Don’t talk about the constitution in China

The proposed changes to the Chinese constitution that were announced over the weekend are still dominating the headlines, in China and outside. There are a number of amendments (see translation on NPC Observer), but the one attracting the most attention is, of course, the proposed removal of presidential term limits.


  • “The broad masses of cadres resolutely support the proposed modifications to the constitution” is the headline of a piece published in different versions (in Chinese) as a top story by the People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, and the Liberation Daily. The last of these is the journal of the People’s Liberation Army — the South China Morning Post saw the piece as evidence that China’s military has thrown its weight “behind a controversial move to scrap term limits.”
  • “The strong leadership of the CPC has proved to be a decisive factor for what this country has achieved both economically and politically over the past four decades,” and the ending of term limits was “necessitated by the need to perfect the Party and the State leadership system,” says the China Daily, whose founding mission was to make China’s case to the outside world.
  • The Global Times gave a more articulate defense of the proposed changes and that actually gives a reason for the ending of term limits: “China cannot stop and take a break. Our people believe that every year is crucial. The CPC has made development goals to be achieved in 2035 and 2050. The country must seize the day, seize the hour. Our country must be united, energetic and be able to continue with opening-up. Our country must not be disturbed by the outside world or lose our confidence as the West grows increasingly vigilant toward China.”
  • “Removing term limitations on national leaders will subject us to the ridicule of the civilized nations of the world. It means moving backward into history, and planting the seed once again of chaos in China, causing untold damage.” This is the argument made an open letter by Li Datong 李大同 (in translation on China Media project). Li is a respected editor with establishment credentials who once led Freezing Point 冰点, a weekly supplement of investigative to the China Youth Daily, which was shut down in 2006.
  • “Wang Ying, a businesswoman who has advocated government reforms, wrote on WeChat that the Communist Party’s proposal was ‘an outright betrayal,’ according to the the Associated Press, which also says that in a swiftly-deleted social media message, sexologist Li Yinhe 李银河 “called the removal of term limits ‘unfeasible’ and would ‘return China to the era of Mao.’ The same article quotes Li Datong: “My generation has lived through Mao. That era is over. How can we possibly go back to it?”


As the Chinese public grappled with the news, the censors plucked Chinese social media clean of even passing references to the planned extension of Xi’s grip on power.

  • Obviously, Winnie the Pooh — the cartoon bear in a famous meme of Xi that started in 2013 — was deleted in all instances, especially one captioned “Find the thing you love and stick with it.”
  • Another example: A meme of a Durex condoms logo and the tagline “Two rounds just aren’t enough” (干两次,是不够的 gàn liǎng cì, shì bùgòu de).
  • Even the letter n was briefly censored, as online commenters committed the sin of “trying to calculate how long Xi Jinping might stay in power.”
  • Read an extended list of the many dozens of censored words and phrases on China Digital Times.

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Three things

  • Subways: A wonderful animated gif showing “the evolution of metros in China and Taiwan, 1990 – 2020.”
  • See snow leopards in Qinghai: Birding Beijing is arranging trips this year to the Valley of the Cats in Qinghai Province on the Tibetan Plateau, “home to probably the highest density of Snow Leopards on Earth, and an extraordinary range of wildlife including Asian Brown Bear, Tibetan Wolf, Lynx, Tibetan Fox, Tibetan Gazelle, and Blue Sheep.” Independent travel is not permitted in this area, so this is a rare opportunity.
  • Harvard goes to Taiwan: Steven Goldstein, director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop at Harvard’s Fairbank Center, reports back from the group’s recent trip to Taiwan and the Mainland.