Three Supremes 三个至上

The “Three Supremes,” first introduced by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) during a 2007 session on national politics and law attended by senior judges and prosecutors, represents a sharp change — and many say a clear step backward — in China’s judicial policies. The buzzword was actively implemented as policy in 2008 as Wang Shengjun (王胜俊) became head of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China.
The “Three Supremes” are as follows:
1. “Supremacy of the business of the CCP” (党的事业至上)
2. “Supremacy of the interests of the people” (人民利益至上)
3. “Supremacy of constitutional law” (宪法法律至上)
What do these mean? Many lawyers and legal scholars in China say that the “Three Supremes” enshrine the notion that the law must serve the basic strategic interests of the CCP by taking into primary consideration the CCP’s own notion of pressing national priorities, interests and realities.
As well-known Chinese legal scholar He Weifang (贺卫方) told Hong Kong’s Asia Weekly magazine in August 2010: “Who is supreme in this Three Supremes? When a family of three has a disagreement, who do they listen to? . . . Between the interests of the CCP, the interests of the people and the interests of the Constitution, who is bigger?”
He Weifang says that legal system reforms in China now face a major challenge in the form of this policy, and the term “Three Supremes” has entirely replaced the erstwhile policy goal of “judicial independence” (司法独立).
The policy means that the work of China’s legal system, and specific legal cases, must now be considered in light of the basic tasks and development priorities defined by the party and government in China.

David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).