The fourth plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party set a general goal for “building a socialist system of rule of law with Chinese characteristics, building a socialist state of rule of law.” It is a trail-blazing accomplishment from the perspective of China’s history of political development, as well as for the CPC leadership. In the long term, the plenum will prove to be of far-reaching strategic significance for building a socialist political civilization, developing democratic politics with Chinese characteristics, and realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. At present, it may more directly guarantee people’s rights and interests, achieve fairness and justice, preserve long-term order and stability, and promote national governance modernization.
The third and fourth plenums were sister chapters that will prove instrumental for China’s modernization and rejuvenation. The third plenum’s decision to deepen reforms in a comprehensive manner and the fourth plenum’s promotion of governing the country in accordance with law are intrinsically connected. Firstly, the third plenum took “promoting social fairness and justice, enhancing people’s well-being” as the “starting and finishing point” of comprehensively deepening reforms; the fourth plenum emphasized creating a fair and just systematic environment and building guarantees for fairness and justice. The fourth plenum translated fairness and justice into practice through legislation in key areas, accelerated improvements in laws oriented at equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal rules, safeguarding such civil rights as rights over the body, rights to property, and basic political rights from infringements. Secondly, the third plenum established a general goal of “developing and perfecting a socialist system with Chinese characteristics, as well as promoting the modernization of a national governance system and governance capabilities”; the fourth plenum set the general goal of “building a socialist system of rule of law with Chinese characteristics, and building a socialist state of rule of law”. The latter is the expansion and extension of the former. A socialist system of rule of law with Chinese characteristics and the state of the rule of law are important components of a socialist system with Chinese characteristics. Governing the country in accordance with law is a key step towards promoting the modernization of a national governance system and capabilities.
Fairness and justice are common human political values, and foremost values of socialism. They are important yardsticks for overall social progress, and fundamental goals, which the CPC has persistently pursued. Realizing and preserving fairness and justice not only concern the stability and harmony of society, the long-term order and stability of the party and country, but also concerns basic civil rights, as well as the all-round development of man and society.
Fairness and justice entail both corresponding material basis and systematic basis. Without the guarantee of concrete systems, mechanisms, and policies, fairness and justice will only be empty talk. For the realization of fairness and justice, the most essential systematic guarantee is the rule of law.
The direct goal of the rule of law is to regulate civil conduct, manage social affairs, and sustain a normal order for social life. But its ultimate goal is to protect such basic civil political rights as freedom, equality, and fairness. In this sense, rule of law stands opposite to the rule of man. It regulates civil conduct, and restrains government behaviors at the same time. Fairness and the rule of law both complement each other. Rule of law is a prerequisite for fairness. Fairness is both the goal and lifeline of the rule of law.
In order to realize fairness and justice and the modernization of governance, building a socialist system and the rule of law boils down to the following five points:
First, democracy and rule of law must be unified into an organic whole. In other words, democratic governance and governance in accordance with the law must be an organic unity. Laws must be based on people’s will. Those in awe of people’s will must uphold the rule of law; those who uphold the rule of law must be in awe of people’s will. Treating people’s will as outside of the framework of law has the potential danger of leading to populism; treating the rule of law without due respect for people’s will has the dangerous potential of resulting in elitism.
Second, fine laws are a precondition to good governance. A scientific and complete national legal system must be established. On the one hand, all major political, economic and social affairs must be covered by compulsory legal norms. On the other hand, legal norms must be made by democratic and scientific procedures, making sure that national laws fully reflect people’s wills, and are rational and operational.
Third, it is vital to establish the supreme authority of the Constitution and laws over national governance. All organizations and individuals must act within the boundaries drawn by the Constitution and laws. That is an essential requirement of the Constitution and the CPC charter.
Fourth, China must realize judicial equity, and promote and guarantee fairness and justice throughout society. Just as the Fourth Plenum pointed out, equity is the lifeline of the rule of law. Efforts must be made to let people feel fairness and justice in every judicial proceeding.
Fifth, the CPC itself holds the key to governing the country in accordance with the law. Adhering to the unity of CPC leadership, respecting the people’s role as masters of the state, and governing the country in accordance with law is an ideal state of socialist political development with Chinese characteristics, as well as the correct path for China. A socialist rule of law calls for CPC leadership and CPC leadership must rely on socialist rule of law. On one hand, we must stick to CPC leadership, which is the fundamental guarantee of governing the country in accordance with law. On the other hand, the party must govern in a democratic manner and in accordance with the law. The CPC has always played a leading role in promoting democracy and the rule of law. It should resolutely adhere to the principle that the Constitution has supreme authority in state affairs and that the CPC charter has supreme authority in the party’s internal affairs, and plays an exemplary role in building a proposed state, government and society governed by the rule of law.