Guangzhou Court
Guangzhou Court Reuters

A new law requires Chinese lawyers. seeking to obtain a lawyer's license or renew an existing license. to pledge allegiance to the Communist Party  as follows: "I pledge to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission (and) be loyal to the homeland, loyal to the people, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and uphold the socialist system."

Such a pledge strikes people growing up under Western judicial systems as oppressive and some Chinese lawyers have expressed anonymous criticism. Some will likely view this as part of a crackdown on human rights.

Indeed Chinese civil rights lawyers have been hounded by a government that is frightened of the possible spread of pro-democracy demonstrations to China.

However, it does not represent a sharp reversal of official policy towards the legal profession. China has never viewed the rule of law in the Western sense, but instead, as something akin to Vladimir Putin's celebrated phrase "the dictatorship of law". It is an instrumental view of law, calculated to advance the party's preferences -  for example, strengthening centralized party rule and reining in freelancing by local governments..

The Ministry of Justice claims that the lawyers back in 2000 had adopted an oath for their association, so now it will merely be implemented by the Ministry of Justice to make enforcement more effective.

Political indoctrination has always been present in the legal profession in China. The Ministry of Justice requires new lawyers to undergo training by a supervisor with "correct political thinking." Upon the completion of training, the mentor has to submit a report vouching for the new lawyer's political thinking.

However, these and other regulations could be circumvented by bribing the appropriate authorities.

In Beijing, it was standard practice for law firms to hire relatives of officials from the Ministry of Justice. The Beijing Bureau of Justice pressured Chinese law firms to register their webpages within an Internet company owned by relatives of the official - and failure to take the hint led to difficulties in approving the annual renewal of the license.

Chinese law firms regard such practices as the equivalent of rent. Therefore, the new law can be considered a rent hike rather than a further crackdown