"Rule of law" ranks high up on the scale of most frequently cited phrases in official settings.
Introduced relatively late into the country's official lexicon, compared with some countries, rule of law has become popular in recent years, the logical result of a broadening consensus on the need for a sophisticated legal framework to regulate society's increasingly complex interactions.
One of the core policy statements of the national leadership is to build the country into one under the rule of law. Our national and local legislatures have come a long way in laying the groundwork.
But the average citizen knows little beyond the most sensational legislative breakthroughs, like the abolition of obsolete methods for handling the homeless in cities, or publication of the Property Right Law.
The State Council Information Office white paper released on the progress of rule of law in China represents an admirable effort to promote public understanding of our legal system.
Though it may appear redundant to a number of domestic legal professionals, it will prove an invaluable source of information for outsiders who care to know about the legal aspects of life in China.
The document not only describes what the country has dealt with in its pursuit of rule of law, but also includes a chapter explaining how laws are made in China and how the legal machinery works.
Following such introductory sections is a panoramic view of specific laws governing the different areas of social life. If you are interested in knowing what laws are in effect in China protecting human rights, regulating the market place, or disciplining the government, we recommend this document as a first must-read.
For anyone wanting a complete picture of the current Chinese legal system, the appendix may prove to be even more useful. It is a list of all 229 current national laws.
The list should have been longer, since we are constantly discovering gaps in the coverage of our laws. And many of the existing laws call for modifications to serve changing needs.
We should be consoled, however, by the publication of such a document and the fact the authorities have bothered to do it.
There is a need to know the laws we have.
(China Daily March 1, 2008)