Political rules – often styled as constitutional conventions - are at the core of the British theory of the unwritten constitution. Recently, Chinese legal thinkers such as Jiang Shigong, Chen Duanhong, and Hu Angang have described Chinese political rules as constitutional conventions. This body of work is based, explicitly or implicitly, on ideas developed in the British literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This paper critiques this new wave of Chinese literature in light of its British forebear. It assesses the evolving political norms that govern the exercise and transition of power by the Party Centre. This comparison of Chinese party rules and British Conventions shows us why any account of convention needs to explain why constitutional rules bind. This conclusion invites us to reassess the modern British theory of convention.
Ewan Smith is the Shaw Foundation Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College. He is an Associate at the Bonavero Institute for Human Rights, the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government and the Oxford University China Centre.