How to View the Rule of Law in China

ABOVE: Shanghai, the third largest city in the world, with its historic waterfront district.

By H.E. CONG Peiwu, Chinese Ambassador to Canada

The rule of law is the crystallization of the political civilization of all mankind. It covers human rights protection, procedural justice and constraints on the exercise of power, all of which embody the common laws of the development of the political civilization of mankind. They are of universal significance to the governance of all countries. There are some wrong arguments about the rule of law in China, which I would like to clarify.

First, the argument that there is no rule of law in China does not hold water.

China has a long history of the rule of law and a unique legal system. The earliest written Chinese legal code dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period (770B.C.-221B.C.), when “rule by law” was advocated by Legalism. Shang Yang, a legalist and politician of the State of Qin in this period, gained people's trust before initiating his political reforms, by delivering on his promise of rewarding anyone who was able to move a log to a certain place. And he emphasized “the clarity of law” and “the implementation of orders,” which facilitated Qin's unification of China. The 60 passages of the law of the Han Dynasty (202B.C.-220A.D.) developed in the reign of Emperor Wudi had been in use for nearly 400 years. Besides, thanks to a law formulated during "Zhenguan," the governing period of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the country entered a flourishing period, which was called “the Reign of Zhenguan” in China's history. Known as the “Law of Zhenguan,” the law laid a foundation of Tang Code, an important Chinese legal code that helped guarantee the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty.

Socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics is a new chapter in the system of the 5,000-year Chinese civilization and is an inheritance and development of the Chinese way of governing the state. As of June 2022, there were 292 valid laws and 598 administrative regulations in China. There were 605,000 lawyers and more than 37,000 law firms nationwide. Administrative reconsideration organs at all levels had handled more than 1.9 million cases of “people suing governments.”

The second argument that China's rule of law is inferior to that in the West is very ridiculous.

Some people think that the rule of law of the West has been successful and that the Western legal system is naturally superior. This Western-centric view of the rule of law is full of prejudice. Due to the differences in cultural traditions, national conditions, systems and historical paths of countries and regions, the formation of legal systems and their implementation vary greatly. There is no one-size-fits-all mechanism or evaluation criteria to achieve the rule of law and to cope with specific systems. Developing countries have witnessed many failures after copying the Western legal systems. Western modes of the rule of law differ from each other. For example, the UK considers France's establishment of administrative courts within the administrative system rather than the judicial system to be biased in favor of the executive power.

The path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics proceeds from China’s own circumstances and has ensured the two miracles of rapid economic growth and lasting social stability. China ranked the second in Gallup’s Global Law and Order 2021 Report.

The third argument that China has stopped in seeking progress of rule of law is completely groundless.

There is a view that the rule of law in China is a closed-door totalitarian rule of law. In fact, in a speech delivered during his visit to the UK Parliament in 2015, President Xi Jinping pointed out, “At present, the Chinese people are comprehensively advancing rule of law by both inheriting the fine traditions of Chinese legal system and learning beneficial practices from other countries in rule of law.”

China has drawn on the achievements of rule of law of other countries. For example, having studied the experience of Singapore and other countries in building free trade ports, China proposed that the construction of Hainan’s free trade port should follow high-level international economic and trade rules. According to the Plan to Build the Rule of Law in China(2020-2025), China will improve its foreign-related laws and rules system to meet the needs of high-level opening-up.

China has actively engaged in exchanges on the rule of law with other countries. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries such as Kenya and the Philippines hoped to strengthen exchanges with China on public health law. At the World Judicial Conference on Environment held in Kunming in 2021, Chinese delegates expounded on China’s position on environment protection through judicial means, which won recognition from participants.

At the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), a major decision was made on the coordinated advancement of the law-based governance of China in the new era, marking a new journey of the construction of rule of law in China with good laws and governance. China will carry forward the fine traditional Chinese legal culture, actively learn from the achievements of rule of law of mankind, and accelerate the building of a country under socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics. China is willing to contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions to the advancement of the global rule of law, and to build a bridge for the exchange and mutual learning among global law-based civilizations.

Photo: iStock