Domestic Law Reforms in Post-Mao China

By Pitman B. Potter | Go to book overview

Preface and Acknowledgments

This book arose from a panel on contemporary Chinese law presented to the 1990 annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies. The purpose of the panel was to review the decade of legal reform since 1979 by reference to selected areas of Chinese domestic law. The papers that comprise chapters in this volume are taken from the panel papers presented by William C. Jones on civil law and Judy Polumbaum on law of the press, as well as my own piece on administrative law. James V. Feinerman's paper on contract law, intended for inclusion in the panel but dropped to permit his participation in another AAS panel at the meeting, has been included as well. Two additional papers, one by Edward J. Epstein on legal ideology and one by Murray Scot Tanner on legislative reform, have been added. Professor Stanley Lubman acted as a discussant and prepared written comments on the substantive chapters.

In addressing legal reform in China, the focus of this book is on Chinese domestic (guonei) law, as opposed to Chinese law on foreign matters (shewai). Although Chinese law relating to foreign interests is undeniably a major component of the legal reform effort, it is largely separate and insulated from domestic concerns and thus is of limited use in examining the relationship between legal reform and domestic change in China. Thus, this book concentrates on the reforms in Chinese domestic law, in the belief that these provide a better indicator of the interplay between legal change and changed conditions of life in China.

Domestic law reform in China began with the decisions of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, November- December 1978. After the trauma of the Cultural Revolution, a consensus emerged within the post-Mao leadership to the effect that China required greater economic, social, and political stability. Whether this consensus is viewed as part of an ongoing pattern of oscillation between ideology and pragmatism in Chinese political life, 1 or as a watershed policy decision motivated by the need for modernization, 2 it promoted greater formalism and procedural regularity in the exercise of government authority. In pursuit of these goals, the decisions taken at the Third Plenum authorized the reestablishment of the legal system and permitted the reemergence of many of the substantive and procedural features of PRC law as it existed prior to the Cultural Revolution. 3

The first step was to restore legal institutions, many of which had fallen into disuse or been abolished during the Cultural Revolution or during the Anti-Rightist

-xi-

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