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I. Historical Course of Building a Socialist Country under the Rule of Law
China has a 5,000-year history of civilization. And the Chinese legal system goes back to ancient times. As early as in the 21st century BC, consuetudinary law appeared in China's slave society. In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 BC), written law was promulgated in China, and a systematic written code of laws appeared. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), China had a fairly complete code of feudal laws, which was passed on and developed in the following feudal dynasties. The Chinese system of law emerged as a unique one in the world. Ancient China made significant contributions to the legal civilization of mankind.
After the Opium War broke out in 1840, China was reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. To obliterate the sufferings of the country and rejuvenate the Chinese nation, people with lofty ideals tried to transplant to China modes of the rule of law from modern Western countries, but failed for various historical reasons.
Under the leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people, after revolution, construction, reform and development, gradually took the road of building a socialist country under the rule of law.
The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 ushered in a new era for China's promotion of the rule of law. The period from 1949 to the mid-1950s was the period when China's socialist legal system was first set up. In this period, China promulgated the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, in the character of an interim constitution, and some other laws and decrees, which played an important role in consolidating the new-born political power, maintaining social order and reviving the national economy. In 1954, at the First Session of the First National People's Congress (NPC), the Constitution of the People's Republic of China was promulgated. The Constitution and other laws enacted later defined China's political and economic systems, citizen's rights and freedom, set the standards for the organizational structure, functions and powers of state organs, and established the basic principles for China's legal system, thus initially laying the foundation for the rule of law in China. From the late 1950s, and especially during the chaotic period of the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), China's socialist legal system was severely damaged.
At the end of the 1970s, the CPC, after summarizing historical experiences, and especially learning painful lessons from the "cultural revolution," made an important decision to shift the focus of national work to socialist modernization, and adopted the policies of reform and opening-up. It also made clear the importance of the principle of governing the country by law. To guarantee democracy for the people, it is necessary to strengthen the socialist legal system, institutionalize democracy and make laws to ensure democracy. The goal was to make the system and laws stable, consistent and authoritative -- not changing with changes of state leaders or state leaders' opinions or attention -- and achieve the goal of having laws to go by, laws that must be observed and strictly enforced, and lawbreakers prosecuted. This was set up as the basic idea for the rule of law in the new era of reform and opening-up. Under the guidance of the basic principle of developing socialist democracy and improving the socialist legal system, China promulgated the present Constitution and basic laws, such as the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Civil Procedure Law, General Principles of the Civil Law and Administrative Procedure Law, ushering in a new development stage of the rule of law.
In the 1990s, China started to promote the development of a socialist market economy in an all-round way, further laying the economic foundation and putting forward higher demands for the rule of law. In 1997, the 15th CPC National Congress decided to make "the rule of law" a basic strategy and "building a socialist country under the rule of law" an important goal for socialist modernization, and put forward the significant task of building a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics. In 1999, "the People's Republic of China exercises the rule of law, building a socialist country governed according to law" was added to the Constitution, ushering in a new chapter in China's efforts to promote the rule of law.
Entering the 21st century, China is continuing this undertaking. In 2002, the 16th CPC National Congress decided to take further improvement of the socialist democracy and socialist legal system, comprehensive implementation of the rule of law as important goals for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In 2004, "the state respects and guarantees human rights" was included in the Constitution. In 2007, the 17th CPC National Congress expressly called for comprehensively implementing the fundamental principle of rule of the country by law and speeding up the building of a socialist country under the rule of law, and made arrangements for strengthening the rule of law in an all-round way.
Over almost six decades since its founding, especially during 30 years since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies, China has made tremendous achievements in promoting the rule of law in its great task of building socialism with Chinese characteristics.
-- The rule of law has been established as a fundamental principle. It is a fundamental state principle as well as the common understanding of all sectors of society to govern the country according to law and build a socialist country under the rule of law. Moreover, the socialist idea of the rule of law has been gradually established, with the rule of law at the core, law enforcement for the people as an essential requirement, fairness and justice as a value to be pursued, serving the overall interests as an important mission, and with the leadership of the CPC as a fundamental guarantee. The awareness of law and the rule of law has been generally strengthened in all sectors of society, and a social atmosphere of consciously learning, observing and employing law is coming into being.
-- The CPC has markedly improved its governance capability. The Party has constantly enhanced its consciousness and firmness in governing the country in a scientific and democratic way, and by law. It has led the people in making the Constitution and laws. Meanwhile, it has carried out activities within the scope prescribed by the Constitution and the law, with the Constitution as the fundamental criterion; it upholds the Constitution and persists in the rule of law, and takes the lead in safeguarding the authority of the Constitution and the law; and it has mobilized and organized the people to the maximum extent to manage state and social affairs, the economy and cultural undertakings. By leading the people in making and abiding by laws and guaranteeing law enforcement, the Party has continuously consolidated its ruling position.
-- A Constitution-centered socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics has basically taken shape. On the basis of the present Constitution, the state has enacted and improved a large number of laws, administrative regulations, local regulations, autonomous regulations, and separate regulations, making the legal system more complete and providing the state with laws to go by in economic, political and cultural sectors, as well as in social life. Legislation has become more scientific and democratic, and its quality has been improved. Laws now play an increasingly greater role in promoting economic and social development, ensuring social fairness and justice, and guaranteeing the people's rights and the proper exercise of the state power.
-- Human rights are under reliable legal protection. While improving the people's rights to subsistence and development through economic and social development, the state attaches great importance to protecting citizens' basic rights and freedom in accordance with the Constitution and the law. It protects in accordance with the law the right of all members of society to equal participation and development. With the continuous improvement of laws, regulations, the judicial system and the mechanism for safeguarding rights and interests, human rights have been better guaranteed in legislation, law enforcement, the judiciary and other aspects. The undertaking to protect human rights has been developing in a sound way, and citizens' political, economic, social and cultural rights are now fully respected and guaranteed in all aspects.
-- The environment for the rule of law, which promotes economic development and social harmony, has been constantly improved. In response to the demands of building a socialist market economy, the state has been strengthening economic legislation and improving macro-control. It prohibits any organization or individual from disrupting the economic and social order in accordance with the law. China has enacted and improved a series of laws and systems promoting economic development, safeguarding market order and achieving social fairness and justice, established an initial law regime for the socialist market economy. The social security system has been continuously improved, with social insurance, social relief and social welfare as the bases, with basic endowment insurance, basic medical insurance and the subsistence allowance system as focuses and supplemented by charities and commercial insurance.
-- Administration by law and fair administration of justice have been constantly improved. By establishing and improving the organizational and working mechanisms for administrative law enforcement and the judiciary, China guarantees that the administrative and judicial organs exercise their power and perform their duties in accordance with their legitimate authorization and legal procedures. Administrative legislation and institutional improvement have been further strengthened, the system of keeping the public informed of matters being handled is being constantly improved, and government administration based on the rule of law is being furthered. Public security organs fulfill their duties in accordance with the law, safeguarding state security and public order, and guaranteeing that people can live and work in peace and contentment. Courts and procuratorates exercise their powers independently in accordance with the law, make judgments based on facts and with the law as the sole benchmark, and insist on the principle that all citizens are equal before the law, thereby safeguarding and enforcing judicial justice and authoritativeness.
-- Restraint of and supervision over the use of power have been strengthened. A power structure and a power operating mechanism featuring decision-making authority, enforcement power and supervision right restraining and coordinating each other have been set up and improved continuously; fairly complete supervision systems and rules have been established; and the composite force and effectiveness of supervision have been constantly strengthened. The people's congresses at all levels and their standing committees exercise supervision over the governments, people's courts and people's procuratorates of the same level. The people's political consultative conferences at different levels give full scope to their role of democratic supervision, and such supervision has been gradually institutionalized and standardized. The general public and news media have more and more ways and means to supervise government and judicial work. The constantly improved systems of inquiry, accountability, economic accountability audit, resignation and recall guarantee that the supervision over government functionaries is powerful and effective.
(China.org.cn February 28, 2008)
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