China's Legal Awakening: Legal Theory and Criminal Justice in Deng's Era

By Carlos Wing-Hung Lo | Go to book overview
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Chapter Four
In the Wake of the Third Plenum: The Inception of Legal Reform

As we have seen, a strong commitment to establishing a legal order, expressed by the Party in the wake of the 1978 Third Plenum, resulted in priority being given to the establishment of a socialist legal system. The task was urgent, since the old legal system was in disarray; laws had lost their legitimacy and hence their binding power. Moreover, the judicial system, provided by the 1978 Constitution, was nothing more than a sham. In trying to rescue China from lawlessness, the Party faced formidable obstacles, including its loss of legitimacy after a long period of failing to keep promises. Only action in creating a functionally efficient legal system (or at least, creating initial, workable guidelines) could vindicate the Party's words, as the Deng Xiaoping leadership well knew. Failure to formulate effective guidelines would destroy any hope for legality. The task was to show that the guidelines would always be adhered to, that Party privilege was to be terminated, and that the Party was genuinely committed to combating legal nihilism.


Legal Reform In Action

Rebuilding the Socialist Legal System

A signal event here was the establishment of the Commission for Legal Affairs by the Sixth Session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee in February 1979. The primary task of this committee, headed by Peng Zhen, was to assist the National People's Congress in strengthening the legal system.1 This, of necessity,

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1
'Speeding the Work of Law-Making', Beijing Review No. 9, 2 March 1979, pp. 3-4.

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