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Maoist Thought Police

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
January 4, 2011
South China Morning Post


Almost thirty-five years after Mao Zedong's death, China-watchers still debate his influence. Does his distinctive adaptation of Marxist-Leninist ideology continue to guide the policies, politics and practices of an increasingly powerful Party-state that now confronts challenges that the Chairman never had to face? Some maintain that Maoism long ago lost its ability to affect official conduct and today serves mainly to project an image of communist continuity amid profound  national transformations. Other observers see, a least in certain aspects of government, the persisting relevance of Maoist thought, especially since 2007, when the 17th Communist Party National Congress launched an effort to recreate the “red culture” of the Party's revolutionary pre-”Liberation” past.

The administration of criminal justice is surely one prominent area where the Chairman's thinking has left an indelible impact, despite the large body of laws, regulations and interpretations promulgated since 1979. Beijing's increasingly expert legal officials, like law reformers in other countries, seek the right balance between protecting basic rights of all suspects and ensuring punishment of the guilty, and some legislative progress continues even in the present conservative political environment. Nevertheless, foreign observers, not to mention China's able criminal defense lawyers and legal scholars, daily encounter cases where “politics takes command” over law, not only among police and prosecutors but also among judges and justice officials. Indeed, this politicization of criminal justice follows the public instructions of China's highest leaders. The legacy of “Mao Zedong Thought,” enshrined in China's Constitution, is evident in the insistence of President and Party General Secretary  Hu Jintao,  Party Political-Legal Commission chief Zhou Yongkang and Supreme People's Court President Wang Shengjun on the primacy of Party over law, in practice as well as theory.

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