Domestic Law Reforms in Post-Mao China

By Pitman B. Potter | Go to book overview

Introduction

Stanley B. Lubman

The law reforms that were begun in China during the 1980s marked the beginning of a journey that will be very long--if it continues at all. Centuries of tradition before the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was established and decades of that rule made China inhospitable to the use of formal legal institutions to define and vindicate the rights of individuals and organizations, whether amongst themselves or against the state. During the 1980s, however, the Chinese leadership (or, at least some Chinese leaders) began the work of creating such legal institutions. These chapters inquire selectively into the initial accomplishments of Chinese law reform, the mixed intentions behind them, and the difficulties they face.


The Context of Chinese Law Reform

By the beginning of the 1990s, substantial clusters of Chinese legal institutions had emerged, but how meaningful they might become was highly uncertain. Formidable limitations on their activity included doubts about their basic functions and purposes. Throughout the previous decade of reform, the Chinese leadership was unable to agree on the meaning and content of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and on the trajectory and speed of progress toward that goal. General agreement on the function of law, consequently, was lacking as well.

Western legal forms and concepts were suspect in the eyes of some Chinese leaders and many officials outside Beijing, who saw them as tainted by bourgeois liberalism. Limits on reform were expressed in Deng Xiaoping "Four Cardinal Principles," which were announced long before the bloody Tiananmen massacre ended Beijing's bright spring of 1989. Law reform was bound in an ideological straitjacket: Although even within its grip considerable institution building was accomplished because there was so much to do, law has usually been treated as a technical adjunct to economic reform and a faithful creature of CCP policy.

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