Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Does the legal system matter? Bo Xilai, Chen Guangcheng, and Liu Zhijun

Events in the last several weeks have prompted some interesting reflections on the larger nature of the Chinese legal system. Earlier this month, Nicholas Bequelin and Stanley Lubman discussed the significance of the Bo Xilai and Chen Guangcheng cases together. Lubman concludes that they show that Chinese law doesn't matter very much, and Bequelin concludes that Chinese law does matter more than we think. I'm greatly oversimplifying, of course, and if you read both pieces you'll find that they probably don't really disagree.

Today Stanley Lubman published another piece that looks at the Bo Xilai case together with the recent case of Liu Zhijun, the former minister of railways who was cashiered on corruption charges. Lubman notes that in these cases, there is always first an internal Party investigation, following which the subject may or may not be "handed over" to state judicial authorities for appropriate punishment. The key, of course, is that the Party, standing above the law, makes the decision whether or not to "hand over" people to the state authorities. All the talk about building the rule of law in China, increasing government accountability, etc. must be understood in the context of this one critical fact: the Party as an institution has never been subordinate to the law, and there is to date no movement in that direction.

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Even after the case is handed over to the judicial agency for handling, the judiciary is still controlled by the CCP in its sentencing and finding of guilt. Since there is no Western sense of judicial independence, the judicial process is not entirely free from party manipulation, except at that second stage, the accused will be handled in a more publicly visible domain.

Posted by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung | May 31, 2012 9:23:51 AM

Lubman and Bequelin agree with each other that law doesn't matter to the Party, while Bequelin puts an optimistic note in the end of his piece that law does matter to Chinese citizens.

Posted by: Juliaz | May 31, 2012 9:26:49 AM

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