China's Courts in Transition

Media contact: Erin St. John Kelly, 212-854-1787, [email protected]
Public Affairs Office,
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Columbia Law School Professor Benjamin Liebman, director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, recently helped to organize two days of discussion on the rule of law in China involving leading academics in Chinese law.

Currently, China’s courts are in a state of flux, both answering to the Communist Party, while also responding to the people’s demands that justice be served. The panelists spotlighted the tensions stemming from the transition of the courts, and discussed the future of China’s legal development. The event was co-sponsored by Columbia Law School’s Center for Chinese Legal Studies and New York University School of Law’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute

“The discussion highlighted both the immense challenges facing China’s courts and also the many conflicting pressures they face. The panel also highlighted new trends in research on China’s courts, and why such research is crucial to furthering understanding of legal developments in China,” said Liebman.

A public panel discussion was held February 19 at NYU. On February 20, there was a scholars’ workshop on China’s courts at Columbia Law School.

Liebman moderated the public panel, “China’s Changing Courts: Populist Vehicle of Party Puppet?” Xin He, associate professor of law, City University of Hong Kong School of Law, global visiting professor of law at NYU; Nicholas C. Howson ’88, assistant professor of law, University of Michigan Law School; Carl Minzer ’03, associate professor of law, Washington University School of Law; and Rachel E. Stern, Ph.D. candidate in political science, University of California, Berkeley, and former visiting scholar at Columbia Law School, all offered their expert analyses.

The China scholars considered pressing legal questions, such as: Do China’s courts answer only to the Communist party? Or are they in fact responsive to the Chinese people? How do Chinese courts respond to increasing populist protests? What is holding back Chinese courts from becoming independent? Can China’s experiences with corporate legal disputes serve as a guide to other legal claims?

Liebman recently contributed an essay titled “China’s Courts: Restricted Reform,” to The China Quarterly, in which he asked, can there be fairness without independence?  In December he spoke on the evolution of China’s courts at a conference in Beijing hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences marking thirty years of China’s reform era. He is also the author of two forthcoming essays on the impact of populism on China’s courts.

After watching the webcast of the panel discussion, questions may be submitted to the panelists by e-mailing [email protected] Ten questions will be answered and posted online by February 27, 2009.

Columbia was the first American law school to offer courses in Chinese law, in the 1960s, and the first to establish a center dedicated to the study of Chinese law, in 1983.
The Center for Chinese Legal Studies focuses on two areas – groundbreaking legal scholarship and developing public interest law in China. “China matters because it continues to grow, develop and play an increasingly important role in world political and economic development,’’ Liebman said. ``Improving western understanding of developments in China is crucial and legal scholars can play an important role in boosting this awareness both in the west and in China.’’
The Center’s affiliated faculty and visitors have collaborated on some of the most innovative and incisive research in Chinese law. The Center, by welcoming a steady flow of visiting scholars from China each year, also trains a new generation of scholars and public interest lawyers in China who have western education and experience. The Center hosts one of the largest concentrations outside Asia of students and scholars studying the law of China. This academic year, for example, more than forty-five students from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are enrolled at Columbia, divided approximately equally between the LL.M. and J.D. programs. In addition, the Center exposes Law School students to the leading thinkers on the latest trends in Chinese law.

Upcoming events sponsored by the Center include:

March 4
Development of Legal Aid in China

Given by Chen Dong, director, Urumqi Legal Aid Center. Mr. Chen has served in the Urumqi Department of Justice. He also volunteers in several legal and social services organizations, including as a council member of the All China Lawyers' Association, the standing director of the Urumqi Lawyers' Association, the commissioner of the Urumqi Youth Committee, and a counselor for the Urumqi Consumer Protection Council. His project while in residence at Columbia Law School concerns strengthening the legal aid system in China. Chen Dong is a PILI Fellow.

March 9
China's Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law: Can It Protect Minority Rights?

A lecture with Katherine Palmer Kaup, associate professor of political science and chair of the Asian studies department, Furman University Dr. Kaup specializes in Chinese ethnic policy and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law. She is the author of “Creating the Zhuang: Ethnic Politics in China,” and several articles on the impact of state policy and administrative divisions on ethnic identity and mobilization in China’s southwest and in Xinjiang.  In 2005, she served as special advisor for minority nationalities affairs at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and is currently a National Committee on United States-China Relations Public Intellectuals Fellow.

March 11
How to Reform the Death Penalty System in China

A lecture with Ye Xiaoqin, lecturer at Wuhan University School of Law and the executive head of the Women’s Rights Department at the Center for Protection of the Rights of Disadvantaged Citizens at Wuhan University. Professor Ye holds a Ph.D. in law. Her research focuses on criminal law and women’s rights law and theory. She also works part-time as a practicing attorney at a local law firm and is the secretary general of the Ma Ke-chang Jurisprudence Foundation. Her project while in residence concerns the protection of human rights through public interest litigation and the criminal justice system. Professor Ye is a PILI Fellow. 

March 23
Securities Regulations in China

A lecture with Yu Ying, vice dean of the Law School of Jilin University. Dean Yu’s areas of specialization are corporate law, securities law, and the law of negotiable instruments. Her research topic while a Chinese Legal Studies Fellow at Columbia Law School is corporate social responsibility.

April 1
Piercing the Corporate Veil in China

A lecture with Liang Shangshang, vice dean of the Department of Law and Professor of Law, Zhejiang University Law School Dean Liang’s areas of specialization include civil law and commercial law, especially corporate law, securities law, property law, and tort law. Liang is a visiting scholar at Columbia Law School. His research topic is corporate law, especially corporate governance, securities law, and tort law.

April 6
Xinfang's Pressure: The Impact of Petitioning on Litigation and China's Courts

A lecture with Wang Ying, Ph.D. Candidate, Tsinghua University. Wang's areas of specialization include civil procedure law, dispute resolution, and judicial reform in China. As a visiting scholar at Columbia Law School, Wang’s research topic is "Xinfang and justice: An empirical study of shesu xinfang."

April 20
The Development of Legal Education in China: Current Reality and Future Possibilities

A lecture with Mou Xiankui, associate professor and director of the Center for East Asian Legal Studies at Shandong Law School, and the dean’s secretary of foreign affairs at the Law School of Shandong University. Professor Mou’s areas of specialization include constitutional law, civil and commercial law, and comparative law. An Edwards Fellow at Columbia Law School, his research topic is a judicial review of East Asia, including the human rights of students in compulsory education in China. He is also researching the disclosure obligations of the contract law of China and the U.S.