When a country isn't ruled by law, the people panic. The purpose of the rule of law as a core universal value is to enable people to live without fear.
The policy of "comprehensive rule by law," as announced by the powers that be, should offer the unconditional protection of basic rights to all citizens, so they can get on with their lives in peace and security. This should be our gospel.
This brings us to a more immediate problem.
The public loves to read Yanhuang Chunqiu, but its parent think-tank has now been restructured out of existence. The president and his second-in-command have been replaced, while Xu Qingquan, the editor-in-chief, has also been given his marching orders.
In my view, this magazine, which has been running for the past 25 years without spending a penny of the taxpayers' money, has been stripped of its parent research institute and its freedom of press and publication.
So why do it? Surely the institute and Yanhuang Chunqiu must have done something wrong to merit such coercive measures.
No right to control
But disagreeing with the party line shouldn't be grounds for this sort of behavior. The magazine is there to serve its readers, and it's their opinion that matters.
The preferred line of its parent organization is neither here nor there.
As we all know, Xi Zhongxun [father of current president Xi Jinping] and readers like him don't share the party line on Yanhuang Chunqiu.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Xi Zhongxun and the magazine's readership are wrong, or that the views of a particular research institute are right. What right does any research institute have to control the editorial direction of Yanhuang Chunqiu anyway?
This has all taken place since the last party congress announced its "comprehensive rule by law" policy, so it must come under that policy, right?
Breach of rights
So, what laws did Yanhuang Chunqiu actually break? Its parent organization should tell us, not cover it up.
And if it didn't break any laws, then its parent organization is itself in flagrant breach of the "comprehensive rule by law" policy. If this is the case, then it's the parent organization that should be rectified, not the magazine.
My personal view is that the parent organization has breached the right of Yanhuang Chunqiu to the freedoms of press and publication, meaning that the rights to freedom of expression of its contributors and of its readers to freedom of information have also been lost.
The institute has breached the civil rights of both its writers and its readers.
Of course, my opinion is of little consequence. What does matter is that the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party's "comprehensive rule by law" policy should not be undermined and denigrated.
Who wants to live in a society where there's no room for a magazine like Yanhuang Chunqiu under the the rule of law?
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.