These reflect deeper shifts in political winds blowing from the top of the system. Starting in 2006, Party authorities launched “Socialist Rule of Law” political campaigns re-emphasizing Party supremacy and warning against the infiltration of “Western” rule-of-law concepts. These new ideological efforts have become a regular feature within Chinese courts and other legal institutions, reflected in new materials for judges to review in internal political study sessions.
Changed state attitudes have shown up in another venue as well – namely, the national judicial examination (sifa kaoshi).
The national judicial examination is required for all new lawyers, judges, or procuratorate officials. When implemented in 2002, the test was widely regarded as a step forward in terms of creating unified standards for Chinese legal professionals and in increasing their educational qualifications (since a university degree is required to sit for the exam). Early exams were relatively apolitical, broadly testing applicants on Chinese law, including civil, commercial, and criminal law, legal history, and professional responsibility. (1) However, starting in 2007, Chinese authorities amended the content of the exam to include Socialist Rule Of Law as a major field on which applicants would be tested.
What differences has this introduced? Well, compare the 2003 and 2010 exams. The general format has remained unchanged (three sets of multiple choice questions followed by essays). But unlike the 2003 test, the political content is quite clear in the 2010 version (as it is in the 2011 exam as well). The first five multiple-choice questions are very direct. (Did you remember the need to firmly uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship?). Further, the first essay question requires the applicant to discuss their understanding of socialist rule–of-law, in light of a 2009 speech by the head of the Party’s Political-Legal Committee on the Party’s need to maintain social control and stability.
Of course, this needs to be placed in perspective. Less than 5% of the 2010 test is explicitly political in nature. Just as in 2003, the 2010 exam primarily revolves around whether students remember principles drawn from contract law or criminal procedure or international law. Moreover, it is unlikely that the exam itself has any lasting impact on most students. Just as with their counterparts abroad, most Chinese law students simply memorize and regurgitate whatever content (whether Party doctrine or the Rule Against Perpetuities) is required to pass the exam.
On the other hand, there is a difference. This is not the same exam as in the early 2000s. The new political material sends a visible signal, both by its inclusion and by its placement in the front of each section, as to new official priorities.
(1) This is not to say that the 2003 exam was completely free of political content. Two or three of the multiple-choice questions in the first section might be construed as loaded. Try the following one.
81. Which of the following statements are not required under law? [Choose as many as applicable.]
A) All citizens have equal capacity to enjoy civil rights.
B) In civil activities, the principles of voluntariness, fairness, providing compensation for equal value, honesty, and credibility shall be observed.
C) Parties to a contract shall fulfill their obligations pursuant to the terms of the contract.
D) The [Communist] Party must operate within the boundaries of the constitution and law.
The answer? A, B, and D are not required under law. Only C is. (The first two statements are from the constitution and general principles of civil law, respectively, while D is taken from the Party charter – none of which is legally binding.)