Local residents vote for lawmakers at county- and township-levels in Yunyang County, southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, in 2007 [CFP)
As China rapidly became one of the world's dominant economic powerhouses, its economic reform has long been most visible to the eyes of the world. For many, this overshadowed other progresses the country has made over the years – most significantly the various reforms and development of its political system from a fundamental level.
Significant reform of the system of power and leadership
Prior to China's Economic Reform and Opening Up in 1978, leaders of China's central authority had indefinite tenure. Together with the high centralization of power in the supreme leader, this greatly hindered the Communist Party of China's goal of moving the country's political system towards a more democratic direction. Since the implementation of the reforms, China's Party leaders made great efforts to gradually set up a retirement system, a system of fixed tenures and a system of collective leadership.
Beginning with the 15th National Congress of the CPC in 1997, all the congresses made important personnel changes for the country's three policy-making organs: the standing committee of the political bureau; the political bureau; and the central committee. When the 16th National Congress announced a new generation of leaders, the transition of power was peaceful, stable and smooth. Not only did this demonstrate a fundamental augmentation of the government's power structure, it was also evident that the new system had already begun to mature.
Without a multi-party election system, China has still established a mechanism for regularly refreshing its ranks of policy makers. It was a profound change for China's political system and an unprecedented achievement of China's political development. This process was further solidified by involving more than 400 high ranking party officials in voting at a primary election for candidates for the leadership of the 17th party congress. The expansion aimed to strengthen the base for the leadership of the next generation.
Remarkable development of legislations and legal body
China was ruled by monarchies for thousands of years, and its citizens were often at the whims of one man's ideals and ambitions. Painfully aware of the consequences, the CPC steadily transitioned the country's legislative principles to be based on agreed-upon rules rather than a ruler's verbal decree.
To date, China has created over 230 laws, 690 administrative regulations, 600 autonomous and special decrees and around 8,600 local rules and ordinances. A legal system of Chinese characteristics has clearly taken shape.
Existing laws and regulations are also continually being perfected to better protect the rights of citizens.
In 1997, lawmakers passed the amendment of Criminal Procedural Law, which abolished the principle of presumption of guilt. In 2004, the Constitution was amended to include the principle that "the state respects and guarantees human rights." On May 1, 2008, the Decree of Government Information Openness of the PRC formally went into effect as a means to improve transparency in the government.
In order to complement and monitor the implementation of new legislation, the country's judicial system has slowly restructured since 1978. It now consists of people's courts, people's procurator and the public security departments. After new policies governing China's lawyers took effect in 1992, they were no longer bound to become public servants. Many became private professionals to better represent civilians and protect their rights.
Tremendous progress in social liberty
Since the 1978 economic reforms, Chinese authority has worked tirelessly to adjust the relation between citizen and state, allowing people to ever increasingly enjoy their freedom of expression and rights of association.
Today, citizens are closely monitoring and often taking a critical stance toward policies of the governments and behaviors of the officials.
With varying principles and objectives, more than 300,000 formal non-governmental organizations emerged to set the stage for ordinary citizens to display their creativity, boosting the development of culture and people's social undertakings. Chinese government now is exploring and trying out new ways to manage these organizations.
With the rapid growth of private economic entities and the strategic adjustment of state-owned businesses, the government no longer directly manages people's social and economic life. People can now make their own choices regarding their place of residence, education, healthcare and everyday entertainment and consumption.
However, the government authorities should realize that social and political climate is ever-changing, and they should continue to vigorously promote the development of China's socialist democracy.
Lai Hairong is a researcher at China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau.
(This article is translated by Zhou Jing & Ma Yujia)
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