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Torture's role in Chinese justice

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The viability of China's Communist Party depends more than ever on its ability to create a credible legal system. The party needs to check corruption, which has eroded its legitimacy. The authorities want people to turn to the courts, rather than take to the streets, to resolve social discontents that have made the country more volatile than at any time since the 1989 democracy movement.

The law, in other words, has become a front line in China's struggle to modernize under one-party rule. Yet Qin's businesslike persecution and similar miscarriages of justice that have come to light this year suggest that China is struggling with a fundamental question of jurisprudence: Do officials serve the law, or do laws serve the officials? Or, to put it another way, is the Communist Party creating rule of law, a truly independent legal system, or rule by law, using law to enhance its power?

Twenty-seven years after Deng Xiaoping, at the outset of China's economic reforms, declared that "the country must rely on law," the Communist Party realizes that it cannot effectively govern a thriving market-oriented economy unless people trust in law.

Hundreds of thousands of new lawyers, stronger courts and a blizzard of Western-inspired codes protect property, enforce contracts and limit police powers.

Disgruntled peasants, displaced urban homeowners and newly wealthy entrepreneurs demand that the authorities respect constitutional rights long treated as notional. Even inside the system, some policemen, prosecutors and judges have tried making the law into a more independent force.

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