China's new leaders are striving to consolidate their country's return to prominence on the world stage. They confront Promethean challenges: restructuring a dynamic economy; responding to the demands of an increasingly prosperous and sophisticated society; controlling horrendous environmental pollution; liberating the cultural, civic, academic and intellectual potential of their talented people; reducing the endemic corruption that is undermining their success; adapting the Communist political system to promote these prodigious changes while balancing the needs of public order and human rights; and improving cooperation with other countries by enhancing foreign respect for China's accomplishments.
Courts, or some effective functional substitute, are essential for the attainment of all these goals. Yet China's judicial system is in the midst of a crucial struggle to determine its nature, role and power.
China's new leaders are making bold policy statements promoting the notion that, in their decision-making, Chinese courts should exercise greater independence from local authorities and other distorting influences. They have announced a series of new measures and experiments designed to increase the legitimacy of the judicial process and garner greater public support for it. These reforms face serious challenges, but the current attempt to chart a new course deserves our attention, study and encouragement.