2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 52

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Roundtable: What is a Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics?

Organizer: Ira Belkin, Ford Foundation, USA

Chair: Jerome A. Cohen, New York University, USA

Discussants: Weifang He, Peking University, China; Carl Minzner, Fordham University, USA; Hualing Fu, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Wanhong Zhang, Columbia University, USA

In March 2011, Wu Bangguo, the Chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee, announced that China’s “Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics” has been basically established. What does it mean to have a “Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics?” For thirty years, establishing a society under the Rule of Law has been an express goal of the People’s Republic of China and its ruling Communist Party. During almost all of that time, China has looked to other countries for models for its legal reforms, often adapting foreign practices for use in China. For many of those thirty years, critics argued that China’s reforms were too slow and too superficial but few questioned the general direction of reform. However, some Chinese scholars advocated that China should refuse to follow the path of the West and instead find its own way toward the Rule of Law. The question this panel will discuss is whether China’s legal system is now moving in a new direction and, if so, where will that direction lead? Will the apparent heavy influence of the Party, politics and populism on the formal legal system become a permanent feature of a new Chinese legal paradigm or is this merely a stage China must pass through to achieve the “Rule of Law?”