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The Politics of Law in China: Enforcement Campaigns in the Post-Mao PRC

Benjamin Van Rooij

University of California, Irvine School of Law; Leiden University - Leiden Law School

March 25, 2009

Since the 1980s China has organized law enforcement campaigns: periods of swifter, stricter and concentrated punishment of violations of law including corruption, organized crime, pollution, piracy, drug use, unsafe products and forced labor. This paper aims to understand the causes and effects of the campaigns, while also placing them in an historical, future, and comparative perspective. Campaigns are organized in reaction to weak law enforcement due to local protectionism. In addition, campaigns serve political goals as they offer a way for China's central leadership to maintain legitimacy by showing a willingness to act against public incidents. Although short term effects have been reported, there is little evidence to show that the campaigns have had much lasting effect on enhancing compliance. The paper argues that the limited effects have two causes: the simple deterrent approach used in the campaigns, and the failure to address structural problems underlying weak enforcement and widespread violations of law. Meanwhile campaigns have at times led to human rights abuses and violations of legal procedure. The campaign approach to law enforcement is not just a communist Chinese phenomena and political meddling in law enforcement has also in the West led to limited effects and tensions with due process requirements. In the near future, a recentralization of the various enforcement bureaucracies, as well as changing opinions about campaigns seem unlikely to change the use of campaigns to enforce the law in China. The paper concludes that campaigns are good in so far that they help the state to concentrate law enforcement on certain violations for a certain period of time. At the same time it criticizes the swiftness and severity of campaigns which have had only a limited effect on compliance and undermine rights protection and due process.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 59

Keywords: Chinese law, law enforcement, criminology, regulation, Chinese politics, governance

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Date posted: March 26, 2009 ; Last revised: September 2, 2011

Suggested Citation

van Rooij, Benjamin, The Politics of Law in China: Enforcement Campaigns in the Post-Mao PRC (March 25, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1368181 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1368181

Contact Information

Benjamin Van Rooij (Contact Author)
University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )
401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
Leiden University - Leiden Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 9520
2300 RA Leiden, NL-2300RA
+31 71 5277668 (Phone)
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