Washington International Law Journal


The term “disturbing social order” appears in several Chinese civil and criminal laws. The vagueness of these three words, combined with the national culture of censorship, undermines various legal provisions that guarantee freedom of speech in China. As a result, laws against disturbing social order suppress nonviolent political speech in this rising world power. This became clear during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where both individual protestors and corps of journalists found their work frustrated by laws against disturbing social order. Chinese lawmakers could remedy this conflict of laws by clarifying the term “disturbing social order,” and by creating outlets for nonviolent dissent that are protected by procedural safeguards. Such measures would help reinvest the Chinese people’s faith in their government and grant the country increased political legitimacy in the international community. While such action would represent a departure from centuries of censorship in the country, it is crucial to China’s continued political and economic success.

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