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China Brief

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In the fall of 2014, Chinese Communist Party authorities made legal reform the focus of their annual plenum for the first time. The Fourth Plenum Decision confirmed a shift away from some of the policies of the late Hu Jintao era, but liberal reforms still remain off the table. The top-down vision of legal reform developing under Xi Jinping’s administration may have more in common with current trends in the party disciplinary apparatus or historical ones in the imperial Chinese censorate than it does with Western rule-of-law norms. This essay attempts to do three things: (1) analyze how and why China’s legal reforms have shifted over the past two decades, (2) outline the direction of reform under Xi, and (3) sketch out the institutional considerations that are likely to steer state efforts in the legal field over the coming years.