Crucial to any analysis of China’s political trajectory is an understanding of the kind of leadership that is governing the country. This is even more important now given the emergence of new political elites with distinct educational and professional credentials who will be running the country for the next decade and beyond. Throughout PRC history, changes in the composition of the political elite have often reflected—and sometimes heralded—broad social, economic, political, and ideological changes in the country at large. This essay examines the rapid rise of “lawyers” and legal professionals in both Chinese higher courts and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Focusing on the 52 leaders who hold law degrees in the newly formed 376-member Central Committee of the 18th Party Congress, this essay identifies three distinct sub-types of this elite group for further analysis. This study links the trend of professionalization of the court judges and the emergence of legal professionals in the CCP leadership with paradoxical developments regarding the rule of law.
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