In the Government Work Report he presented to the national legislature on March 5, Premier Li Keqiang said that China would continue to thoroughly apply the basic strategy of rule of law in strict accordance with the Constitution. He stressed that all government activities would be brought in line with the rule of law through full implementation of the administrative accountability system.
On Feb 25, presiding over the second meeting of the Commission for Overall Law-based Governance of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, President Xi Jinping, who is also the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, emphasized that 40 years of reform and opening-up have shown that society cannot develop further or become more stable without the rule of law, and the importance of the rule of law will increase with the deepening of reform and opening-up.
Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in November 2012, Xi has been stressing the significance of comprehensively advancing rule of law. Party meetings at all levels, too, have laid emphasis on this fact. For instance, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee made the promotion of rule of law an important task of the Party, with the Fourth Plenary Session setting the goal of comprehensively advancing rule of law. And the 19th National Congress of the CPC in October 2017 issued a blueprint to establish a law-based government and a society governed by law by 2035.
In fact, the construction of a law-based government and society became part of every Chinese citizen’s life, and the fundamental objective of China’s nation-building endeavor after “rule of law” was written into the Constitution in 1999.
So, why should the rule of law be re-emphasized at a time of deepening reform and opening-up?
The answer lies in the social functions that laws perform in a modern society, of which diversification is an unvarying trait. In general, societies across the world have shown a trend toward pluralization, with politics, economics and morality all performing certain and irreplaceable roles.
For example, political standards could not and should not be applied when dealing with economic issues. The same goes for law. The rule of law is important in modern society not only because it protects modern values, including freedom, equity and human rights, but also because it helps stabilize and standardize expectations.
Standardized expectations are the opposite of cognitive expectations, which vary according to circumstances. In a relatively small-scale rural society where cognitive expectations dominate, people are driven by unbinding habits, and their expectations will change only when these habits are broken. But in a society where people are bonded by contracts, laws replace habits. In such a society, people’s expectations will not change due to occasional violations of the law.
This makes standardizing and stabilizing expectations the most fundamental functions of law in a modern society. The value of the law rests on the fact that it tells (or warns) everyone what to expect from their or others’ actions. People would know how to protect themselves according to law when their rights and interests are infringed, and foresee the outcome of their unlawful actions. Thus a sense of security and safety is attained.
Reform and opening-up, launched in 1978, began with the household contract responsibility system reform in the countryside and private economy in cities.
Since such a shift could lead to conflicts among individuals, if only policies including macro-control measures and administrative regulations were used to deal with them, uncertainties would have made it difficult to build a stable market. So it was necessary to establish a comprehensive set of legal systems to complement and adjust the policies. Therefore, strengthening the rule of law is in conformity with the deepening of reform and opening-up. The deeper the reform, the more urgent is the need for rule of law.
Moreover, people’s stable and standardized expectations would also reduce the cost of governance, because people tend to adopt a confrontational attitude to maximize their interests if the implementation of laws changes to suit different parties’ attitudes.
Only by realizing the law’s function of stabilizing and standardizing expectations, more goals, such as the organic integration of people’s feelings, laws and reason, can be pursued. Laws need to constantly adapt to changes in social trends because they are a link in the social network, rather than existing in a vacuum. Therefore, the rule of law should be advanced in tandem with social changes, particularly so when the pace of change picks up as reform and opening-up deepens. And that is exactly the meaning of scientific legislation.