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POLI 338 (20)
Juan Wang (20)
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POLI 338 - Peerenboom: The X-Files.doc

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Department
Political Science
Course
POLI 338
Professor
Juan Wang
Semester
Winter

Description
Peerenboom – The X-Files: Past and Present Portrayals of China's Alien 'Legal System' In 1980s, China had only begun rebuilding legal institutions that had withered and died during the Mao era. 1999, policy of “ruling the country in accordance with law, establishing a socialist rule of law state” was incorporated into Constitution. Currently, “law is increasingly penetrating different areas of society and playing multiple roles in keeping with the increasing differentiation in Chinese society.” Reforms have also undermined traditional understandings of China's legal system. Part One: placing Chinese legal system in comparative perspective. Part Two: discuss overly-negative view of Chinese law in Western scholarship; suggest positive trends Part Three: observations about teaching and researching Chinese law I. Of Orientalisms Old and New: The Myth that China's Legal System Remains a Traditional Law System Incompatible with Rule of Law Attempts at classifying legal systems often begin with economically advanced Western country as paradigm. − autonomous legal professionals − cases decided according to distinctive legal criteria and methods − general legal principles applied to particular cases Many have thought China's imperial legal system would hardly qualify. Magistrates and literati decided legal outcomes based on judgement and interpretation of customary norms. Charge of Orientalism: “A particular kind of law is considered not only necessary for economic development, but an indicator of cultural achievement and civilization. Whereas the West has law, order, rule, reason, rational bureaucracies, predictability, and certainty, others have violence, chaos, arbitrary tradition, and coercive despotism.” We view our legal tradition as 'culture-less,' and think other legal systems are less successful for having 'too much culture.' China, for example, has had Confucianism and 'cultural traits' blamed for holding back 'modernity.' “Law, as the institutionalized manifestation of a particular set of such cultural and philosophical beliefs, then becomes both a justification for and instrument of imperialism.” A. Mattei's Tripartite Taxonomy Three types of legal systems, based on whether the primary source of social norms is law, politics, or philosophical and religious tradition. Rule of law = law is main mechanism for settling disputes; secular Rule of political law = weak separation between law and politics; state above law Traditional law = no separation between law and religion; reduced role of lawyers, increased role of mediators; emphasis on harmony and social stability. Peerenboom criticizes this third category as being too broad. “It seems highly unlikely that any single category will be able to capture all of the differences in legal systems in Asia, much less be able to do so in any meaningful way.” Also, Mattei attempts to prevent the marginalization of non-Western law in previous classifications. Yet, Peerenboom points out that under Mattei's scheme, all of these non-Western countries are lumped together anyways. To deny that non-Western legal systems could develop rule of law systems holds them as 'other' in the same fashion as previous Orientalist schemas. Mattei's approach “emphasizes differences in culture, especially religious beliefs and philosophical systems.... In the process, it reifies, esssentializes, and nationalizes culture, denying or downplaying the obvious changes that have occurred.” B. The Imperial System as Traditional Law: Fact or Fancy? Scholars have questioned whether traditional law square with realities of imperial Chinese law, as well as the view that decision-making was based on moral principles. Furthermore, the influence of 'religious' norms was minimal. Even Confucian influence was not overarching; rather, “the state appears to have incorporated moral norms that it found useful in maintaining order.” However, even granting that imperial Chinese law had 'traditional' aspects, one still must keep in mind that this view may miss the way law worked in practice. C. Mischaracterization of China's Contemporary Legal System as Traditional Law Rapid rise in lawyers and litigation in China and steady decrease of mediation show that C
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