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Law Unto Itself

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
March 30, 2011
South China Morning Post


We need the stability of laws now more than ever,” Joseph Stalin said at the height of his infamous manipulation of the Soviet legal system to purge millions of political enemies.

In his recent annual report on the work of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Wu Bangguo , its leader, announced that China had established “a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics”. Wu, a prominent member of the Communist Party's Politburo, made it clear that the party will continue to prefer Mao to Montesquieu and reject the separation of powers and other Western-style institutions for placing government under law. His recitation of the scope and numbers of laws, regulations, interpretations and other norms that China has promulgated was designed to support his claim that there now exists “a complete set of laws covering all areas of social relations”. Yet what kind of legal system has the party built?

Recent events have reignited debate on this critical question among foreign government experts, journalists, businesspeople, social scientists and lawyers. Moreover, their Chinese counterparts – and Chinese lawmakers, police, prosecutors, judges and ordinary citizens caught up in the momentous, complex changes under way – are engaged in similar analysis, albeit in necessarily more muted fashion.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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