On the eve of the Chinese New Year, a banner headline was posted on the Supreme People’s Court (Court) websites:
Study the Important Written Instructions of General Party Secretary Xi Jinping
A revised version of that banner has remained on those websites since (the photo above), apparently unobserved by outside commentators, who may have not realized its significance. This blogpost will look at:
- what written instructions (批示) are;
- the significance of Xi Jinping giving written instructions;
- what Xi Jinping’s instructions were;
- why the instructions were issued on eve of the New Year; and
- why Zhou Qiang, President of the Court called on the lower courts to study diligently Xi Jinping’s instructions.
What are written instructions (批示)?
”Written instructions“ (批示) means notes or comments made by a superior on a written document submitted for approval or comment. It is used in reference to Party/government documents as well as documents within the court system (see the regulations on handling each type of document). The term has been used throughout the history of the PRC as well as in Chinese history. Analysis of Chinese political documents often mentions written instructions.
According to the reports on various Court websites and in the press, Xi Jinping gave his written instructions on 28 January in response to a report submitted by the Supreme People’s Court entitled Situation Concerning the Work of the People’s Courts in 2013 and Proposals for their Work in 2014 (关于2013年人民法院工作情况和2014年工作打算的报告). The report has not been made public.
What were Xi Jinping’s written instructions and what is their significance?
Xi Jinping wrote what to the outside observer appears to be a collection of slogans from the Third Plenum Decision. However appearances can be deceiving.
He wrote that the courts had diligently implemented the Center’s policies and implemented their responsibilities and achieved new results. He expressed his hope that the courts will make persistent efforts, implement the spirit of the 18th Party Congress, Third Plenum etc, uphold the Party’s leadership, promote judicial reform, advance the building of a judicial system that is fair, efficient, and authoritative..provide powerful judicial protection for reform, and continue to promote the building of the rule of law in China.
The significance of the written instructions is not so much in its content as the fact that Xi Jinping issued it to the Supreme People’s Court. It is unusual for a Party General Secretary to have issued them. By doing so, Xi Jinping expresses his support, praise, demands, and hopes for Zhou Qiang and the Court leadership.
Why were the written instructions issued on eve of the New Year?
The written instructions were issued on the eve of the Chinese New Year to approve what Zhou Qiang and the other Court leaders did in 2013, as well as confirm the planned policies of the Court for 2014. The written instructions were issued before the Chinese New Year to enable the Court leadership to be better equipped when dealing with issues at the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting in early March. Court leaders are likely anticipating that local opposition to judicial reforms under consideration may be expressed at the NPC meeting.
Why are the lower courts requested to study diligently Xi Jinping’s instructions?
Xi Jinping’s instructions summarize in one paragraph the Central Committee’s policy towards the courts and their role in the Third Plenum reforms as well as judicial reforms. The written instructions enable the lower courts to understand the political background against which they work and the political goals for their work in the near and longer term.
The more sophisticated lower court judges understand that the written instructions mean that the Party leadership values the work of the Court leadership, but recognize that this will not resolve their caseload.
To the outside observer:
- it illustrates what is meant by Party leadership of the courts at the highest level;
- in the political context of China, it is a major coup for Zhou Qiang (and colleagues) and their reform policies for Xi Jinping to have issued those written instructions; and
- It means the political leadership is behind those reforms.
- At the same time, it places a great deal of pressure on the Court leadership to deliver results (as seen from the political leadership) in the judicial reforms.
- It would not be surprising to hear voices opposing some of the reforms at the NPC meeting.