That the theme of the Fourth Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee was "the rule of law" is commendable.
This should have a revivifying effect, although it'll be about as difficult as an actual rebirth, as China has been a society characterized by lawlessness for the past 60 years.
Speaking of lawlessness, people often associate it with the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976]. Of course this is true, but as people were focused on the overturning of miscarriages of justice in the period after it ended, it's also very easy to miss the wood for the trees.
Yes, in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party made one of its most creative and essential amendments to the Constitution, namely, to the legitimizing clause that "the party must act within the scope of the Constitution and the law."
And during the 1980s, [former premiers] Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang did everything in their power to ensure this clause was implemented.
It's a shame that within 10 years, both would succumb to the tragedy of history.
After that came the so-called "second round" of reforms, set in motion by Deng Xiaoping's speech during his  tour of southern China. While this has been deified by some as a high point of the party's rule since 1949, it actually initiated another era of lawlessness.
During the 1950s, [late supreme leader] Mao Zedong confiscated the private property of countless landlords large and small, putting it into state hands in the name of "socialist transformation."
During the 1990s, [late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping transformed these state assets back into the hands of officials large and small, ushering in a new system of property ownership by a political elite.
Under the banner of revolution, using the political power that comes from the barrel of a gun, Mao Zedong smashed the system of private ownership, without regard for law.
Under the banner of reforms, using the  Tiananmen crackdown as a precedent, Deng Xiaoping set up his elite ownership system, without regard for law.
Taken in its abstract sense, his southern tour speech seems beyond reproach. The problem is that it went hand in hand with the lawlessness of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and that this redistribution of state assets took place in an atmosphere of the enforced silence of critics and Red Terror.
How could it achieve anything new, other than the redistribution of the spoils of power?
More to the story
But the story's not over yet. As we enter the 21st century, we see the corruption of the high-ranking tigers and low-ranking flies stretching in all directions.
Surely, they have been either directly created by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party at every level, or at the very least condoned by it?
There is some basis for thinking that every single one of the tigers and flies we already know about operated with the support, protection and connivance of party leaders at all levels.
That's why the new administration [under President Xi Jinping] has already had such stunning results from its anti-corruption campaign. These are cold, hard facts that prove the failure of previous administrations to govern according to law.
More than 60 years of history shows us that lawlessness is the normal modus operandi of the Chinese Communist Party.
It's not just that the regime has contempt for the rule of law; it has consistently ignored the law since it seized power.
The law is a tool to be used against the party's opponents, not to hold the party itself in thrall.
Such is the DNA brought forth from the womb of communist internationalism by Mao Zedong. As Lenin and Stalin did, so did Mao and Deng also. It has ever been thus.
If we use the metaphor of herbivores to describe those who abide by the law, and those who throw it into chaos as carnivores, then we can say that the communists of history have also been its predators.
For the Communist Party to pass a resolution that it will rule by law is roughly equivalent to a genetic mutation that turns carnivores into herbivores; as difficult as a total change in one's nature.
Only total disaster for the communist movement could call forth such an unparalleled act of creative initiative.
Some people think that this is just another bit of sleight of hand. I think it's probably too early to say, and that we'll have to keep watching and continuing our analysis.
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.