America's Edge: China's Socialist System of Laws With Chinese Characteristics

Newsstand2.png(photo credit: James Fallows)

I had to laugh when I saw this post by my colleague James Fallows noting that the US edition of China Daily now had a news-box right outside our offices at The Atlantic.

I had just returned from China yesterday and was in town for a few hours before having to take off again so I grabbed a China Daily to catch up on what China wanted us folks at the Watergate to know about all things Middle Kingdom.

I think that there are occasionally some terrific, serious articles in the state-run paper, but very frequently Fallows is right that a good number of them give The Onion a run for its money.

This article is a case in point of a retired factor worker in China vowing to continue a quest to cash a $10 million treasury bond "despite being told that the document is an obvious fake."

Lines like this are priceless:

"This is a conspiracy by the United States government," [the worker] said from his suburban home in Weifang, East China's Shandong province. "I know they (the US) won't want to admit this so I will go to Beijing to seek help from television (media) and scholars."


"The dollar bond may be counterfeit but I still don't think my father and grandfather cheated me," he added firmly.


"I want to cooperate with someone who can help me," he said. "I was planning to trade this (the US Treasury bond) in for some money so I can live a better life, and then donate the rest to the country."

But what surprised me most about the issue I took with me on the plane is that the editors decided to print in full -- every last word -- of a densely written "White Paper on the Socialist System of Laws with Chinese Characteristics" issued by the Information Office of the State Council.  The piece ran with a smaller than normal font over five full pages of the newspaper.  The headline for the piece:  "Socialist Democracy Milestone."

Help me if I ever see those words again.

The white paper is so riddled with meaningless, fuzzy gobbledygook on what China's evolving legal system is that one can only wonder what the intention of publishing it was.  If it was to assure English-speaking China hands and China-interested folks around the world that coherent and impartial rule of law is ascendant in China, this was a significant step backward.  Read it - and sleep.

Perhaps the most clearly articulated and yet disturbing graph of the unnecessarily nearly never-ending white paper is this:

The nature of a country's legal system depends on the nature of its social system established in law. China is a socialist country under the people's democratic dictatorship, led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. In the primary stage of socialism, China practices a basic economic system with public ownership as the mainstay and the joint development of diverse forms of ownership, which determines that China's legal institutions are bound to be socialist ones and that China's legal system is bound to be a socialist one with Chinese characteristics. All legal norms covered in and all legal institutions established by the socialist legal system contribute to consolidating and developing socialism, reflect the people's common aspirations, safeguard their fundamental interests and make sure that the people are the masters of their own country. China proceeds from the essential requirement of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the will and long-term interests of the people in making its laws and determining the relevant provisions. The aim and outcome of all the work of the state are to realize, safeguard and expand the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people.

I did make it to the end of the document -- though have to admit to three naps and glazed eye syndrome on the way. 

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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