BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday marked its first Constitution Day as part of President Xi Jinping's drive to show that the country embraces rule of law while ensuring that the ruling Communist Party holds on to its unrivaled authority.
The new holiday was being commemorated with nationwide activities in schools, government offices and state-owned companies.
It is part of Xi's campaign to institutionalize the party's powers while strengthening the country's legal system to reduce corruption and improve government efficiency. Scores of serving and retired top officials have been detained on corruption charges.
"The constitution is the highest law of the country and embodies the will of the party and the people," Xi said in remarks published on the front page of the Communist Party flagship newspaper People's Daily.
China needs more awareness of the constitution and better understanding of the role of law, Xi said.
Critics point to inherent contradictions in the rule of law campaign, including the party's refusal to accept independent oversight and honor constitutional guarantees such as the right to free speech and religious assembly. Activists who have advocated stricter adherence to the constitution as a way of holding the country's leaders accountable typically have been treated as subversives and have been detained.
China has enacted four constitutions since the communist state's founding in 1949, with the current version adopted in 1982. Its first article forbids any challenge to the country's socialist system, though it does not explicitly mention the Communist Party's control of the country.
However, in an editorial Thursday, People's Daily asserted that the primacy of the Communist Party was an essential element of the constitution.
"The nation's Constitution reflects the achievements from the revolutions, constructions and reforms made by the people under the Party's guidance, and it establishes the leading status of the Communist Party of China," the editorial said.