Washington International Law Journal


Ian Dobinson


The 1997 Criminal Law supposedly heralds the beginning of a new era in Chinese jurisprudence and criminal justice. There are doubts, however, over the degree to which the revisions are substantial or symbolic. On the one hand, it can be argued that by making the criminal justice system more rational and predictable, China is moving much closer to the "rule of law" as that term is understood in the West. On the other, it can be argued that the changes are mainly illusory and that, underneath the veneer of rhetoric, China's criminal justice system remains a crude and arbitrary tool of state control over enemies both real and imagined. This Article considers the competing viewpoints and argues that the latter comes closer to the truth. Of course, even a shift in rhetoric can have important consequences and the author acknowledges that the true import of the 1997 Criminal Law will only be known with the passage of time.

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