By Rebecca Thomas, Assistant Editor
This article was written in 2005.
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, the arrival of five Chinese scholars at the Columbia Law School was a rare event. While the presence of Chinese scholars was not unprecedented - the Class of 1920 would later count one of China’s most distinguished jurists among them - educational exchanges between the United States and China had nearly ceased during the preceding 30 years. Between Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution waged from 1966-76, the nation had little need for Western trained legal experts. Indeed, when Columbia Law School first offered a course on Chinese law taught by Professor Victor Li ’64 (1969-72), the position of law in China had reached a low point for a nation with a legal tradition stretching back thousands of years.
But with U.S.-China diplomatic relations restored in 1979, the Law School revived the tradition of exchange with Chinese academics and practitioners. The arrival of those five scholars as part of PALS (the Program in American Law Scholars developed by Professor R. Randle Edwards) signaled the beginning of the Law School’s effort to reestablish exchange with China, now being led by Deng Xiaoping, who was then moving quickly to expand ties with the West and begin to reconstruct a legal system.
Panelists at the Lubman Conference included (left to right) Professor Emeritus Randle Edwards; Stanley Lubman; Professor Madeleine Zelin of the Columbia University History Department,; Professor Teemu Ruskola of American University’s Washington College of Law; Prof Wang Xixin of Beijing University School of Law; and Nensun Mahboubi ’01, a fellow at Yale Law School’s Chinese Law Center
“As we were becoming aware of the exchange possibilities, the Chinese were themselves taking a greater initiative in international trade and international economic relations, and they needed a body of trained specialists, both academics and officials,” said Professor Edwards, who would lead the Center for Chinese Legal Studies for nearly two decades. He also chaired the Committee for Legal Education Exchange with China (CLEEC) from 1983-91, a program generally recognized as the most important post-1979 legal education exchange between the United States and China.
In the past quarter century, China’s legal system has experienced the most rapid development of any country in the history of the world, growing from about 3,000 lawyers in 1978 to some 130,000 trained lawyers today, says Professor Benjamin Liebman, now director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies (CCLS). This rapid legal expansion makes it an exciting time to be studying Chinese law at Columbia Law School.
“Despite this rapid change, demand for legal knowledge, and for contact with Western legal scholars, remains immense,” says Professor Liebman.
Since 1980, the Law School has emerged as a leader in the field of Chinese legal studies, the only school among its peers to have had a full-time faculty member specializing in the subject since the early 1970s. Professor Liebman was a high school senior in Newton, Mass., in 1986 when he made his first trip to Beijing as part of an exchange program, the first of its kind in a public school in the United States.
“I went knowing very little about China; I came back knowing that I would be involved with China for the rest of my life,” he says. Professor Liebman spent the following summer making deliveries for a local Chinese food restaurant, "mainly to practice my Chinese,” he admits.
Serving as a bridge to the Chinese legal community, the Center was established by Columbia faculty in 1983 and was led by Professor Edwards until his retirement in 2002. The Center boasts one of the largest concentrations, outside of Asia, of students and scholars studying the law of China. It serves as the focal point for nearly all of the China-related curricular, extracurricular and exchange activity at the Law School.
“Columbia continues to attract the best American students with an interest in China, and many of the top Chinese students and scholars,” says Professor Liebman. “The level of energy and interest in China here at Columbia is staggering.”
This year, CCLS hosted nearly 40 Chinese visiting scholars and students from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, with students split evenly between the LL.M. and J.D. programs. The Law School has also played host to Chinese Public interest lawyers in the past years. The Center also welcomed 10 visiting scholars to spend the fall and spring semesters in residence conducting research and study. They included Professor Wang Zhiqiang of Fudan University Law School in Shanghai and Professor Zhang Wanhong of the Wuhan University School of Law in Wuhan, who are both holders of the R. Randle Edwards Fellowship. Established in honor of the former Walter Gellhorn Professor of Law, the fellowship supports young scholars from Greater China engaged in full-time law teaching or research.
“It is not easy for a Chinese junior scholar to obtain a governmental grant for overseas study,” says Professor Zhang, a 28-year-old assistant professor of jurisprudence. “Unlike Columbia, most American foundations and programs tend to give financial support to those who are senior or mid-career individuals.”
During his stay, he conducted research on Law and Chinese New Era Literature (widely recognized as literature produced beginning in 1978, after the end of the Cultural Revolution) as well as on NGOs and the implementation of international human rights law in China from 1995-2004.
The commitment of Columbia Law School to training Chinese scholars in American law and Americans in Chinese law likely represents the Law School’s greatest impact on the Chinese legal system. As a result of this commitment, Professor Edwards remarks, “I have a feeling that Columbia alumni are playing a leading role in private and public law, and academia, in areas relating to China.” Professor Liebman has ventured beyond the elite law schools and urban hubs during recent trips to China, in an effort to recruit the outstanding scholars aged 35 or younger who often lack access to funding and foreign opportunities.
Access abounds at the Law School, where visiting scholars are introduced to Columbia faculty and alumni who may share similar research interests, in addition to the wealth of research materials on China collected in the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library. Professor Wang was inspired to begin a tentative study on local judicial archives after locating a rare 19th century judicial archive for Danxin (a county in Taiwan) on microfilm through inter-library loan.
Other fellowship opportunities administered by the Center include the newly established Haas Fellowship, which provides opportunities for Chinese gradauates of the Law School to gain stateside public interest experience before returning to China, and the decade-old Wu Fellowship, which supports Chinese students and scholars from Greater China each year.
Wu Fellow Qianwei “Chelsea” Zhou ’07 joined the Law School last fall, one week before Legal Methods began. Ms. Zhou, who studied law and business management as an undergraduate at Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics in Nanchang City, says the Law School’s reputation preceded it - from the U.S. News & World Report rankings she pored over with classmates to a lecture on American securities law by a Chinese CLS alumnus - and informed her decision to pursue a course of study here.
The Center also attracts leading academics, jurists, politicians, human rights activists, judges, and practitioners to its conferences, symposia, and the regularly scheduled Brown Bag Lunch speaker series, co-sponsored by the student-run Society for Chinese Law. Among the featured speakers this past year were Sara Davis of Human Rights Watch, who spoke on “AIDS, Law, and Human Rights in China” and Professor Chen Weidong of Renmin University of China School of Law, who gave a lecture in Chinese on China’s criminal procedure law and the prospects for further reform. The Center sponsors approximately 20 talks and workshops each year on issues related to Chinese law.
In April, a conference in honor of Professor Stanley Lubman, a pioneer in Chinese legal studies in the United States, drew more than 50 scholars of Chinese law from North America, Europe, and China, including four of China’s most prominent legal academics. Professor Lubman was trained as a China specialist in the United States and Hong Kong from 1963-67 under Rockefeller Foundation and Columbia University grants. He now serves as a legal adviser on China to the Asia Foundation. His widely published writings on Chinese law and related subjects include Bird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China after Mao (Stanford University Press, 2000). The conference celebrated the career of Professor Lubman who earned his B.A., LL.B., LL.M., and J.S.D. degrees from
Columbia University and is now a lecturer at UC-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. The event also served to highlight the work of younger scholars of Chinese law.
Also that month, the Center hosted a panel on “Legal and Regulatory Institutions and Economic Growth in China” as part of a two-day interdisciplinary symposium titled China’s Economic Emergence: Progress, Pitfalls, and Implications at Home and Abroad. The event was sponsored by the University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute, a major center for research on contemporary activities concerning the Asia-Pacific region. The symposium mobilized a diverse group of business and academic experts who addressed the real-world achievements and predicaments of Chinese economic growth.
The Law School’s strength lies not only in the activity generated by the Center, but in the dedicated faculty who teach the most expansive range of course offerings on Chinese law of any law school in the country. For example, Professor Madeleine Zelin (an expert in Qing Dynasty law) teaches a course on Chinese legal history. Professor Liebman teaches a survey course on contemporary Chinese law and legal institutions and leads two seminars called the Legal Aspects of China’s International Relationships and Advanced Research into Chinese Law. More than half of the 14 students enrolled in the advanced research seminar last year conducted fieldwork in China as part of their coursework; many have now had their resulting papers published. With at least five percent of matriculating students indicating a strong interest in the law of China, enrollment in all of the courses has soared.
This summer, Dean David Schizer will travel to Asia to build on the work of Dean David Leebron (right) and others who traveled to Asia in recent years, including this trip with Professor Edwards (left) to Beijing, where they visited Charles Li ’91.
Other Law School faculty members are also an important part of Columbia’s contribution to Chinese legal studies. David Schizer, dean of Columbia Law School and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, will make his first trip to China this summer, and Curtis J. Milhaupt ’89, the Fuyo Professor of Japanese Law and Legal Institutions and director of the Center for Japanese Legal Studies, is currently studying Mandarin in preparation for research in China. Professor Milhaupt says he intends to spend several months exploring Chinese capital market litigation, a subject on which he is collaborating with Professor Liebman.
“My interests in comparative corporate governance and the relationship between legal institutions and markets make China a potentially very fruitful area for research,” Professor Milhaupt says.
Professor Liebman, who frequently lectures in China (in Chinese), continues to focus his own research on the development of China’s courts, the influence of the media on China’s legal system, and on civil litigation.
The Center remains focused on its primary goals of engaging CLS students in original research on the Chinese legal system and of establishing the Law School as a leader in the development of public interest law in China.
Spearheading some of these public interest initiatives is the Law School’s Public Interest Law Institute (PILI), a center engaged in advancing public interest infrastructure in a variety of countries. This spring, PILI hosted 15 Chinese public interest lawyers as part of a one-month training program at the Law School and also has hosted two Chinese public interest lawyers for a full semester for the past two years.
Columba Professors Barbara Schatz (front row, second from right) and Carol Liebman (third from right) have traveled to China as part of a consortium of U.S. law schools sponsored by the Ford Foundation to develop clinical legal education in China.
Law students such as Neil Reddy ’06 also contribute to the Center’s principal efforts. An Oldham Memorial Fund recipient, Mr. Reddy spent last summer in China serving as a volunteer at Wuhan University’s Center for the Protection of the Rights of the Disadvantaged.
“It was clear that the clients saw it as giving them a voice and an opportunity to seek justice. It was up to the student volunteers to clarify what remedies and rights existed in the system,” he says of his public interest work. Mr. Reddy traveled to Beijing after one month at the advocacy organization; there he conducted independent research on the development of China’s anti-monopoly legislation.
Mr. Reddy predicts that it will be interesting to watch the interaction between the increasing numbers of highly educated lawyers on a court system that is still flourishing, particularly in interior cities such as Wuhan. Indeed, as hundreds of Law School alumni return to jobs in Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing, and cities around the world, Columbia’s far-reaching impact on an emerging China will be worth watching.