Saturday, September 13, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
This is a very interesting development indeed. You're right that the BMLA's position is a bit vulnerable. The reason is simply demographic and economic, as I understand it.
Beijing has more lawyers than any other city in the country. By 2007 Beijing already had more than 15,000 lawyers, and this number is growing at a speed of about 2,000 lawyers per year. Every lawyer pays 2,500 yuan annual "membership fee" to the BMLA. This gives the BMLA about 40 million yuan in revenue every year. On the other hand, the BMLA has only about 30-35 regular staff. To spend the money they have bought floors in a nice office building as office space, sponsored many overseas trips for the leaders of the justice bureau, BMLA and a small number of leading lawyers, started to conduct a survey of the Beijing bar every other year, and paid for an annual health examination of all lawyers. But still the money is mostly used in ways that do not necessarily benefit the vast majority of lawyers in the city. The grievance of those "migrant lawyers" who came from out-of-town places is particularly strong as their practice is often poorly supported by the firms and the BMLA.
Given this background, it is not surprising that these 35 lawyers can do something like this, with an even more stunning "cultural revolution"-style response from the BMLA. My feeling is that the crucial issue now is whether the call of these 35 lawyers, mostly ordinary practitioners at the periphery of the bar, could win the support of elite members of the Beijing bar, many of whom assume positions in the BMLA.
A colleague who wishes to remain anonymous has kindly directed me this Flickr site where he/she maintains a fascinating archive of photos from China relating (mostly) to state efforts to propagate knowledge about the legal system.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Lawyers associations in China, including the Beijing Lawyers Association (the subject of this post), are typical Leninist "mass organizations": vehicles more for top-down control than for bottom-up articulation and representation of interests. In this way, they resemble labor unions, the Women's Federation at various levels, official churches, etc. Recently some lawyers in Beijing had the temerity to call for direct election of leaders of the Beijing Lawyers Association as well as other reforms that would have the effect, they say, of taking power from the small group of rich lawyers currently in control. (The text of their open letter and a list of signatories can be found here;
translations welcome English translation here.)
The BLA leadership has not taken this challenge lying down. It has issued a pretty nasty response (English | Chinese) full of the kind of politically threatening language you rarely see any more: it speaks of "linking up" (a pejorative word evocative of Red Guards running rampant), working "under the signboard" or "raising the banner" of democracy, "stirring up rumors" and "rabble-rousing" (my personal favorite, which I haven't seen for years: 蛊惑人心), "inciting" lawyers "who don't understand the true situation", etc. The response warns darkly that using text messages and email to engage in this kind of activity is illegal, although considering that the writers are presumably lawyers the legal analysis seems pretty thin. Lawyers are urged to maintain a correct political orientation and to resist the blandishments of this "minority".
The lawyers who issued the statement are not, however, backing down, and have issued a firm response of their own (English | Chinese). It will be interesting (to say the least) to see how this turns out. The very vehemence of the BLA's initial response suggests to me that their position may be a little vulnerable.
A conference entitled "Chinese Criminal Law System in Socio‐Cultural Context" will be held at University of Wuerzburg in Germany from Oct. 8th to 12th. Among the speakers will be He Weifang. A copy of the program in English is here; I'm told that most of the presentations will be in German, however.