Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Debt hostages

When is kidnapping not kidnapping? Apparently when it's for the purpose of getting a legitimate debt paid. This, at least, seems to be the social understanding of kidnapping in China, and there's even legal support for it (the law falls it unlawful detention in that case). The latest case is reported in the Dongguan Times (Chinese | English): a couple can't pay the hospital bill for the wife's delivery of a baby, so the hospital is holding the baby hostage until the parents pay up. They've had it for over 100 days so far. One amazing thing about it is that this is apparently a government-run hospital, and the hostage-takers have even held a press conference to justify their actions (apparently they felt the father had not been "sincere" in his efforts to pay). The other amazing thing about it (to me) is that this is seen as relatively acceptable. The newspaper report uses quotation marks around the word "hostage", as if the baby somehow weren't really a hostage. And the most a local lawyer can bring himself to call this is "inappropriate."

I've been seeing reports of creditors taking debt hostages for years [5/2 CLARIFICATION: I mean that I've been seeing the reports for years], and they are always similar in key points: the creditor keeps a human being in forcible detention and demands payment of a debt as a condition for release. What's more, the hostage-taking and the identity of the kidnapper are not secret; that would defeat the whole purpose. And finally, the police do nothing. They think of it as a civil dispute having nothing to do with them. For example, back in 1992 I read of a case where a jilted suitor took a woman's baby as hostage for the return of over 1,000 yuan in gifts. The police didn't immediately arrest this known kidnapper; instead, the go-between, the village committee, and "judicial departments" tried for five months to persuade him to return the child. Only then did they finally give up and arrest him.

Actually, I was wrong to say the police do nothing - sometimes they actively assist in taking debt hostages. In a book entitled One Hundred Strategies for Using Law to Clear Up Debts (运用法律手段清债百策), the writer mentions as an aside that a plaintiff trying to collect a debt asked the police and the procuracy to assist. They helpfully detained three people from the defendant organization for up to eight months, but were unsuccessful in collecting.

Remarkably (to me, anyway), even the formal legal system treats hostage-taking as less reprehensible when it's coupled with a demand for debt repayment. Although the 1979 Criminal Law curiously did not directly prohibit kidnapping for ransom, it did prohibit kidnapping for sale, and made unlawful detention punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The 1997 Criminal Law contains a new provision punishing kidnapping for ransom by up to life imprisonment (Art. 239). The taking of debt hostages, however, is not considered a type of kidnapping for ransom. Instead, it is assimilated into unlawful detention (Art. 238) and punished by no more than three years' imprisonment. (I suppose this is progress; the specific mention of debt hostages is new to the 1997 Criminal Law, and presumably is there to make clear that hostage-taking is still unlawful even when you think you've got a good reason for it.)

The point, though, is that what the hospital is doing is unambiguously prohibited in the current Criminal Law; the drafters foresaw exactly this kind of situation and made it a criminal offense. Yet the hospital has openly kept this hostage for well over three months, and has even held a press conference about it. Nobody has apparently accused the hospital or its staff of a criminal offense; the police seem uninvolved; and a lawyer interviewed by the reporter merely calls it "inappropriate".

I suppose the lesson here is that social understandings often trump the explicit words of the law, even when we know for sure that the law was intended to cover precisely the situation at hand. They can legislate away all they want in Beijing, but in Dongguan it's the local understandings that count. The question now is whether, now that it's been reported in the press, more senior people will get involved to put an end to this.

April 27, 2010 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More about Chinese drywall litigation

Earlier this month I blogged about a recent decision in US litigation over Chinese drywall. Dan Harris at the China Law Blog has a good post sharing my skepticism about enforcement (with more a more detailed discussion) and linking to several previous posts he's done on this.

April 24, 2010 in Commentary, News - Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Supreme People's Court justice says he hopes people will not dare to sue

This is the oversimplified gist of what SPC judge Zhang Jun said in an on-line exchange last month during the NPC/CPPCC meetings. (Here's the full text of his remarks, in context: English | Chinese.) I don't intend to criticize Zhang here; maybe all he meant was, "Don't take all your trivial disputes to court; think about the costs versus the benefits." And his eulogy to mediation sounds like it could have come from former US Chief Justice Warren Burger (see his Annual Report on the State of the Judiciary, 7 American Bar Association Journal 898 (1982)). Not that this means he's necessarily right.

What I found interesting are the netizen comments - almost all unfavorable. They're translated in English here on the Veggie Discourse blog. Unfortunately, I can't find them in Chinese.

April 23, 2010 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Microsoft wins big damages in Shanghai infringement case

The China Hearsay blog has an excellent post on this recent case, pointing out that although it's not the first time foreign IP owners have won infringement suits, the damages awarded here were much heftier than usual.

April 22, 2010 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Verdict in the Stern Hu (Rio Tinto Four) trial

The Australian has posted the Chinese-language verdict, as well as a rough translation, here. Incidentally, I don't mean "rough" as a criticism. The Australian pretty clearly had a quickie translation done for internal purposes, and they had no reason to spend money and time making it fit for external consumption. They deserve credit for sharing what they have despite the typos and other possible issues.

April 20, 2010 in News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Myths and truths about Chinese criminal law

Here's a very interesting case that seems to reveal a lot about the Chinese criminal process. In particular, it sheds some light on the accuracy of various common perceptions about that process.

In this case, Cao Tian (an alias) was on his way to work (or perhaps already there). His colleague Feng Xiaoqiang suddenly discovered that his motor-assisted bicycle was being stolen. Cao and another colleague, Feng Minggao, rushed over, hopped on a motorcycle together, and gave chase. As they came alongside the thief, Cao took off his belt and swung it at him. The thief turned his body to avoid the blow, lost his balance, crashed, and died of a head injury.

Cao was prosecuted on a charge of intentional injury and convicted on a charge of negligent homicide. (Sorry, that's what the news report says; I'm just repeating it here.) He was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for three years (i.e., he probably won't actually spend any time in prison).

Apparently the sentence has generated a great deal of controversy. In a Sohu poll (quite unscientific, of course), 97% of respondents thought Cao's actions were justified and constituted "seeing what is right and acting bravely" (见义勇为). This is the term usually applied to a third party who acts in defense of a crime victim. It's the kind of thing people think should be encouraged. The other 3% thought that one had to pay attention to the methods used when it was a question of defense of property, and that life-threatening means should not be used. One internet commenter said, "Catching thieves is the police's business; next time mind your own business." But another said, "After this, who is going to dare help crime victims?"

There certainly seem to be many reports of people who get into trouble because they tried to help someone who was injured either in an accident or because of a crime (sorry I don't have the links handy), and people have asked this question often. Indeed, sometimes the problems suffered by good samaritans are proferred as the reason why sometimes injured people are ignored by passers-by. (There have been some pretty egregious cases recently.)

But I digress. The point of this post is to suggest how this case confirms or disconfirms certain stereotypes about Chinese law.

Stereotype #1: Chinese law doesn't value human life. Yes and no. It would be easy to get this impression, given China's high number of executions and the extraordinarily casual procedures that were behind some famous convictions. A number of scandalous cases, including one in which the alleged murder victim showed up alive, recently led to a recentralization of all death penalty approvals in the Supreme People's Court, but there are still some pretty questionable cases out there. (Of course, China is not unique in this. China is given a good run for its money by Texas, where an experienced death-penalty defense lawyer once told me all error "is either harmless or waived".) But this case is not unusual in that death, even though accidental and even though of a clearly guilty criminal for whom people probably don't have a lot of sympathy, has serious consequences for everyone involved. I've seen other cases where the person punished was even less at fault than here. The point is, if someone dies, someone must be blamed. That seems to be a pretty firm rule - even the Deng Yujiao case is not an exception, since she was actually convicted of intentional injury, although, like Cao, not required to actually serve any time.

Stereotype #2: The Chinese state doesn't like to delegate. Confirmed. You can think of the doctrines of self-defense and defense of third parties (见义勇为) as something like the state delegating, in special situations, its monopoly on the use of force. If you use force, you had better be pretty darn sure you use exactly the right amount. There's not a lot of tolerance for getting it wrong.

Actually, Stereotype #2 partly explains the mixed assessment of Stereotype #1. It explains why #1 can be true when the state is doing the killing, but false when someone else is doing the killing.

Stereotype #3: Symbolism often trumps substance. Partly confirmed. Again, I wouldn't want to give the impression that only Chinese law worries about symbolism. Just think about all the rituals of a full criminal trial in many other countries. I just want to point out here that the defendant Cao, like Deng, did not actually have to spend any time in jail. [4/20 UPDATE: A reader suggests that I clarify that Cao, like Deng, may have spent time in pre-trial detention, which is certainly no fun.] Of course, having a criminal record is not a great thing, either. I'm not sure what the actual impact on Cao's life will be. Presumably he will keep his job, since most people (if the Sohu poll is any indication) think he did the right thing.

Stereotype #4: Chinese courts bend to the winds of popular pressure. Hard to say. Academics are always trying to identify conventional wisdom so that they can proudly proclaim that it's wrong. The conventional wisdom about Chinese courts keeps changing so fast, though, that it's hard to keep track. At first the conventional wisdom was that Chinese courts were docile tools of a dictatorial state, and dictatorships can do what they want. This was challenged by the idea that China's increasingly open media (print and web-based) made popular opinion more important than before, and that in many cases courts had to do X or Y because popular opinion demanded it. (A good example: the eventual execution of Shenyang gang leader Liu Yong after public uproar about his first sentence.) Yet here the authorities still insisted on trying and convicting the defendant despite overwhelming public support for him. On the other hand, of course, he won't serve any more time. It's hard to believe that the people doing the prosecution really thought Cao was a bad guy. I think it's more the force of the rule that when a life is lost, responsibility must be assigned, even if only formally. This suggests in turn that when the authorities really want to do something, they can do it, and public opinion be damned.

April 19, 2010 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sociologist Li Yinhe on the criminalization of group sex

The ChinaGeeks blog has published a partial translation of several blog posts by sociologist Li Yinhe criticizing the recent criminal case brought against Professor Ma Xiaohai and others for organizing group sex activities. If you haven't heard of this case, here are excerpts from the introduction to the translation. Please click on the link above for the rest.

Sexologist and activist Li Yinhe has dedicated her latest three blog posts to the defence of Ma Xiaohai, a Nanjing Technical University professor who recently pleaded ‘not guilty’ to accusations of group licentiousness, having been caught organising group sex meetings. . . .

Professor Ma is involved in the ‘swingers trial’ currently in progress in Nanjing, in which 22 people are accused of violating group licentiousness law for participating in ‘wife-swapping’ activities. The law forbids all sexual activity between three or more people, even when private and between consenting adults, but has never been invoked before.

The case has attracted plenty of attention from the media and on message boards, especially given that Professor Ma was the only defendant to plead not guilty. Interestingly, although the media have generally slated him, Ma receives considerable support in online discussion forums.

April 13, 2010 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New developments in Chinese drywall litigation

There's a class action suit going on in Louisiana over drywall from China that is alleged to have emitted corrosive gases, damaging many homes. On April 8th, the judge issued his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (FFCL), finding the defendant Taishan Gypsum Company Ltd. (Shandong Taihe Dongxin Co., Ltd.) liable. Here's a report from the Asia Times. The report seems to think it's a big deal that Taishan Gypsum's ownership can ultimately be traced back to the Chinese state in the form of the State Asset Supervision and Administration Commission, but I'm not sure why. It's not clear that Taishan Gypsum attempted any kind of defense on sovereign immunity grounds; if they did, the FFCL don't deal mention it. Nobody's going to be seizing assets of the Chinese state to satisfy the judgment. Indeed, I wonder what the plaintiffs plan to do with their judgment. The chances of getting it enforced in China are virtually zero. US courts don't typically enforce Chinese judgments, and Chinese courts don't typically enforce US judgments. (There have been very rare exceptions in exceptional circumstances, but none of those circumstances apply here. See, for example, my comments on the Robinson Helicopter case and my paper on enforcement of US judgments in China.)

April 11, 2010 in Commentary, News - Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

CASS's Li Dun on re-education through labor

Here's a recent essay on re-education through labor by Prof. Li Dun of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The essay appeared in the April 7 issue of Southern Metropolitan Daily. Here's a rough English translation, courtesy of Jeffrey Prescott.

Only Protecting Rights Can Protect Stability
Southern Metropolitan Daily
April 7, 2010

The legislation changing "re-education through labor" into "education and correction for illegal acts" was not passed in the 10th National People's Congress, as some had hoped.  The 11th Congress just held its third session, and again a draft proposal was put forward.  Public debate has been unceasing.  There is a saying that the difficulty with this law is in reconciling two interests: that of "protecting the lawful rights and interests of those subject to re-education through labor," and  "to let the RETL system play its role in protecting social order and stability."  They may be labeled as "parties to re-education" or in other places are labeled as those stripped of their liberty "in order to protect the rights of the great majority" or those who have their rights "controlled" or "cut down" (克减).  But are protecting people's rights and preserving social stability really in conflict?

How do we decide the nature of some people's behavior or some social phenomena?  What kind of response should law and policy give to this behavior and phenomena?  What ideas support and sustain our system and its reform, and what should those ideas be?  In the transformation of China today, we need to seriously consider these questions.

Whether the old system of RETL, which exists today, should continue into the future, is not only a question of whether its legal basis is sufficient.  It would be easy to make a new law of the State Council's regulations in 1957 and 1982, and the Ministry of Public Security's trial measures on RETL.  It could be passed as is by the Standing Committee of the NPC.  And it is not only a question of whether this type of decision on "administrative punishment that restricts personal liberty" (Administrative Penalty Law) must come from a court decision.  Because history demonstrates that court judgments alone are not a guarantee of justice and freedom from error.  And it is definitely not only because it is applied in an arbitrary and chaotic fashion, or that it may be used by party and government officials to strike against those reporting on corruption, or petitioners, or those involved in mass incidents.  Because for many years different laws and policies have been in conflict with one another, and law enforcement officials have used their own differing standards in applying the rules.  This could be resolved by careful efforts to standardize decision making.  But arbitrariness in applying the law and in the use of official power, and judgments that pervert the law, is not something that a new legal basis will be able to resolve.

The essential distinction in the formulation of law and policy lies in either "putting people first," in accepting, respecting, and protecting people's rights, or in what we once experienced as "putting the state first" -- namely, in putting the abstract interests of the whole first (or we could say "the interests of the great majority"), a uniform system of organization, mobilization, conflict, management, and control.  We have experienced class struggle in the planned economic system, and a long period of "focusing labor on building the economy."  So we should know the great significance of "putting people first" and "harmony," and of adding protection of human rights to the constitution.  Can we genuinely complete a historic transformation and truly "make 'putting people first' the core" in the formulation of our national laws and policies?  We need to understand that in rule of law countries legislation cannot strip people of their basic rights.  We need to understand that a modern, democratic, rule of law country is made up of citizens, one by one.  That state interests are citizens interests, and citizens have pluralistic interests.  And that an important function of policymaking is to coordinate and balance competing interest so that society can be harmonious.

The original system of re-education through labor is an inevitable product and organic component of the planned economic system.  At that time, those in RETL were considered class enemies, or handled as "contradictions among the people." The reason these people were "controlled" was that, in that period of history, there was no basic acceptance of "individual liberty."  The government  and private as separate and opposed spheres did not exist.  When the mentality is that the overarching interest trumps all, any individual's liberty can be stripped or controlled.  That way of thinking and behaving is the legacy of the planned economic system, and is with us today -- and will influence the formulation and implementation of our policies and laws for a long while to come.

In important Party documents, it once stated that for historical reasons, our society lacks and needs to build four mechanisms: for safeguarding rights, for raising appeals, for coordinating interests, and for arbitrating conflicts.  Only with these four mechanisms will rights be accepted, respected, and protected.  Only then will appeals receive systematic channels for protection.  Only then will the  competing interests of those in power and of society be coordinated and arbitrated under the framework of the rule of law.  This would perhaps make our conflicts melt away, and would be a good start toward making society fundamentally harmonious and stable.

In a country with the rule of law, the essential of policymaking is to first accept, respect, and protect rights.  In punishing people and in "restricting" or "cutting off" people's rights, there are preconditions that must be satisfied and cannot be replaced. [Number one is omitted; perhaps edited out.]  Number two is that there must be a neutral judiciary that uses predetermined rules of procedure to reach judgment.  The judiciary must have the function of remedying violations of rights.  In addition, there must be some specific technical arrangements for standards, rules, and procedures -- it should be that way for the Education and Correction of Illegal Acts Law, and for the formulation of every other law.

Countries with the rule of law want good law.  Evil laws go against the principles of the rule of law, because every citizen is on guard against them.

(The writer,  Li Dun, is a professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the leader of the expert network of the Tsinghua University Research Center for Contemporary China.  This essay was originally published in "Liaowang.")

April 8, 2010 in Books, Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Gao Zhisheng reappears

Here's his interview with the Associated Press.

It is often claimed by the Chinese government - as well as some foreign observers who ought to know better - that China never responds to external pressure and that such pressure is always counterproductive. This has always seemed like obvious nonsense to me: if Chinese leaders really did have this infantile mentality, foreign governments could manipulate them to do anything. The US would send officials to press China to persecute the Dalai Lama and point more missiles at Taiwan. In reality, it's more likely that Chinese leaders, like everyone else, respond to a range of incentives of both domestic and foreign origin. Sure, they have to worry about how RMB revaluation (for example) will play domestically and can't appear to be bending to foreign pressure, but of how many national leaders is that not true?

For what it's worth, Gao Zhisheng's reappearance is a data point in this debate. It's impossible (at least for me; perhaps not for others) to imagine that he would be chatting with an AP reporter, in at least passable health, were it not for foreign pressure. Of course, better treatment for one person in response to foreign pressure is not the same as a major change in policy in response to foreign pressure. And the fact that foreign pressure sometimes works does not mean it always works. Still, it's a data point to keep in mind whenever you hear the claim that "China will never act under foreign pressure."

April 7, 2010 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Conference in Chicago: "Chinese Legal Reform at Crossroads"

I've been asked to post the following announcement. Actually, I was asked in February, but I'm behind on my e-mail. Blame me, not the organizers, for the fact that the deadline for submitting abstracts has already passed. Sorry about that.

The OYCF-University of Chicago Conference on

“China’s Legal Reform at Crossroads”

--- The 12th OYCF Annual Meeting


A conference on the theme “China’s Legal Reform at Crossroads” will take place on May 29-30, 2010 at the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.  The conference is being planned by the Overseas Young Chinese Forum, with co-sponsorship from the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) at the University of Chicago.

The thematic choice of this year’s conference is in accordance with OYCF’s commitment to China’s development and advancement.  In the past eleven years OYCF annual meetings have covered a variety of topics related to the development of China, including sustainable development, civil society, women, rural problems, social classes, cultural production, globalization and nationalism, and the financial crisis.  We believe the reform of China’s legal system from 1979 to the present is a topic of equal importance and deserves our attention.

We call for paper submissions from all disciplines working in the China field.  Potential topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Legislative changes and debates in different areas of Chinese law;
  • Reform of the Chinese judicial system;
  • Development of the Chinese legal profession;
  • Reform of the Chinese criminal justice system;
  • Impact of the Communist Party and the government on the legal system;
  • Mediation, letters and petition, and other alternative channels of dispute resolution;
  • Legal consciousness and mobilization of Chinese citizens.

The conference is bi-lingual so the papers can be written and delivered in either English or Chinese.  Deadline for submitting an abstract (1-2 pages) is April 2, 2010 (Friday), along with a brief C.V. that lists your credentials (e.g., professional experience and/or publications).  Please send your materials or inquiry via email to  A notification of acceptance will be sent by April 16, 2010 (Friday).

The OYCF will publish a summary of the conference panels and selected papers on its electronic journal “Perspectives: China and the World.”  For more details about the OYCF annual meetings, please visit:

The Overseas Young Chinese Forum (OYCF)  OYCF is a self-governing non-profit organization established in 1999 to provide a forum to discuss issues related to China’s development and to explore solutions.  Among other activities, OYCF sponsors teaching and research in China, publishes an on-line journal (Perspectives: China and the World), organizes local discussion groups, publishes book series, and holds a conference each year.  OYCF’s annual conference is increasingly becoming a major forum for China-related studies.  For more information about OYCF, please visit the organization’s website:

The Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) at the University of Chicago works to enhance opportunities available to scholars both in the United States and abroad, and to foster communication and inter-disciplinary collaboration among the community of professors and students at the University of Chicago and throughout the wider East Asian Studies community.  To these ends CEAS and its Committees sponsor a variety of activities including colloquia, workshops, conferences, public lectures, film series, cultural events, and other programs that promote understanding of the cultures and societies of China, Japan, and Korea.  University of Chicago faculty and programs in East Asian studies regularly achieve the highest rankings among peer institutions in the United States, making East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago an invaluable national resource and a focal point for East Asian Studies in the Midwest.  For more information about the CEAS at the University of Chicago, please visit

April 6, 2010 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Peking University gives the boot to Women's Law Center

Let me quote from the South China Morning Post report:

Peking University severed ties last week with a high-profile women's rights advocacy group [the Women's Legal Research and Services Center (妇女法律研究与服务中心)] under its auspices, sending further chills through the mainland's NGO community, which fears a new era of tightened government control.

In a public notice dated March 25 on the university's website, the social sciences faculty announced it was "cancelling" four research institutes set up under its name, and that any further actions carried out by them would have nothing to do with the university.

The four institutes include three from the law department - the Women's Legal Research and Services Centre, the Public Law Research Centre and the Constitution Research Centre - and one from the media department, the Finance News Research Centre. 

(I've been holding off on blogging about this because I was hoping to get a linkable news report, but so far no newspapers in all of Westlaw's database has seen fit to report on this but the South China Morning Post, for which you have to have a subscription. Here's a synopsis of the SCMP report, which in fact contains almost every word.) As usual, the authorities have put on their "nothing to see here, folks; move along" face: according to the SCMP report, "The dean of social sciences, Cheng Yuzhui, told Beijing Youth Daily yesterday that the cancellations were just routine restructuring of the university's research institutes, removing 'some institutes that no longer suit the current trend'."

Here's a statement issued by Guo Jianmei, the Center's head, and her team in English and Chinese:

Farewell, Beida!

On 25 March, the Division of Social Sciences, Peking University, published a Notice of Cancellation of Organisations on the University’s official website. The Center for Women's Law & Legal Services was one of the four on the list. The days that followed were filled with calls of concern and support from the media, NGOs, partners, the relevant authorities, friends and persons whom we have helped. We are touched, and we are grateful!

To an entity that has been single-minded in purpose and enterprise for the last 15 years, expulsion from the Peking University family is a major and unexpected setback which affects more than just the entity itself. For the Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University is a symbol of deep significance. To the country, it is an industrious pair of hands that helps build social harmony. To the weak and the vulnerable, it is a ray of light that offers warmth and hope. To NGOs and our partners, it is a fellow comrade on the frontlines, enforcing the rule of law and advancing good for the civil society. To the people at large, it is a deliverer of social conscience and the spirit of law. And to every member of the Center, it is our common home.

As such, to those who have cared and still continue to care, I would like to say a few last words about this name that has become history:

I.     In 15 years, we have lighted up more lives than the sun has. 

Since the Center’s inception in 1995, our aim was to provide legal aid, protect women’s rights, and promote gender equality. Equity and justice were not only the Center’s tenets, but the belief and ideal espoused by every member. As the first public interest organisation in China that specialises in providing legal aid for women, we were one of the earliest private legal aid practice. While demand for legal aid among the vulnerable was high, State legal resources were scarce. The Center thus became an expedient complement that plugged gaps in the government’s legal aid services. It has since, helped more than 100,000 women victims obtain recourse to justice.

In 2004, to meet the increasingly diverse needs in women’s rights protection, the Center began providing public interest litigation services, and was soon to become an important force in public interest legal practice. Absent a public interest litigation framework, the Center set itself to legal and policy improvement and reform by working on typical cases, incorporating the protection of the individual rights of women into the overall rights of citizens, to ensure impact. The cases involved important and difficult issues as gender discrimination in the workplace, labour rights of women, sexual harassment in the workplace, violence against women, rights of female migrant workers, and rural women land rights. And by employing different approaches in legislative advocacy, the Center has expanded its beneficiary population.

Our efforts have rendered power to the law and to legal aid. A victim once told us, “the Center is like a lamp, glowing of equity and justice, exuding warmth in the cold, and shedding light on the darkness ahead. She spoke not only for the many weak and poor women, she spoke also for the meaning of our enterprise.

The Center has become a sphere of influence that motivated many later-comers. Consciously, it took on the responsibility of providing legal aid, conducting public interest litigation, organising public interest legal advocacy, and training public interest lawyers. In 2002, a legal aid collaboration group was established, so as to enable more organisations and institutions to participate in the delivery of legal aid. In 2007, the Center founded the Public Interest Lawyers’ Network for Women’s Rights, and in 2009, the name was changed to China Public Interest Lawyers’ Network. The Network currently comprises more than 300 brilliant lawyers from more than twenty provinces and cities, providing legal aid for thousands of poor and vulnerable people. I still remember the Network’s launch ceremony on 15 March 2009 at the Centennial Lecture Hall at Peking University, where leaders from authorities as the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Legal Aid, Center for Legal Assistance, All-China Lawyers’ Association and the Beijing Lawyers’ Association turned up to show their support. The speech given by Professor Zhu Suli, Dean of Peking University Law Department remains vivid in my mind.

In September 2009, Ms Guo Jianmei, public interest lawyer and head of the Center founded Qian Qian Law Firm. Specialising in public interest law and public interest legal activities, and comprising professional public interest lawyers, Qian Qian has expanded its scope to benefit a broader spectrum of vulnerable persons such as the disabled, migrant workers and the aged.

15 years of innovative approaches and effective outputs have not only profited the poor and vulnerable women; the Center has also grown to become an influential and credible NGO. It has earned praises and won awards. In February 2006, in their congratulatory note to the Center’s tenth anniversary, Professor Min Weifang, the Party Secretary of Peking University, and Professor Xu Zhihong, President of Peking University, said, “the Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University has observed Peking University’s glorious tradition of patriotism, progress, democracy and scientific approach. By seeking relentlessly, developing aggressively, and improving constantly, it has achieved commendable results, contributed to the progress and advancement of women’s rights protection and legal aid delivery, and served its role in fostering harmony. Its work has won interest, support and tribute of the society and its peers, recognition and respect from women at large, and glory for Peking University!”

As Premier Wen Jiabao said, “Equity and justice glow brighter than the sun.” Indeed, equity and justice are of supreme value and significance to every individual, every country, and every nation. The Center shall be a faithful and determined perpetuator of this worthy cause.

II.    Hurdles deter us not, but spur us on.

Cancellation by Peking University was not our first setback. The Center was nearly closed down during its initial days, only to be followed by one challenge after another. Funding was a major problem, as those days, funding channels were few and funding systems unregulated. Fund shortage stymied NGO development, and was the major obstacle to the Center’s growth.

Talent is another problem, especially when the Center, as a professional organisation, was in need of well-qualified legal professionals. Attracting and retaining talent in a society of low public interest awareness and driven by utilitarianism was a huge difficulty. So were balancing ideals and the reality, dedication and compensation, and spiritual fulfilment and material satisfaction.

Our work is also hampered by a deficient legal environment, flawed enforcement systems, administrative interference, local protectionist policies, industry protectionism, even corruptive practices within the judicial system. Persistent overwork leading to physical and mental stress of the Center’s members is also a permanent problem.

Cancellation is also not the gravest difficulty we have faced. We were even threatened with physical harm. When angry villagers in that remote village let go of their tightly clasped sticks, convinced by our steady and determined gaze, we knew we could never be beaten. Because justice is what we pursue, and justice will always triumph.

Difficulty is only an excuse of the weak and the feeble. To go-getters with conviction, difficulty is impetus to move mountains. Difficulty is but snowfall before spring comes. And snow melts. Thereafter, a spring breeze will blow away, bringing forth myriad blossoms and an enchanting fragrance.

III.  Farewell, Beida! But our pursuance of equity and justice shall endure, and our belief in the rule of law shall prevail.

We have several members on our team who are Peking University graduates. They were inculcated with knowledge and intellectual depth, and nurtured with democratic sensibilities and humanistic values––the motivation for their choice of a public interest career. Cancellation was saddening to Guo Jianmei. This is not the Beida that she once knew. Guo’s resolute embarkation on a public interest career was guided by her Beida predecessors and the Beida spirit. She hopes that many will understand her sense of desolation and feeling of betrayal.

But desolation is one thing, Guo Jianmei and her team are as eager and as passionate as ever. They are convinced that legal aid and public interest work is what the people need, and what a harmonious society must have. These needs are revealed by the Center’s work during the last 15 years, spoken by the sacks of millet and sweet potatoes, and the hundreds of thank-you banners from those poor and vulnerable clients, and proven by the numerous awards that the Center has won.

The Center may have become a chapter in history, Qian Qian is for now and the future.

The Center has devoted itself to serving women’s rights, giving legal aid, and growing as an NGO. The least it has done is to have sent this message: Private legal aid organisations must and will play an indispensable role in China. Given the national circumstances, charting new frontiers, will require dedicated and valiant fighters, and they should be recognised and encouraged.

The future will be bright, and we will stick to our goal and continue on. The road may be treacherous, and the view along the way may not be always pleasant. But the meaning of life is about keeping our feet on the ground, undeterred, and making our way toward our ideals.

We have no complaint, we have no regret.

We thank every entity and every friend who cares for and who supports us. We have you, who will walk with us.

Former Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University
April 1, 2010


























April 6, 2010 in News - Chinese Law, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cool resource for Chinese business law

You know all those general-interest memos that law firms write on various topics and post on their web sites to show how much they know? There's a lot of good stuff on China that gets written. Wouldn't it be nice to see it all? I can't remember how I found this, but a site called collects and aggregates memos on various topics from the top 100 US law firms. One of their topics is China. Here's their China page. You can also go here for an RSS feed to your blog reader.

April 2, 2010 in Research Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)