Two weeks ago, with the democracy protests in Hong Kong in full swing, China’s official People’s Daily newspaper labeled them “illegal” and called for protecting “the rule of law” in Hong Kong. Such statements left observers with little doubt about a central meaning “the rule of law” has in the People’s Republic: the Communist Party’s use of law to control and regulate society.
Yet there’s plenty of evidence that China sees the rule of law in far more nuanced and complex ways. Today the Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee starts its Fourth Plenum, and the main topic will be the rule of law in China — the first time in party history that a meeting with the authority of a plenary session will focus on the rule of law. And there are reasons for a measure of optimism that the plenum will demonstrate more complex views about the roles law can play and also take meaningful steps to advance new legal reforms.
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