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CPC’s 100-year exploration of China’s rule of law

LUAN YONGYU | 2021-07-08 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A judge from Handan City, Hebei Province is introducing basic knowledge about Constitution to pupils. Photo: CFP


The path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics is the epitome of China’s endeavors, and the only right way towards a socialist country based on rule of law. The path represents the fruit of 100 years of exploration by the Communist Party of China (CPC). 
 
Whether or not China should embark on a path of rule of law, and what the path should look like—these were two historic questions the Chinese people faced in modern times. After the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century, people from all ranks, classes, and political groups with high ideals began searching for the best ways to save and rejuvenate the country through political reforms. 
 
Among these movements was the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement (1851–1864) started by the peasant class, the Westernization Movement (1861–1894) initiated by the landlord class, and the Reform Movement of 1898 led by the bourgeoisie. The Kuomintang also had its attempt at instilling rule of law, but the trial failed because its law only benefited the landlord class and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, while ignoring the interests of the nation and the people. 
 
All these trials failed to alter old China’s nature as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, and they were unable to foster national unity and independence. At the time, true rule of law for the Chinese people remained a mirage. It was through leading the New Democratic Revolution that the CPC began its exploration of rule of law, and the CPC continues to fine-tune the system to the country’s national conditions till this day. 
 
Looking back
After it was founded in 1921, the CPC tried to destroy the old state apparatus, reject the fatong (legally constituted authority), and establish a new rule of law through revolution. A vision of the state and rule of law gradually took shape: old legal systems were not compatible with the revolution, so it was necessary to reject and destroy the old legal systems which repressed the people. Revolution is the prerequisite for creating new legal systems, which in turn, guarantee the achievements of revolution. 
 
Although the conditions were limited during the New Democratic Revolution, the CPC still led the working people, and managed to release laws and decrees, through its administrative departments, to protect the interests of workers and farmers. For instance, Party leadership introduced laws in regard to land, marriage, labor, and finance from the Central Revolution Base (1927–1937) and Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region. 
 
In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded, ushering a new era for socialist rule of law. The Party abolished old fatong like the Kuomintang’s Six Codes, and established the country’s constitutional regime, and legislative, administrative, and judicial system, based on the Common Program of The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the 1954 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. This transformed China’s socialist rule of law. 
 
In 1954, the First Plenary Session of the First National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China as the fundamental law. Statues regarding the basic economic, judicial, and legislative systems were also released, including the Organic Law of the Central People’s Government, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Organization of the People’s Courts, the Electoral Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses of the People’s Republic of China, and the Marriage Law. 
 
Based on the lessons and experience the CPC acquired in building China’s rule of law, it followed a path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics after the reform and opening up. The Party identified law-based governance as the fundamental principle of Party leadership while leading the people in running the country. 
 
Meanwhile, law-based use of state power was identified as the fundamental method for the Party’s governance. 
 
In December 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee ushered in a period of reform and opening up, and socialist modernization, established guidelines for building China’s socialist legal system, and stated, “To ensure people’s democracy, we must strengthen our socialist legal system, which will enable democracy to be institutionalized and codified, and ensure that such system and laws are stable, continuous and authoritative. 
 
All this will ensure that there are laws to go by, that they are observed and strictly enforced, and that violators are brought to justice.” This was followed by a series of critical laws such as the Criminal Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, the Civil Procedure Law, and the General Principles of the Civil Law.
 
The Constitution adopted at the Fifth Session of the Fifth NPC on December 4, 1982 and its five amendments have elevated the successful experience of the CPC in promoting the rule of law since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee into constitutional norms, which has given a strong incentive to build China’s socialist legal system in the new era. 
 
At its 15th National Congress in 1997, the CPC established the basic strategy of “governing the country according to law and building a socialist country of law.” In 1999, this basic strategy was added into the Constitution, stating that “the People’s Republic of China practices ruling the country in accordance with the law and building a socialist country of law.” 
 
This marks the constitutional status of the rule of law in China, and also represents a new stage in building socialist democracy, and the rule of law, under the leadership of the CPC. At its 16th and 17th Congresses, the Party further emphasized the full implementation of the basic strategy of the rule of law and accelerated the development of a socialist country of law. 
 
By 2011, a socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics had been put in place, which were based on China’s conditions and reality, met the need to reform and open up, drove the socialist modernization, and reflected the will of the CPC and the Chinese people. This legal system, headed by the Constitution, with laws related to the Constitution, civil, commercial laws, and several other branches as the mainstay, consisted of laws, administrative regulations, local regulations, autonomous regulations, special regulations and other tiers of legal provisions. 
 
Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the Party has further stressed the Party’s unified leadership. Law-based governance in all fields has also become an essential part of the layout of socialism with Chinese characteristics. 
 
Comprehensively advancing the rule of law is a systematic project with comprehensive advancement as the primary focus. The transition from “promoting the rule of law” to “comprehensively advancing the rule of law,” from “the socialist system of laws” to “the socialist system of the rule of law,” and from building a system where “there are laws to go by, to be observed and strictly enforced, and law-breakers are prosecuted” to a system that “takes a well-designed approach to legislation, enforces the law strictly, administers justice impartially, and ensures that everyone abides by the law” shows that the construction of the rule of law is on a clearer path, having obtained a more targeted aim and derived more effective measures. 
 
In 2014, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee thoroughly studied the strategy of comprehensively advancing the rule of law, and put forward 190 major measures covering six fields and 30 aspects, such as taking a well-designed approach to legislation, enforcing the law strictly, administering justice impartially, ensuring that everyone abides by the law, accelerating the construction of legal teams, strengthening and improving CPC leadership by comprehensively advancing the rule of law, and so forth. The session deployed the plan to strengthen the construction of the socialist system of the rule of law with Chinese characteristics and accelerate the construction of a socialist country based on the rule of law. 
 
Looking forward
In 2017, the 19th CPC National Congress made “comprehensively advancing the rule of law” one of the basic strategies for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, giving it more profound meanings at a higher level. 
 
In January 2021, “The Plan to Build the Rule of Law in China (2020-2025)” issued by the CPC Central Committee, proposed that a system of distinctively Chinese socialist rule of law shall take shape by 2025 and be basically formed by 2035. 
 
The plan states that effective checks and supervision of the exercise of power, full protection for the legitimate rights and interests of the people and the establishment of faith in the rule of law are among the overall objectives. It proposed that a system of distinctively Chinese socialist rule of law shall take shape by 2025 and be basically formed by 2035. 
 
The plan states that effective checks and supervision of the exercise of power, full protection for the legitimate rights and interests of the people and the establishment of faith in the rule of law are among the overall objectives. 
 
The past century witnessed the CPC leading the Chinese people onto a path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics. While China’s legal systems continue to shine in the new era, China’s law-based governance has also embarked on a new journey. China today is enriching the world’s legal culture with “Chinese wisdom” and a “Chinese approach.” 
 
Luan Yongyu is Party secretary of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. 
 
 
Edited by WENG RONG