Xi Jinping’s aspirations

We are witnessing an important modification of the Deng Xiaoping era, personalistic one-man rule enhanced by efficient Party controls of all aspects of life.

By Jerome Cohen

On Sunday, China’s National People’s Congress passed the comprehensive constitutional amendment proposed by the Communist Party under Xi Jinping’s leadership. The vote, which had the support of 2,957 delegates (with only two “no” votes and three abstentions), is what I anticipated. The leadership had to show a few dissenting voices among the almost 3,000 delegates in order to give the appearance of freedom on the part of the delegates. But it wanted, at the same time, to have a show of overwhelming support for the constitutional changes, unlike on some occasions where as many as 100 delegates have either voted against or abstained from voting with respect to certain reports on the legal system. 

The leadership had to work hard in recent weeks first to press the Communist Party Central Committee to go along with its proposal and then the National People’s Congress delegates. Without the advance approval of the leadership it would have taken a brave, indeed foolhardy, person to express dissatisfaction in the current circumstances where the Xi Jinping machine had gone all out, using fear, intimidation and incentives, to achieve its goal. 

We are witnessing an important modification of the Deng Xiaoping era, personalistic one-man rule enhanced by efficient Party controls of all aspects of life, increasing intolerance of dissent, more direct government controls of business and ever greater repression through the new supervisory commissions.

Ironically, this Constitutional amendment changed the wording in the Preamble from ”健全社会主义法制” to “健全社会主义法治.” I have always understood the newly-inserted last character in the phrase to symbolize the aspiration for China to achieve government under law (法治) rather than merely rule by law (法制). I think its insertion in the current circumstances is an attempt by the Xi Jinping crowd to hijack the term in accordance with his clear preference to rule the country by law rather than continue the reality of lawlessness in some crucial respects, as in shuanggui (双规), the party punishment that lacks any legal basis.

That is why we are getting the supervisory commissions fig-leaf of officiality and that is why, in order to feel comfortably free to plan on indefinite tenure as “president”, Xi insisted on amending the Constitution so everything can be done “according to law”.

Of course, there is no intent to place his actions under the law, and it is disappointing that the amendment does not come to grips with the Constitution’s Article 37 in an attempt to reconcile the National Supervisory Commission’s (NSC) “liuzhi” (留置) detention with Article 37’s restrictions on detention and arrest. (Perhaps that is being left to forthcoming relevant legislation—the NSC Law and a possible Organic Law of the NSC system to match the organic laws of the other institutions that purportedly fall under the National People’s Congress. Or it can be done later via a National People’s Congress Standing Committee interpretation or perhaps even a Supreme People’s Court’s interpretation if necessary.)

Everyone talks about Xi Jinping wanting to be another Mao Zedong. Some observers compare Xi’s ascent to the story of Putin. I have been saying for a long time that Xi’s goal is to out-do Stalin, without all the killing, and he may well succeed. He really is following the Stalin centralization of power, suppression of dissent, model that emphasized “the stability of law” even as Stalin used it as an instrument to promote the slaughter of millions.

China’s Chief Justice’s Extraordinary Statement: The Most Enormous Ideological Setback for a Professional Judiciary

Here is Flora Sapio’s original blog post about China’s Supreme People’s Court Chief Justice Zhou Qiang’s recent statement, which has provoked some unusual public opposition from China’s law reformers. Several aspects distinguish Zhou Qiang’s new and surprising statement.

It is much more threatening to the judicial cadres than the usual recitation about the importance of following the Party line. It focuses almost exclusively on “morality” and political reliability.  Its reference to heroic historical figures is surely bizarre and suggests that the recent investigation of the Supreme People’s Court by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission must have uncovered judges’ lack of reverence for Chairman Mao as well as their continuing desire for judicial independence from Party interference. This statement is the most enormous ideological setback for decades of halting, uneven progress toward the creation of a professional, impartial judiciary. It has already provoked some of China’s most admirable law reformers and public intellectuals to speak out in defiance, and, despite their prominence, I fear not only for their careers but also for their personal safety. 

I see Zhou’s statement as possibly necessary in order for Zhou Qiang, an enlightened and progressive Party leader,  to have his appointment renewed by the 19th Congress. There is immense dissatisfaction among many judges, especially the younger judges, over Xi Jinping’s restrictive, anti-Western legal values being imposed on them, contrary to their largely-Western-type legal education. This comes at a time when the courts are undergoing reforms designed to reduce the numbers of officials called “judges” by as much as 60% in order to make the remaining judges more of an elite, receiving greater prestige and compensation and a better reputation for competency. Many younger officials are leaving the courts, and the procuracy too, for work in law firms, business and teaching. They do not want to spend their lives applying legal principles opposed to their largely Western-type legal education.

Scott Savitt’s new book, Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China

Last night I had the privilege of interrogating Scott Savitt about his new book, Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China, in a 90-minute program at the China Institute’s new residence in New York.

The book is a highly informative, great read about China in the period 1983-2000 when Scott succeeded in immersing himself in Chinese life in various ways starting as a student and ending as a newspaper publisher.

The book begins and ends with a vivid, still relevant description of what it’s like to be detained by the secret police for 30 days in the year 2000, so perhaps I am biased in its favor because of concern for “the rule of law”, but there’s much else in it of interest to a broad audience, and it’s painfully honest.  Scott, whom I had only met occasionally over the years until last night, proved to be a lively and stimulating witness before a good-sized crowd. It’s a shame he has been on China’s black list for so many years but, even without the opportunity to return to China, I’m sure he can write a sequel to this just-published book detailing China’s progress and his many China-related activities since 2000.

For those who will be in the NY area sometime between now and late March, I urge you to make the trek to the China Institute’s new downtown Manhattan location in order to see the really spectacular and quite large exhibition of celadon masterpieces from the Six Dynasties period. This could never have been shown in the Institute’s previous, much smaller space on 65th St.