Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

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Friday, February 14, 2014

"A Constitution Without Constitutionalism?" Talk by Prof. Zhang Qianfan of Peking Univ. Law Faculty

As announced earlier, Prof. Zhang delivered this talk at GWU Law School last Wednesday; here's the URL to a very nicely produced recording. Many thanks to our AV department!

February 14, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Confucius Institutes in US universities: two views

Confucius Institutes, which are part of the Chinese government's soft power efforts, have been in the news recently (at least in the academic community) following this blast last fall by the noted University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. I recommend it.

At the same time, I also recommend this recent and very cogent response by my GWU colleague Ed McCord, which he has kindly consented to have me post here. It's must reading for anyone who wants to have a fully informed view.

[Feb. 16: Replaced earlier version of McCord piece with a later, slightly modified version.]

February 14, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jeffrey Bader on the Nine-Dash Line

Here's a good piece by Jeff Bader of Brookings on the Obama administration's recent explicit rejection of China's "nine-dash line" as the basis for maritime claims.

If you want to dig deeper, here’s a good relevant resource put together by OUP: http://opil.ouplaw.com/page/222/debate-map-disputes-in-the-south-and-east-china-seas. They call it a "debate map" for the East China Sea and the South China Sea controversies. It breaks down the issues and provides links to various official sources and commentary relevant to each.

February 11, 2014 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0)

Zhang Qianfan talk at GWU Law School: live webcast

I posted yesterday about Prof. Zhang's upcoming talk at GWU Law School (Feb. 12th, 6 p.m. EST); here's the URL to the live webcastThe talk will also be recorded and made available on line; URL to be announced.

[Post slightly edited and URL changed after initial posting.]

February 11, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Recording of Teng Biao talk at GWU Law School

Last week Teng Biao gave a talk at George Washington University Law School; here's a link to a recording of the talk.

February 11, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stanley Lubman on China's crackdown on activists

Availabe here.

February 5, 2014 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

China's GDP: services are largest sector for the first time in the modern era

This doesn't have much to do with Chinese law, but I think it's a pretty interesting development. From my friend Dan Rosen at the Rhodium Group (copied here with permission):

Full year 2013 China GDP was released on January 29. The total was just over $9 trillion USD for the first time, at CNY 56.9 trillion (2013 average CNY/USD rate: 6.313). That’s up 7.67% over 2012 (and is the level the United States was at in 1992, in 2009 dollars; versus just about $16 trillion today). Here is a significant fact: as of the end of 2013, China’s services sector is officially the largest segment of its economy for the first time in the modern era, at 46%, versus 44% for industry and manufacturing and 10% for primary activity such as farming. That updraft in the share of services started in about 2006, and should keep going for, oh, I’d say about another 20 years before flattening out. That’s a pretty important change in the structure of growth, and one that Xi Jinping’s Plenum reforms both recognize and react to, on the one hand, and aim to bolster and sustain on the other. Remember: investment in services sector capital stock doesn’t just mean ice rinks, movie theaters, hospitals and schools, but also the injection of value-adding services activity into manufacturing giants like China Aluminum, which to date have been all about smelting and little about sales and marketing, R&D, environmental engineering, new applications development and other white collar multipliers of profit.

January 30, 2014 in Commentary, News - Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Jerome Cohen on the Xu Zhiyong case

Here's Jerry Cohen's comment on Xu Zhiyong's trial, published in the South China Morning Post.

January 29, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What a short notice on arbitration tells us about the Chinese legal system

I recently came across a very short notice from the Supreme People’s Court instructing lower courts how to handle certain arbitration disputes. I think it’s worth writing about because in a few short sentences, it encapsulates a key feature of the Chinese legal system—that is, its essentially bureaucratic nature—that I think make it fundamentally different from systems that are essentially adjudicatory. One can have a view as to whether that difference is a virtue or a vice in general or in particular cases, but it’s not my purpose here to take a stand on that issue; I just want to argue that the system is indeed different.

First, some background. China has rules about the recognition and enforcement of arbitration awards by courts; there are two relevant ones here.

               (1) A valid arbitration agreement must clearly stipulate the forum. This is a general rule of contract law and not unique to China—if we can’t find a meeting of the minds on where to arbitrate, there’s no agreement to enforce—although Chinese courts have tended to be overly demanding about what constitutes “clearly”.

               (2) Domestic arbitration can be carried out only by state-approved arbitration bodies; ad hoc arbitration (i.e., arbitration by persons or institutions not recognized by the state even if agreed upon by the parties) is not recognized by courts.

One of China’s major officially recognized arbitration bodies is the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC). In 2012, when the problem I am about to describe arose, CIETAC had offices (sub-commissions) in Beijing and other Chinese cities, including Shanghai (Shanghai CIETAC) and Shenzhen (South China CIETAC). Thus, if the agreement said, “Arbitration at Shanghai CIETAC” or “Arbitration at CIETAC in Shenzhen”, it would have met the requirements of both of the above rules and been valid; everyone knows which arbitration forum is meant and it’s an officially recognized one.

In 2012, CIETAC issued new arbitration rules that came into effect in May of that year. Shanghai CIETAC and South China CIETAC didn’t like the rules and essentially declared independence. South China CIETAC changed its name to “South China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission” or “Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration”, and both the Shenzhen municipal government and the Guangdong provincial government have recognized it as a qualified arbitration organization. In April 2013, Shanghai CIETAC changed its name to Shanghai International Arbitration Center, and I believe has also been officially recognized by the Shanghai government.

In response, CIETAC issued an announcement on Dec. 31, 2012 stating that it was terminating the authorization of Shanghai CIETAC and South China CIETAC to accept and administer arbitration cases and forbidding them to conduct any further arbitration in the name of Shanghai CIETAC and South China CIETAC. CIETAC has also opened a new sub-commission in Shanghai (I’m not sure about Shenzhen) and sent its arbitrators there. In its Dec. 2012 announcement, CIETAC stated that when parties had designated Shanghai CIETAC or South China CIETAC in their arbitration agreements, they should submit their requests for arbitration to CIETAC (in Beijing), which would then take care of it. (For a good backgrounder on the dispute, see this memo from Winston & Strawn.)

Obviously, we have here a recipe for great confusion. Try to apply Rule 1: when an arbitration agreement says, “CIETAC Shanghai,” for example, which arbitration body does it mean? And what about Rule 2: do the new local arbitration bodies count as officially recognized? Who has the authority to recognize them? The Arbitration Law doesn’t say. Until this confusion is cleared up, parties have no way of knowing whether their arbitration agreement will be upheld. Courts in Ningbo and Suzhou refused to uphold arbitration awards of the newly independent Shanghai CIETAC, but were overturned on appeal.

Clearly it’s time for somebody—anybody—to step in and make a definitive ruling on these issues. The Supreme People’s Court is the obvious candidate. In September 2013, it did so. Here’s the full text of a Notice (tongzhi 通知) it issued to lower courts at that time:

Supreme People’s Court Notice on Problems Related to the Correct Adjudication of Cases Involving Judicial Review of Arbitration

To the Higher-Level People’s Court of each province, autonomous region, and separately administered city; the military courts of the People’s Liberation Army; and the Production and Construction Corps branch courts of the Higher-Level People’s Court of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region:

               Recently, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission’s (“CIETAC”) May 1, 2012 implementation of its revised rules of arbitration, together with the name changes and implementation of new arbitration rules on the part of the CIETAC Shanghai Subcommission (“Shanghai CIETAC”) and the CIETAC South China Subcommission (“South China CIETAC”), have led to disputes among parties related to issues such as the application of rules of arbitration and the jurisdiction of the above-mentioned arbitration organizations. The people’s courts of all areas have accepted case after case of arbitration review resulting from such disputes. In order to unify the standard for judgments and ensure that people’s courts correctly adjudicate cases, we now notify you as follows regarding relevant issues:

               With respect to cases in which the above-mentioned disputes result in parties applying for a confirmation of the validity of the arbitration agreement, as well as cases in which the above-mentioned disputes result in parties applying for a cancellation or ruling of non-implentation of awards rendered by CIETAC, Shanghai CIETAC, or South China CIETAC, the people’s court must, before making a ruling, submit the matter for discussion by its Adjudication Committee and then report up level by level to the Supreme People’s Court. Only after the Supreme People’s Court has made its reply may the ruling be made.

Supreme People’s Court

Sept. 4, 2013

 There are two things worth noting about this document. First, it was not publicly issued. It’s an internal instruction to courts immediately below it, and they are to pass it on to courts below them. Second, and most importantly, it does not solve the problem. It does not purport to state any rule or even vague principle that courts should use in addressing problematic cases; it does not state how the SPC intends to handle them. Yet the SPC certainly does intend to handle them, and it will produce a result. If the result is the same in cases where the relevant facts are identical, then that’s a rule of law that it would be helpful to let parties know about; if the result is not the same, then apparently there are more relevant facts than we thought.

The key point here is that the SPC is not acting as adjudicator-in-chief in a system that applies laws. It’s acting as decider-in-chief in a system that maximizes administrative discretion to the point where even here, where it would be simple to come up with a rule to resolve any ambiguity, it is unwilling to do so and reserves the right to reach different results in cases that, as far as statutorily relevant facts are concerned, are identical.

 

 

January 26, 2014 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Xu Zhiyong gets four years

Here's the report (in Chinese) from the court's Weibo feed, and here's some pre-sentence commentary from the Global Times. The spin is that Xu Zhiyong is being punished not for the content of what he was seeking, but for the way in which he sought it. Of course, the article contains the usual tendentious claims that people like Xu demand legal immunity for whatever actions they might take in pursuit of their goals - claims that are not backed by any evidence and are too silly to bother refuting.

[Some text and links changed from original post.]

January 25, 2014 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, January 24, 2014

More on the Xu Zhiyong case

Here's an informative and well-documented backgrounder, with links to original sources, on the Xu Zhiyong case from the Congressional-Executive China Commission.

January 24, 2014 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Xu Zhiyong's defense statement

In a puzzlingly familiar pattern, the authorities in Xu Zhiyong's trial - who after all control the outcome - have gone out of their way to avoid even the appearance of fairness. According to the New York Times, the court told Xu and his lawyers that no prosecution witnesses would appear in court to be cross-examined, and Xu would not be allowed to present any witnesses of his own. The response of Xu was to remain silent and refuse to present a defense. Nevertheless, he did attempt to make a closing statement, which was stopped by the court after ten minutes. Here it is: Chinese | English.

On another listserv of which I'm a member, there's been some discussion of whether Xu can be called a "moderate" and whether his recent actions have been a strategic mistake. 

If you read anything Xu Zhiyong has written, including his closing statement above, or consider the actions he has taken, it’s hard to see why the word “moderate” should not apply. What is immoderate and extremist are the government’s actions against him and others like him. I cannot see any reason to call Xu immoderate unless anything that gets you persecuted is by definition immoderate. That logic would make it impossible to conclude that governments ever persecute moderates, and so doesn’t seem very helpful as a tool of social science analysis, in addition to its unacceptable moral privileging of governments over their opponents.

A discussion about whether Xu made some kind of strategic mistake seems to me to miss the point of what Xu is doing and why he is doing it. He is not engaging in some kind of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis; who would be an activist and oppose this government on rational cost-benefit grounds? The collective action problems are insurmountable. I have met Xu only a few times and can’t claim intimate knowledge of what motivates him, but my own take is that he does what he does because he feels he must, and cannot do otherwise. This accounts for his calm and steadfastness in the face of intense pressure, and explains why he inspires such fear and loathing in the mighty state. I’m not suggesting he doesn’t have a healthy streak of pragmatism as well, but in many cases analyzing what people like him do in terms of tactical or strategic mistakes will miss the point, since they aren’t trying to avoid “mistakes.” We don’t analyze why people tip at restaurants they’ll never go back to by (a) assuming they believe it will somehow benefit them down the road, and then (b) asking whether that belief is mistaken. Same here.

January 23, 2014 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

SEC vs The Big Four in China: administrative decision issued

I've previously blogged about SEC proceedings in federal district court against Deloitte China; they have also been engaged in administrative proceedings against the Chinese affiliates of the Big Four, and a decision in that matter was issued on Jan. 21 (WSJ report here (paywalled)). That decision imposes a six-month bar on auditing US-listed companies. It can still be appealed to the full Commission and from there to the federal courts, so we probably haven't seen the end of it. As I've been involved as an expert witness, I won't comment further on the substance here. But it's quite important. For some high-quality commentary, see Paul Gillis's China Accounting Blog; he's been following these cases closely. Here's his take on the decision. His conclusion: "Ultimately, the only way this gets settled is if China agrees that companies that list in the U.S. are subject to all U.S. securities laws. For those companies that are too sensitive for that, like some large SOEs, China should pull their U.S. listings."

January 23, 2014 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law, News - Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: The use of offshore havens by China's elite

Pirates-of-the-Caribbean4

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has completed its investigation of offshore holdings by China's elite and has published a story in English and Chinese. It will be naming and shaming on Jan. 23rd.

Needless to say, the Chinese government has publicly thanked the ICIJ blocked the ICIJ's web site for its contribution to Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive, and has demonstrated its determination to go forward by releasing Xu Zhiyong putting Xu Zhiyong on trial today.

January 21, 2014 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law, News - Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Xu Zhiyong trial: Why an intermediate court?

Here's Elizabeth Lynch's take on this and related issues over at the China Law and Policy blog.

January 21, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jerome Cohen on the upcoming trial of Xu Zhiyong

Here are some thoughts by Jerome Cohen on the upcoming trial of Xu Zhiyong:

This Wednesday's trial of Xu Zhiyong (and Wang Gongchuan) may make a public mockery of the recent efforts of China's Supreme People's Court to prevent further wrongful convictions by requiring investigation and verification of criminal evidence in an open court hearing.

 

The SPC and the country's leader, Xi Jinping, have been emphasizing greater transparency and openness in judicial conduct. Yet it is very difficult to learn what transpired at last Friday's pre-trial conference since official court sources have published nothing, and there seems to be a domestic news blackout on the case. Foreign and Hong Kong press reports based on contacts with Xu's counsel suggest that, while the trial will be "public" in principle, its openness will be highly restricted in practice, as is customary in sensitive criminal cases. despite the new verbal emphasis on openness of trials. For example, a very small courtroom has apparently been selected, and arrangements have reportedly been made for the admission of only two members of Xu's family, and no other supporters, to the courtroom. I assume foreign media have been excluded.

 

As my January 14 essay in World Politics Review pointed out, the SPC's November 21, 2013, major instructions newly emphasized the importance of the courts conducting "open trials" that "make courtroom hearings the center of the trial" so that "evidence is investigated in the courtroom, conviction and sentencing debated in the courtroom and the court's judgment shaped in the courtroom." I noted that "The forthcoming trials of Xu Zhiyong and other recently-persecuted human rights advocates, now the topic of fierce intra-Party debate, will provide an early test of how the new emphasis on open trials will be applied in practice."

 

Press reports of the pre-trial conference indicate that the court will not require prosecution witnesses to testify in the court hearing and that it will not permit defense witnesses to testify in the hearing. Nor will it permit those defendants who are to be separately tried for their involvement in the incidents for which Xu and Wang are being tried to appear and take part in the hearing of the Xu/Wang case. Xu's lawyers made a long argument about why, since these were allegedly joint offenses, the law requires all accused to be tried together, which would have allowed the defendants in the other cases to testify about Xu's participation, but the court apparently rejected the argument.

 

Thus Xu and his lawyers are being denied the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses that has long been authorized by Chinese legislation but seldom permitted to be exercised, and the court also denies him the opportunity to demonstrate through the live, in-person demeanor evidence of his own witnesses and the defendants in the other cases the correctness of his version of the disputed facts.

 

This is not a case where the facts are not in dispute and the only issues will be the application and interpretation of the relevant legal standards for conviction. In this case there is a serious conflict in the evidence that calls for resolution through the open court hearing that is supposedly to be held. Even Bo Xilai and his lawyer had the opportunity to cross examine some of the witnesses against him. Yet Xu will not have that legally-required opportunity. The court apparently will "investigate and verify" the evidence against Xu in open court by simply having it read into the record, leaving the defense with no meaningful chance to demonstrate its falsity or inaccuracy. One can't cross examine a piece of paper. If this indeed proves to be the case, it will demonstrate how hollow the SPC's new emphasis on testing the evidence in open court hearings is in practice. In other words, no change from the previous practice, so that the SPC's new strictures would clearly be seen, as Shakespeare put it, to "keep the promise to the ear but break it to the hope."

 

Non-PRC newspaper reports indicate that, to protest this denial of a fair trial, Xu will remain silent during the court hearing. At least one report suggests that his lawyer may also remain silent. The precise extent of this silent protest is unclear. Will Xu refuse to answer relevant court questions put to him? Will he invoke a privilege against self-incrimination? While the new Criminal Procedure Law forbids the court to force the accused to answer, will the court take the refusal as an implicit admission of guilt? Will the defense lawyer and Xu challenge the prosecution evidence as best they can or remain silent on that score as well? Will they silently introduce written defense evidence? Will the accused and/or his lawyer refuse to make a closing statement? 

 

The stage appears to be set for another wrongful conviction.

January 19, 2014 in Commentary, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Teng Biao on the politics of the death penalty in China

And indeed, it has been mostly politics - as opposed to, you know, law. Here's the link. Unsurprisingly, Mao does not come off too well. Here's a choice quotation from some instructions of his to Shanghai officials: “Shanghai is a large city of six million people; given that Shanghai has arrested more than 20,000 people and only killed over 200, I think that in 1951 you should kill at least 3,000 people who have committed major crimes such as bandit leaders, hardened bandits, standover merchants, spies and secret society bosses. And in the first half of the year at least 1,500 people should be killed.”

January 18, 2014 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Use of Wikipedia in expert opinions - follow-up

I recently posted on a controversy involving the use of language from Wikipedia in expert opinions, and want to follow up on one point that makes the case for disqualifying Prof. Feinerman (or any expert in a similar situation) even weaker. The Bloomberg news report said that what was involved was a "report summarizing his proposed testimony" (emphasis added). I now understand the significance of this. The document Prof. Feinerman submitted was not his testimony; it was a disclosure submitted to the defense that summarized what he was going to say on direct examination during the trial. If I understand matters correctly, that document would not even be read by the fact-finder; it is solely to put the defense on notice as to what the expert intends to say. As such, the source of the words in that document is completely unimportant, and it is missing the point to apply academic standards to such a document. I have already explained in my previous post why it misses the point to apply academic standards to expert testimony, and now it appears we are talking about a document that is itself once removed from expert testimony. It is in effect notes for an oral presentation of expert testimony.

Look at it this way: suppose I am an expert astronomer called upon to present oral testimony about the structure of the solar system. I tend to ramble, so I want to make sure I cover all the important facts, but concisely. I read the Wikipedia entry on the solar system and think, "Hey, this is pretty good. No mistakes, and it says what I want to say quite well." I print out the Wikipedia entry and send a copy to the other side so they'll have advance notice of the content of my testimony. I also take it with me to my oral testimony. I might or might not look at it as I testify to remind me what needs to be said. My oral testimony does not, of course, duplicate the Wikipedia entry word for word, but nobody who had read the Wikipedia entry would be taken by surprise by anything I said. Can there possibly be anything improper about any of this? What unfairness is perpetrated by my failing to note that the source of the words in the document I sent to the other side was Wikipedia? Those words weren't even my actual testimony. The more I think about it, the more it all seems just a silly tempest in a teapot.

As with my first post, I have not discussed this matter with Prof. Feinerman; my view here is based on my understanding of the facts, which may be incorrect.

December 2, 2013 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why Chinese needs a good word for "irony", and why it's too soon to bid farewell to re-education through labor

I'm not one of those people who says that people whose language doesn't have a word for X can't conceive of X - after all, somebody conceived of the smartphone before there was a word for it - but it's really too bad Chinese doesn't have good word for "irony". Most ways of expressing the idea of irony in Chinese involve using the same term that's used to express the idea of satire (讽刺); they are serviceable in context, but hey, so is a sparkling wine when you really need champagne. Some situations just cry out for the perfect mot juste and not a clumsy workaround.

I was moved to this thought upon seeing (H/T: David Cowhig) this notice issued to a petitioner, apparently just a few days ago (full Chinese text and English translation appended at the end of this post):

Detention notice

The notice is issued by a department of the Changre [CORRECTION: should be "Changshu"] municipal government in response to a complaint by someone named Hu Cheng that he was detained for two days under the rubric of "legal study class". The notice informs him that it's because he insisted on going to Beijing to petition during the 18th Party Congress, and that his detention under this rubric was justified under a document issued by the Jiangsu Province Department of Public Security. The notice helpfully adds that the document is secret.

The idea that the authorities behind this notice and document it refers to can teach Mr. Hu about legality offers, to use a seasonal metaphor, a whole cornucopia of irony. First, it is not illegal for Chinese citizens to go to Beijing to petition. Second, it is a bedrock principle of Chinese law that the liberty of the person may not be restricted - it doesn't matter whether you call it punishment, study class, whatever - except as authorized by a law passed by the National People's Congress or its Standing Committee. (Law on Legislation, Art. 8(v); that's one reason why re-education through labor, with its flimsy statutory basis, has been under attack.) Third, even if the Jiangsu Department of Public Security had the authority to issue regulations providing for the compulsory restriction of personal liberty (which it doesn't), it is another bedrock principle of Chinese law that administrative punishments of this kind must be justified by publicly available documents. You can't say, "Hey, we can lock you up, but we can't show you the basis for out authority - just trust us!" 

This has implications for the much-trumpeted imminent abolition of re-education through labor (RETL) that was announced in the Decision of the recent 3rd Plenum. The abolition of RETL, while advocated by many in the legal community for years, has been long delayed because it seems the public security folks are just too loathe to give it up. They like the informality and unaccountability it offers. When the Decision came out, many wondered: can this really be true? Will it not just re-appear in another form?

"Study class" may be that other form (although it is unlikely to last as long as RETL sentences, which can be up to three years plus an additional year in some circumstances). I was at a conference just a week or so ago at which one of the attendees recounted his conversation with a Supreme People's Court judge on this very subject, and the judge said that people freed from RETL might just go into legal study classes. One should never underestimate the ability of the public security bureaucracy to think of new names for holding people without statutory authority. The fault, though, does not really lie with the police. They're just doing what police do. The fault lies with the system that allows creative re-naming to become a successful strategy, and fails to enforce the simple rule that restriction of personal liberty requires a statute from the NPC or its Standing Committee.

* * * * *

Text of Notice and Translation

常热市处理信访突出问题及群体性事件联合会议办公室

胡诚同志:

               你反应“2012年11月1日至2012年11月3日对你办法制学习班”的问题。

               在党的十八大会议期间,你在江苏省高级人民法院裁定驳回再审申请的情况下,不听劝导,执意进京上访。根据苏公通[2008]120号《关于依法处理进京上访人员违法行为若干问题的意见》(秘密)的相关规定,可由户籍所在地或经常居住地党政组织给予法制教育,法制教育以举办学习班等形式进行。因此,对你举办法制学习班是符合上述文件规定的。

Changre City Office of the Joint Conference on Handling Mass Incidents and Prominent Problems in Petitioning

Comrade Hu Cheng:

               With regard to the issue you have reported of a legal study class being implemented upon you from Nov. 1, 2012 to Nov. 3, 2012:

               During the period of the Party’s 18th Congress, when the Jiangsu Higher-Level People’s Court rejected your application for a re-trial, you did not listen to persuasion but stubbornly insisted on going to Beijing to petition. According to the relevant provisions of the Jiangsu Province Department of Public Security Notice No. 120 (2008) entitled “Opinion on Several Issues Relating to Handling According to Law the Unlawful Behavior of Persons Who Go to Beijing to Petition” (Secret), legal education may be imposed by Party and government organizations of the petitioner’s domicile or place of usual residence. Legal education shall be carried out through the implementation of study classes and other means. Therefore, implementing a legal study class upon you is in accordance with the stipulations of the above document.

November 28, 2013 in Commentary, News - Chinese Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Use of Wikipedia in expert opinions

Defense attorneys in a criminal trial for economic espionage have moved to disqualify the prosecution’s expert witness, Prof. James Feinerman of Georgetown Law Center, because (they allege) large portions of his expert witness report (a document that summarizes his proposed testimony) contain verbatim extracts from Wikipedia entries on China’s technology, high-technology development plan, and Communist Party. (Here’s the news report.) I have not seen either Prof. Feinerman’s report or the motion to disqualify him, so what follows is based solely on the news report. I should also add that Prof. Feinerman is a personal friend and colleague, so weigh that as you will.

In thinking about the appropriateness of using Wikipedia, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind: first, the difference between an expert witness report and an academic article, and second, what the language in Wikipedia is actually being used for.

In an academic article, nothing should rest on the authority or existing reputation of the author. The article should speak for itself and should present evidence and arguments in favor of its conclusion. An academic article should never say or imply, “Take my word for it because I’m an eminent professor in the field.” It would not count as a serious criticism of a paper by a junior scholar to point out that a position taken in her paper was contrary to the position taken in a paper by a senior scholar.

This is not wholly true in an expert witness report. Here we are generally not asking the witness to engage in original research; we are asking him to tell us what experts in the field think of a particular question. Instead of concluding from the content of the writing that the writer (whom we may never have heard of before) deserves to be called an expert – this is what we might do in the academic context – we start from the premise that the writer is an expert and then see what he has to say about the subject. That’s why it would be improper for an academic journal to publish articles only from senior professors at big-name universities, but is wholly proper for a court to inquire into the qualifications of those presented to it as experts. Of course, the expert can bolster his testimony and make it more powerful by alluding to specific evidence supporting his opinion and citing to other prominent experts in the field who agree with him, but that’s not required by the logic of expert witnessing. What is required by the logic of expert witnessing is for the expert to say something like, “I am an expert in this field, and here is my view of the issues based on my expertise.”

Now let’s go back to Wikipedia. Any given entry is written by anonymous people about whom we know nothing. Consequently, to cite Wikipedia as authority for some proposition is a bad idea, whether in an academic article or in an expert witness report. (Wikipedia can still be useful academically if the article’s claims are well documented in footnotes; you can just chase down the footnote references.) Note, however, that Prof. Feinerman is not accused of citing Wikipedia as authority for what he wrote; he did not say, “The Communist Party operates in the following way, and I know this is true because it says so in Wikipedia.”

What I think he has done – I cannot read his mind and have not discussed this matter with him – seems to me not in essence different from declaring in his report, “I have reviewed the Wikipedia entry on X, and in my expert opinion I believe it accurately states the relevant facts.” In other words, while Wikipedia is not reliable as an authority, that doesn’t mean it is always wrong. The entry might well be accurate, at least in the opinion of the person reading it. I don’t think any objection could be made to a declaration of this kind.

The next question is, if an expert believes that certain language in a Wikipedia entry accurately reflects his personal views on some matter, is there any reason he should not use it? The reason for using it is quite simple: the expert is probably getting paid by the hour, and like anyone getting paid by the hour, he has an ethical duty not to needlessly inflate the time required to perform a job. If a Wikipedia entry accurately sums up everything the expert might want to say, why should he take the time to engage in an artificial re-writing exercise that will just add to the bill? I don’t think it makes sense to disqualify an expert because he tried to do the job at lower cost.

Finally, there is the question of whether the verbatim quotations from Wikipedia should be properly footnoted. An expert witness report is not an academic paper for which the author seeks academic credit, so personally I don’t see an academic integrity issue in this case. The author is not asking you to admire his words or his thoughts. He is testifying about the content of the ideas expressed by the words, and he is doing so on the basis of his own pre-existing authority and reputation. In this sense, direct quotation is not different from indirect quotation or re-writing. At the same time, quoting a source directly without a footnote is bound to lead (and in this case has led) to the suspicion that something is being concealed. That's not good. Thus, my gut feeling (subject to change upon further reflection) is that despite the differences between academic articles and expert witness reports, it makes sense to follow the same citation rules in each instead of spending a lot of time trying to figure out when the different context justifies different rules.

In this particular case, I don’t think failure to cite should count as a reason for disqualification. As I understand it, experts may be disqualified on grounds such as (a) lack of expertise, or (b) evidence that they are saying something they don’t really believe (e.g., previous writings in which they take a completely different position on the same issue). Neither of those problems is (as I understand the story) alleged to exist here.

November 23, 2013 in Commentary, News - Miscellaneous, People and Institutions | Permalink | Comments (2)