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

By Carlos Wing-Hung Lo | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
Deng Xiaoping's Ideas on Law

In an effort to remove the Maoist legacy of hostility towards law, Deng Xiaoping broke through the tendency towards legal nihilism and the so-called dominance of the 'two whatevers' in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. As a prominent victim in the heyday of lawlessness, he realized how miserable a country could be without law and democracy. Reviewing the past thirty years, Deng had spelt out the position that there was an urgent need for an impersonal, highly institutionalized legal system with a complete set of legal codes, even before he emerged as the supreme Party leader at the Third Plenum in 1978:

To ensure people's democracy, we must strengthen our legal system. Democracy has to be institutionalized and written into law, so as to make sure that institutions and laws do not change whenever the leadership changes, or whenever the leaders change their views or shift the focus of their attention. The trouble now is that our legal system is incomplete, with many laws yet to be enacted.1

In short, the major causes of the collapse of legal order under Mao were the deprecation of law and the neglect of democracy.

Legal reform, for Deng, after 1979, was the first step in restoring political order. Manifestly Deng at that time held a positive vision of the value of law to the socialist regime. When he put forward his ideas on the relationship between law and China's socialist development, he opened a new page in Chinese history. The revolutionary era was at an end and China was on the threshold of a new legal order.

____________________
1
Deng Xiaoping, "Emancipate the Mind; Seek Truth from Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future", 13 December 1978, Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping ( 1975- 1982), Beijing, Foreign Languages Press, 1984, pp. 157-158.

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