This article examines the objectives for the establishment of circuit tribunals of the Supreme People’s Court of China and the politico-legal functions of such tribunals in the context of judicial reforms that were first launched in 1999. It starts with an analysis of the fundamental problems and difficulties that impeded judicial reforms in the last two decades. It then provides a careful analysis of the establishment of circuit tribunals and examines the political barriers to fundamental reforms towards genuine, though limited, independent adjudication in China. Although we do not believe that the circuit tribunals will be a breakaway force in the Chinese polity, the present reforms do have the potential to break up certain circular reforms and break through some fundamental barriers to deep reform. Further, while judicial independence, in the sense of the judiciary being an independent force in the political and constitutional scheme of checks and balances, is not attainable in the political environment in China today or indeed in the near future, it is hoped that the present reforms might grant the Chinese judiciary some limited, but much needed, autonomy within the Chinese political system.