Edited by Teresa Wright
Chapter 3: Governing political expression: legitimacy and legal culture
Discussion of dissent and protest in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) unavoidably involves discussion of the ways in which the PRC’s socialist legal system governs political expression. Since the re-establishment of China’s socialist legal system in 1978, law has come to serve both as an instrument for rule and as a foundation for regime legitimacy. The 4th Plenum of the 18th CCP Central Committee (2014) was labeled the “rule of law plenum,” but stands as just the most recent example of the governing regime using law’s symbolic capital to support its legitimacy while also protecting the privileges and authority of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Yet the exercise of public law as both a mechanism for control and a foundation for regime legitimacy carries with it an inherent conflict between enforcing popular compliance and remaining true to institutional ideals of restraint on state action embodied in conventional rule of law discourse. Confronted by an emerging legal culture of rights in society, the regime’s use of law to control political expression offers a case study on legitimacy and legal culture in contemporary China.
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