The conclusion of the Gu Kailai trial recently prompted an outpouring of interest in what the case might signal for the direction of rule of law and legal reform in China.
As some have already pointed out, the answer is actually . . . nothing. As is well known, the Chinese legal and political systems are deeply intertwined. It therefore came as no surprise that a high-profile murder trial involving the wife of a former Politburo member was almost certainly decided at the top levels of Chinese Communist Party long before the case was brought before a judge. Indeed, it would have been surprising if it had been otherwise.
Instead, the critical rule-of-law story in China is a different one. Specifically - the trend of recent years in which central authorities have turned against legal reforms they themselves had launched at the end of the 20th century - reforms that emphasized the roles of law, lawyers, and courts in resolving a wide range of ordinary citizens’ grievances, and in helping in the daily governance of China- and whether this turn against law will continue under the new leadership.
[published in the Diplomat - full link here]