“This patch of land belonged to my family during the Qing Dynasty. It was our family property during the republic time. It was still ours after the Little (Japanese) Devils came here! How come that our land suddenly became yours when you (communists) took over? I simply can’t follow your logics!”
In the wake of forced demolition and home rearrangement all over China, an old stubborn man has taken legal action against the local government three times. He won. The old man did not appoint a lawyer, but instead he decided to defend himself in the court. The picture shows the old man who walked to the front to face the jury and deliver his fiery speech. He wore rubber boots covered in mud. The photo received Photojournalism Award of the year (2015).
With its ample resonance both within China and internationally, the ‘rule of law’ (依法治国yifa zhiguo) is an expression that can justify the most disparate justice reforms. It is both a political value worth defending and a reason for consternation; it is an ideal that is inherently troubling and troubled by its interlocutors, advocates, and critics. For this reason, even the term ‘yifa zhiguo’ has been translated differently by different interlocutors, with ‘rule of law’, ‘rule by law’ and ‘ruling the country according to the law’ being the most frequent renderings in the English language.
While the rule of law has become a key component of the Chinese legal-political vocabulary since the onset of the reform period, under Xi Jinping’s leadership it appears to have increased in importance. Since Xi took the helm in 2012, he has chosen to adopt exactly this expression to shape his policy and justice agendas. But the authoritarian way in which the concept has been used thus far has, in many quarters, produced a palpable sense of surprise and dismay over the future of the Chinese legal system.
A number of basic elements of Xi’s ‘yifa zhiguo’ push may, in the future, become very helpful in improving greater transparency and accountability. But the concept of ‘yifa zhiguo’ will not promote an overall improvement in the relationship between the Party-state and society (or more precisely between the Party and ‘the people’). This is because the very purpose of ‘yifa zhiguo’ is to promote the idea that the law is a manifestation of the people’s will and interests, and that the Party exists in order to protect the people’s interests. Under the ‘yifa zhiguo’ ideology, the people cannot enjoy any rights and interests outside the leadership of the Party whose role it is to develop and protect (Party-initiated) rights and interests.