For decades, China's communist leaders have admonished their cadres to "combine theory and practice". This is sound advice for any society. Yet, it is easier said than done. This perennial challenge now confronts the party's Central Committee as it prepares to convene the highly anticipated fourth plenary session in October.
Party propaganda organs are trumpeting the fact that, for the first time in the party's long history, issues relating to the rule of law will be the main topic of a major party conference. This meeting promises to be the culmination of a development that was launched almost two years ago at the 18th party congress and put into high gear when the Central Committee issued an ambitious reform decision a year later. It pledged to "accelerate the building of a just, efficient and authoritative socialist judicial system to safeguard the people's rights and interests, and ensure that the people are satisfied with the equality and justice in every court verdict".
The decision further gave such abstract goals detailed definition, promising to "promote the rule of law" by enforcing constitutional rights, improving government administration, strengthening the independent exercise of judicial and procuratorial power, and protecting human rights, especially those rights central to criminal justice. It emphasised legal prohibitions against torture and illegally obtained evidence and urged preventing and correcting wrongful convictions. It also endorsed "giving full play to the important role of lawyers in safeguarding the legal rights and interests of citizens and legal persons in accordance with law".