legitimacy-through-law-in-china - Legitimacy through Law in...

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1 Legitimacy through Law in China? By Benjamin L. Liebman Over the past decade, China’s Communist Party leadership has embraced law to an unprecedented degree. China’s leaders view creating a fair and effective legal system as crucial to their own legitimacy. In a society in which few true believers in communism remain, and in which the sole ideology often appears to be economic growth at any cost, strengthening the legal system has become a tool for curbing abuses, for addressing inequalities within China, and for confirming China’s place as a major international power. Can this strategy succeed? Can China transform its legal system into one that provides a stable framework for business and foreign investment, that addresses the grievances of those left behind by China’s economic miracle, and that curbs corruption and wrongdoing by official actors, without posing challenges to one-party rule? As The People’s Court suggests, the answer is far from clear. Before assessing the current and possible future trajectory of Chinese legal reforms, it is important to reflect on what China has accomplished thus far. In the thirty years since China began its legal reforms in 1978, China has undergone perhaps the most rapid development of any legal system in world history. China has tried over the past three decades to accomplish a level of lawmaking and legal development that occurred over centuries in most western nations. China had not functioning legal system as it emerged from the Cultural Revolution and began opening to the outside world in 1978. The lack of a legal system during the Cultural Revolution was particularly striking given that for much of the past two thousand years China had one of the most sophisticated legal systems in the world. Realizing how far China has come adds perspective that is important for understanding current developments — and also why many in China bristle at western criticism of China’s legal system. Since 1978, the changes have been remarkable. There were three thousand lawyers in China in 1978, virtually all of whom had been trained in the 1950s or earlier. Today there are approximately 150,000 lawyers, making the Chinese legal profession the third largest in the world. 294,000 people took the Chinese bar exam in 2007 alone, with 58,000 passing. China’s law schools began accepting students again in 1977 and 1978; all but one law school closed during the Cultural Revolution. Today there are more than 500 law schools and law departments in China (more than double the number in the United States), with tens of thousands of students studying law. Large numbers of Chinese lawyers and law professors and increasing numbers of judges have spent significant periods studying in the U.S. or Europe.
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2 There were few laws on the books in the late 1970s. China suspended work on new laws, including a civil and criminal code, in the early 1960s, and did not resume this work until 1978. Over the past thirty years China has drafted thousands of laws and regulations. Initially law drafting focused on creating a basic framework for economic development,
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legitimacy-through-law-in-china - Legitimacy through Law in...

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