The Counter-Enlightenment Strikes Back

How does one make sense of the piece of legislation known as the “Constitution” in a political context where there are no effective mechanisms for its enforcement, and where constitutional text and political reality diverge dramatically? For the longest part of the post-1989 era, the majority of Chinese jurists approached this predicament with an avowedly reformist attitude. Using the familiar language of Enlightenment universalism, they called for the gradual overcoming, through an empowered judiciary, of the rift separating political reality from normative ideal: China, it was said, was “marching toward an age of rights”.

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