It's Time for the Rule of Law in China

In the political arena in China at this moment, "the rule of law" is the most fashionable topic. The Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which was held from Oct. 20 to 23, adopted the decision on major issues concerning comprehensively advancing rule of law in China. For the first time, the ruling party of China dedicated an entire plenary session to such a topic.

The Plenary decision has seven parts, including:

  • to set the general target of rule of law and to improve the system of laws;
  • to improve constitutional implementation to promote administration by law;
  • to promote respect for law in government and to safeguard judicial justice;
  • to improve judicial credibility and to promote public awareness of the rule of law;
  • to enhance the construction of a law-based society;
  • to improve the professional competency of law-related personnel;
  • to refine the CPC's leadership in promoting the rule of law.

Why such an emphasis on the rule of law? What is the social background and motivation behind it?

"The rule of law" is not a new term in China. During the Cultural Revolution in China, the legal system was abandoned, which contributed to chaos in the country. Drawing lessons from that experience, efforts started in the 1980s to build a framework in which society has laws to go by that must be observed and strictly enforced with law breakers reliably prosecuted. At the center of the rule of law is governing through rules.

Another push came in 1999 when a new amendment of the constitution was adopted, which for the first time included the term of "the rule of law." It marked a major turning point in China indicating that the country is determined to move in a direction where the past wrongdoing would not reoccur.

China has had a long history and a tradition of rule by man. Turning towards rule of law takes time and arduous effort. Now, 15 years after the constitutional amendment, the country still falls short of achieving its target of rule of law.

Though the legal framework is in place and there are laws covering almost every aspect of social life, they are not all forcefully implemented. Some government agencies do not follow what the law requires or are not doing so in strict terms.

There is also a serious problem of judicial injustice and corruption. At the public level, some people do not have much sense of law and prefer to go to the government to sort out their complaints instead of the court. They believe in power or governmental officials, not law.

Some people are not willing to fulfill their legal obligations or their social and family responsibilities.

So, as the society has moved forward, it has become more urgent than ever that China makes greater efforts to promote rule of law in order to better coordinate the society, balance interests and set standards for social behavior. The hope is that the Chinese society will grow both with vitality as well as with order.

The National People's Congress and congresses at all levels are expected to play a key role in promoting the rule of law in China. As stipulated in the constitution, the National People's Congress is the supreme state organ responsible for making laws and supervising the implementation of the constitution. In order to better play its role, the Congress and its standing committee also needs to improve itself, and to raise its ability to take the lead on legislation.

The drafting of laws should be more often led by the Congress and the special committees instead of by ministries concerned -- which may lead to legalization for the interest or rights of relevant government agencies over the society as a whole.

It is also important that legislation moves ahead of reform so that the new reforms progress on the basis of law and so that every major reform step is guided by law.

In short, the advancement of country should be rooted in the authority of law. This is a natural development in China as it is progressing forward.