Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

The Rule of Law Doctrine of the Politburo

25 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2017  

Ewan Smith

University of Oxford - Hertford College

Date Written: February 1, 2017


This article charts the development of CCP doctrine on the rule of law in the formative period between the Sixteenth Party Congress in November 2002 and the Fourth Plenum of the Eighteenth Central Committee in 2014. The Plenum sought to define the role that law has to play in the constitutional order of the People’s Republic of China. It issued a Decision that revised the official account of the rule of law, so as to reconcile it with the constitutional principle of Party Leadership. This account is unlikely to be revised for the foreseeable future. The article uses the reported content of Politburo Study Sessions to shed light on the leadership’s deliberations during this period. This source has been underused in the literature on rule of law in China, which has focused more closely on the decisions of other constitutional organs, especially courts. The article explains what is to be gained by focusing on these reports, and how we can interpret them as a source of CCP doctrine. It then sets out certain key conclusions from each study session, showing how the develop over time, and how they connect together. It then compares the language used in the study sessions with the language in the Fourth Plenum Decision. It shows how the Politburo’s conception of the rule of law evolved, and concludes that the major building blocks of 4th Plenum were already immanent in the first half of Hu Jintao’s administration.

Keywords: China, Rule of Law, Chinese Communist Party

Suggested Citation

Smith, Ewan, The Rule of Law Doctrine of the Politburo (February 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Ewan Smith (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Hertford College ( email )

Hertford College
Catte Street
Oxford, OX1 3BW
United Kingdom

Paper statistics

Abstract Views