It's no accident that we are talking about the rule of law now. It's because "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is incapable of solving any of the major problems facing China right now.
[Late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping could be very frank, admitting even to the leadership of the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party: "What is socialism? Does anyone really know?" That made his magic potion of of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" an even more mysterious entity again.
To explain it, we must press facts and figures into service. Last July, the China Social Development Report 2014, published by the Chinese Social Research Center at Beijing University, expressed the nature of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" in a neat column of figures.
Under this system, about one percent of the population (around 10 million people) hold between them more than 30 percent of the entire nation's wealth. They are the top layer of a socialist society with Chinese characteristics.
At the other end of the scale, 25 percent of the population (some 300 million people) hold between them just one percent of the national wealth. These 300 million desperately poor people make up the bottom layer.
From a population point of view, this is a super-stable triangle, with just 10 million at the top, and 300 million at the bottom. But from a wealth point of view, it is a massively unstable inverted triangle, with one percent of the wealth at the bottom, and 30 percent of it carried above.
And there we have socialism with Chinese characteristics; its crisis is inherent in this very stability and instability.
Can such a structure last for long? Some people like to dream that it will. And there are some who don't want it to. Is it even possible to expect the 25 percent to share the same dream as the one percent?
Need for something new
That's why this illusion must be tossed aside, and we must come up with something new.
Actually, the rule of law may well be just the thing we need.
According to the communique issued by the 4th Central Committee Plenum [of the 18th Party Congress], "justice is the lifeblood of the rule of law."
The notion of equality before the law is essential to it. The law applies equally to all. There should be two lifelines extended, in fairness, to all:
1. Everyone should be punished if they have committed a crime, regardless of who they are.
2. Everyone should have the right of redress. In other words, everyone, no matter who they are, should have the right to the protection of the state, according to the law.
Without those two rights, the lifeblood is drained from the justice system, so it is meaningless to shout about the rule of law.
Marx defined communism in two ways; as "a commonwealth of the free," and as a system in which everyone gets what they need.
But the commonwealth of the free will only exist when there are no more political prisoners or thought criminals; when lawbreakers, whether criminal gang members or government officials, aren't able to act outside the law; and when law-abiding citizens, regardless of the social position they were born into, can live out their days free from fear.
Such is a system that can cope with all manner of centrifugal forces; and do so far better than the use of unlawful violence to "maintain stability."
That's why "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is useless, and should be abandoned. Instead, we should make a courageous but enlightened choice, and walk the path of universal values and the rule of law.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.