law, attended by more than 100 Chinese and
foreign scholars including the former president of China’s Supreme