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.