Rule by Law in China (3030)

This course will take a comparative law approach in discussing the development of legal discourse, and the ever increasing influence of Western jurisprudence, in modern and contemporary China. We will discuss at length the formation of "Rule by Law" as a "grand narrative" in its historical context, the controversy around different interpretations of "Human Rights," and the burgeoning civil rights movements in the Mainland.

The course begins with study of legal traditions and core assumptions underlying the role of law in China, followed by comparative analysis of respective legal conventions and beliefs in China and in Western countries. One full session will be devoted to the legal system of the People’s Republic of China, looking at the law promulgated in the 1950s, the abolishment of the legal system during the years of the Cultural Revolution, the renewed emphasis on codification of law since 1979, new areas and issues after China’s accession to the WTO, and the recent environmental law and civil rights movements. The seminar will introduce contemporary legal and political institutions, the law-making process, interpretation and implementation of law, dispute resolution, and public awareness of and attitudes toward law. The seminar will examine in detail contemporary China’s approach to human rights law, focusing on how Chinese authorities and academia interpret and address key principles and doctrines of international human rights law, including the following specific issues:

  1. the traditional relationship of the individual to the state;
  2. rule by law vs. rule of law;
  3. judicial independence and judicial integrity; and
  4. due process.

The seminar will examine Western, especially American, influences in specific areas of Chinese law (torts, intellectual property, antitrust, etc.) and what role American jurisprudence has played in the "modernization" of the Chinese legal system. Attention will be given to cross-cultural misunderstanding and misinterpretation, and the interaction between culture and law.

Students will be given an opportunity to look at China’s place in the world, to question general assumptions of the universal rule of law, to describe dominant legal themes and their development in different cultures, and to compare and contrast legal conventions and beliefs of different cultures. This seminar will help students to develop a better understanding of the legal system of China from a comparative perspective and to predict legal actions and outcomes across cultures from a practical point of view.

Readings for the seminar will include translated statutes and party documents, cases, history, and law review articles. Viewings for the seminar will include selected feature and documentary film clips relating to the Chinese legal system, as well as Chinese artistic expressions devoted to human rights.

Grading: Letter Grade; based on in-class presentation and final debate/argument, final essay/brief and class attendance

Prerequisite(s): None

Credits: 2 credits

Offered: Irregularly


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Taught by: Chang Wang

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