Rule of Law with Chinese Characteristics: The Role of Campaigns in Lawmaking


  • We thank Shuang Ren for her excellent research assistance.

Sarah Biddulph, Law School, The University of Melbourne, 185 Pelham Street, Parkville Victoria, Australia, 3010. Telephone: + 61 3 8344 1015; e-mail:


China increasingly relies on its legal system to regulate a broad spectrum of social and economic activity. There is, however, widespread failure to observe the law, which periodically leads to social crises and popular unrest. The Chinese state is not, of course, alone in experiencing this, but it responds to enforcement failures in distinctive ways. This article examines one such response. In this article, we explore the role played by the enforcement campaign in the development of the Chinese legal system. We focus on one campaign in particular: the campaign that was waged between 2004 and 2007 to redress the chronic failure to pay wages. Chinese enforcement campaigns are not simply directed at securing greater compliance with existing law. They are integrally linked to cycles of law reform in the PRC. Whilst their main impact is on enforcement, they also have an important role in influencing the drafting of legislation and the interpretation of law. This article documents the impact of this campaign on the production of law: in speeding up the iterative process of lawmaking, interpretation, and implementation, with production of important reforms to existing labour law in 2007 and 2008. It is the strong “planned” nature of the campaign and its emphasis on state leadership of lawmaking and enforcement that continues to shape the development of China's particular version of the “rule of law.”