China at the Tipping Point? The Turn Against Legal Reform

Issue Date January 2013
Volume 24
Issue 1
Page Numbers 65-72
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Over the past decade, Chinese authorities have turned against many of the legal reforms they themselves had enacted in the late 20th century. Lawyers have come under increased pressure. Political campaigns warning against rule-of-law norms have rippled through the courts. And central authorities have massively increased funding for extralegal institutions aimed at curtailing and suppressing citizen discontent. These shifts have choked off input institutions key to the authoritarian resilience of Communist Party rule. They have fueled social unrest. And they have led to new concerns about individual leaders seizing control of the domestic security apparatus for their own purposes. In 2012, new calls emerged regarding the need to revive flagging legal reforms, particularly in the wake of the fall Party leadership transition. It remains unclear how China’s new leaders will respond. They may restart legal reform as part of a comprehensive program of political and institutional transformation. Or they may refuse, risking an escalating spiral of social and political turmoil.