Shen Yongping, a courageous young documentarian, has been sentenced to a year in prison for producing a film on the subject of the Chinese constitution and lack of adherence to that constitution by the ruling Communist party. The film examines the history of the Chinese constitution over the last hundred years. Pointedly, Shen was arrested on June 4th, the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on student-led protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He was sentenced in December.
Shen was found guilty of “running an illegal business” because he had not obtained permission to film. His lawyer is disputing the conviction on the grounds that the film was released online for free, and therefore he had no expectation of profit.
President Xi Jinping has taken a hard line against dissent and his reign has been marked by the roundup of activists and writers. Although the Communist Party officially supports the country’s constitution, Foreign Policy magazine reports that on December 4th, China’s first annual “Constitution Day” in celebration of the document, the word “constitution” was the most highly censored term on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.
Over the last decade, the Chinese government has taken a number of measures to mute growing demands for democratic reform, but such demands continue. Economist Milton Friedman long ago noted that a market economy, such as the Chinese government is now encouraging, creates conditions favorable to democracy by expanding the middle class, thus shifting economic power from the center and providing ordinary people the resources needed to promote political change.
One Hundred Years of Constitutionalism can be viewed on YouTube, but at this point the film is only available in Mandarin without subtitles.
How to See It
Films with Related Themes
Links about One Hundred Years of Constitutionalism
–Hollywood Reporter: Chinese Filmmaker Faces Prison for Constitution Documentary
–Foreign Policy: On First Annual Constitution Day, China’s Most Censored Word Was ‘Constitution’
–Salon: China jails filmmaker of constitution documentary
–South China Morning Post: Film director jailed in China for making documentary about the constitution
–New York Times: Prison Sentence for Maker of Documentary on Chinese Constitutional Rule
–Chinese Human Rights Defenders: Crackdown Before 6/4 Anniversary: 50 People Detained, Disappeared or Summoned