Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

In memoriam: Cai Dingjian

China lost one of its most distinguished scholar in Constitutional Law, and a leading advocate of political and legal reform, with the death of Cai Dingjian at the age of 54 on November 22, 2010. His funerals provoked a wave of emotion among his students and colleagues, and all of those working to promote legal reform in China. Chinese media and overseas messages largely reported his accomplishments and paid tribute to his memory.

Cai Dingjian was a soldier of the PLA at the end of the Cultural Revolution when he joined the Chinese University of Political Science and Law (CUPL or Zhengfa Daxue) in 1979 to study Law. He then worked for one year (1983-1984) in the Political Department of the PLA before returning to Peking University to receive a Master in Jurisprudence. He later left the PLA, and joined in 1986 the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s highest legislative body, where he stayed for the next 17 years. He was vice-bureau-chief of the NPC Standing Committee secretariat when he left at the end of 2003. Cai then returned to academia, to become one of the most outspoken advocate of constitutional democracy in China. He founded and became director of the Centre for the Study of Constitutionalism at CUPL, and the Centre for People’s Congress and Foreign Legislative Studies at Peking University. His activities were entirely aiming at promoting constitutionalism and the rule of law in his country. In 2003 one of his most noticed publications rejected the argument according to which China would not meet the cultural conditions necessary for electoral democracy. He published more than 200 articles.

His purpose however was not to theorize about the Chinese constitutional experience, but to make the reform happen, starting with the rule of law, which he defined as “the mission of his generation”. He devoted until the end a tremendous energy to promote experimental reforms, to train officials, and to take vigorous stands in the media. His favorite issues included legislative procedures, administrative transparency, public participation in decision-making, and fighting against discriminations. His last publications include Legal Modernization and Constitutionalism, China’s Journey towards the Rule of Law: Legal Reform, 1978-2008, and Report on Overseas Experiences of Anti-discrimination Law. His last essay, Democracy as a Modern Life-Style, has been published in January 2010.

Cai Dingjian will remain as one of the most esteemed public intellectuals of his generation. He firmly believed that legal reform was a necessity, and had chosen to promote it with political opportunism. With the defense of these ideas in Chinese society and institutions, his legacy is of immense value. He received respect from Chinese and foreign intellectuals, but equally from those fighting to defend or to promote justice wherever needed, and whenever possible. The advocates of the rule of law in China know that results are fragile, and that much remains to be done. They lost a brilliant leader and one of their best companions.

— Richard Balme, Sciences Po [reposted from]


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