Domestic Law Reforms in Post-Mao China

By Pitman B. Potter | Go to book overview

This study, however, has stressed that the rise of law-making institutions has been driven and undergirded by several hardy perennials of the Chinese political tradition: the informal power of senior leaders; interministerial politics and bureaucratic "empire-building"; leadership factionalism; conservative institutional views toward law, security, and society; etc. Sadly, Tiananmen did nothing to undercut the influence of these forces in Chinese politics. And post-Tiananmen research indicates clearly that those party leaders who head up the NPC, and those interest groups such as the official trade unions who have fared well in the NPC, continue to use the NPC as a conduit for converting their unofficial influence into official policy. Indeed, if anything, the rise to power of reform skeptics within the State Council after 1989 has forced economic reformers within the NPC, such as Wan Li and Peng Chong, to become even bolder in asserting their institutional prerogatives.

All of this suggests that even if China's ideology took several steps backward from "democracy" and "legality" in the immediate post-Tiananmen period, its basic political institutions have weathered the storm better than the ideological doctrines which allegedly motivated their development. In the long run, given the common tendency for legislatures in developing countries to become politically powerful before they become democratic, this may be a very modest source of optimism.


Notes

The author has promised confidentiality to most of the interview subjects for this project. Therefore, interviews are identified by a code which allows readers to see how much the author has relied on a given source while protecting the identity of that source.

1.
Among the best of these studies are: Tang Tsou, "Back from the Brink of Revolutionary-'Feudal' Totalitarianism", in The Cultural Revolution and Post-Mao Reforms, A Historical Perspective ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 144-88; Kevin J. O'Brien , Reform Without Liberalization: China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Dr. O'Brien "Legislative Development and Chinese Political Change", 22 Studies in Comparative Communism, no. 1 ( Spring 1989), pp. 57-75.
2.
The key leaders of all three of these arenas are, of course, also CCP members. By focusing on separate arenas, I mean to stress the differing personal, organizational, and policy viewpoints found in these three systems of policy-making organs.
3.
Among the key CCP organs involved in law making are the Politburo (and its Standing Committee) and the various "leading groups" (lingdao xiaozu) directly under it. With respect to legal issues, the most important of these is the Central Political-Legal Leading Group, an organ whose title has changed twice since 1978. Until 1979 it was called the "Central Political-Legal Group" (Zhongyang zhengfa xiaozu). From 1979 to 1987, it was renamed the "Central Political-Legal Commission" (Zhongyang zhengfa weiyuanhui), and after 1987 it was called a "Leading Group."
4.
The term State Council refers both to the commissions, ministries, and bureaus that make up the government, and to the cabinet (called the State Council Standing Committee)--the premier and a dozen or so key ministers--which oversees government work. Presently, the State Council's key law-making body is its Legislation Bureau.

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