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Fall 2007

Document: Qiao Shi on China’s Long March to the Rule of Law

The following document is excerpted from an interview by NPQ editor Nathan Gardels with Qiao Shi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 1997. At the time Qiao, China’s former intelligence chief, was head of the National People’s Congress and the third-ranking member of the Politiburo Standing Committee. Before he was retired in a power struggle with Li Peng and Jiang Zemin, Qiao was China’s leading official proponent of strengthening the rule of law.

NPQ | Xu Kuangdi, the former mayor of Shanghai, has said that China already experimented with democracy during the Cultural Revolution, and it was a disaster.

In your mind, is there some middle ground between Western-style democracy and Cultural Revolution-type democracy that you see emerging in China? What are the features of such a system?

Qiao Shi | The Cultural Revolution was not democracy, it was turmoil which brought great suffering. An important reason by the Cultural Revolution took place and lasted 10 years was that we had not paid enough attention to the legal system.

It was from this bitter experience that, by the end of the 1970s, we began to stress the need to improve the legal system and law, to maintain stability and continuity in this system of law and make it very authoritative.

According to the constitution of China, all power in the country belongs to the people, and the people exercise state power through the National People’s Congress (NPC) and local people’s congresses at various levels.

To ensure that the people are the real masters of the country, that state power is really in their hands, we must strengthen these institutions and give them full play.

At the same time, it is necessary to improve grass-roots self-government so people can manage their own affairs.

Since China began its reform and opening up, we have steadily reformed the electoral system to expand the powers of the Standing Committee of the NPC and given autonomy in elections to both rural and urban residents.

As for the legal system itself, we have formulated a large number of laws—on ethnic minorities, rights of consumers, of the disabled and women, on compensation for being wronged by authorities, on the rights of those being prosecuted—so that we now have laws to go by for the main aspects of social life in China.

Our criminal law has been systematically amended to better embody the principle that punishment should be prescribed for specific crimes, that punishment should fit the crime and that all should be treated equally before the law. Clearly, any infringement upon laws by the law enforcers, overriding of laws by administrative authorities or perversion of justice for personal gain must be stopped.

NPQ | In this vision of a “democratic system of law” in accord with Chinese socialism, will the law ultimately be above the party, or the party above the law?

Qiao | In principle, there is no conflict since the party itself emphasizes that no organization or individual has the prerogative to override the constitution or the law.