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In the Name of Justice

Striving for the Rule of Law in China

introduction by Cheng Li. foreword by John L. Thornton. Weifang He

Publication Year: 2012

Of all the issues presented by China's ongoing economic and sociopolitical transformation, none may ultimately prove as consequential as the development of the Chinese legal system. Even as public demand for the rule of law grows, the Chinese Communist Party still interferes in legal affairs and continues in its harsh treatment of human rights lawyers and activists. Both the frequent occurrences of social unrest in recent years and the growing tension between China's various interest groups underline the urgency of developing a sound and sustainable legal system.

As one of China's most influential law professors, He Weifang has been at the forefront of the country's treacherous path toward justice and judicial independence for over a decade. Among his many remarkable endeavors was a successful petition in 2003 that abolished China's controversial regulations permitting the internment and deportation of urban "vagrants," bringing to an end two decades of legal discrimination against migrant workers. His bold remarks at the famous New Western Hills Symposium in 2006, including his assertion that "China's party-state structure violates the PRC Constitution," are considered a watershed moment in the century-long movement for a constitutional China. With In the Name of Justice, He presents his critical assessment of the state of Chinese legal reform.

In addition to a selection of his academic writings, this unique book also includes many of He Weifang's public speeches, media interviews, and open letters, providing additional insight into his dual roles as thinker and practitioner in the Chinese legal world. Among the topics covered are judicial independence, judicial review, legal education, capital punishment, and the legal protection of free speech and human rights. The volume also offers a historical review of the evolution of Chinese traditional legal thought, enhanced by cross-country comparisons.

A proponent of reform rather than revolution, He believes only true constitutionalism can guarantee social justice and enduring stability for China.

"He Weifang has argued for two decades that rule of law, however inconvenient at times to some of those who govern, must be embraced because it is ultimately the most reliable protector of the interests of the country, of the average citizen, and, in fact, even of those who govern."--from the Foreword by John L. Thornton, chairman, Brookings Institution Board of Trustees and Professor and Director of Global Leadership at Tsinghua University

"What struck me--and shocked me as a foreign visitor--was not only that the entire discussion was explicitly critical of the Chinese Communist Party for its resistance to any meaningful judicial reform, but also that the atmosphere was calm, reasonable, and marked by a sense of humor and sophistication in the expression of ideas."--from the Introduction by Cheng Li, director of research and senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Series: The Thornton Center Chinese Thinkers Series

Front Cover

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Inside Flap

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Title Page

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Copyright Information

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-xii

I have long believed that the rule of law is a critical civic virtue for the development of a just and thriving society. It is a view I have held in particular about China since the beginning of my involvement with the country more than twenty years ago. In those days, my enthusiasm for the topic was not...

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pp. xiii-xv

As China undergoes rapid economic and sociopolitical transformations and continues to rise in stature on the global stage, the development of a stable and impartial legal system has emerged as a crucial issue. I am greatly honored to be the contributor of the latest volume of the Brookings Institution’s...

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pp. xvii-xlix

One evening in the fall of 2011, almost five months before the dramatic downfall of heavyweight political leader Bo Xilai, I sat in an auditorium at the Law School of Peking University listening to a panel discussion on China’s judicial reforms. The Beida Law Society, a student organization on campus...

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pp. 1-6

For more than a year now I have wanted to write an open letter to discuss my views on the “campaign against the underworld” in Chongqing. But because I had already written quite a number of commentaries on my own blog and for various media outlets, I feared I might make carping remarks or get all...

Part I: Judicial Independence: China's Treacherous Path

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1. The Ongoing Quest for Judicial Independence in Contemporary China

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pp. 9-39

On September 23, 1821, an accident occurred while an American ship from Baltimore, named Emily, was loading cargo in Guangzhou. A woman on a nearby boat fell into the water and drowned. Her family accused a crewmember from the Emily, Francis Terranova, of hitting the woman with an earthen...

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2. Mencius on the Rule of Law

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pp. 40-59

In what follows I would like to discuss the legal dimension of Mencius’s thought and, more broadly, the relevance of Confucianism to the development of China’s rule of law today. The relationship between Confucian teaching and the rule of law has captured the imagination of Chinese intellectuals...

Part II: Constitutionalism and Judicial Review

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3. China's First Steps toward Constitutionalism

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pp. 63-100

I took part in an intellectually stimulating academic seminar last evening. I heard a jurisprudential scholar say that China is now at the dawn of a new age of constitutional government. Indeed, there is strong advocacy for it in the media. In an interview with Southern Weekend, I said something to the...

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4. Constitutionalism as a Global Trend and Its Impact on China

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pp. 101-124

Many Western-educated, enlightened Chinese intellectuals in modern China, most notably Yan Fu, advocated that China should learn from the West not only in building warships and armaments but also in developing sound legal and political systems. That is, we should look beyond the outer...

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5. Remarks Given at the New Western Hills Symposium

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pp. 125-130

The second background issue is that, as we can see in the discussion about the general direction of China’s reform— and to use readily understood terms of reference— people on the left often take a clear-cut stand under the banner of socialism, calling for, among other things, a return to the legislative tradition...

Part III: The Expansion of Legal Education and the Legal Profession

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6. China's Legal Profession: The Emergence and Growing Pains of a Professionalized Legal Class

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pp. 133-143

The process of constructing the rule of law in China has been ongoing since the late 1970s. During this transitional “post–Mao Zedong” era, many factors have influenced China’s quest for the rule of law, such as still-viable socialist theories; the historical inertia of various institutions built on these theories...

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7. Foreign Models and Chinese Practice in Legal Education During the Reform Era

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pp. 144-171

This is so because America is the number one power in the world. So utilitarianism is also at work in the borrowing of culture— it is taken for granted that a strong country must have a strong culture. Of course, American legal education does have much to recommend itself, and the legal education...

Part IV: The Legal Protection of Free Speech

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8. Freedom of the Press: A Necessary Condition for Social Stability in China

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pp. 175-180

This is especially so in China, a country with a long tradition of centralized authority. Due to information asymmetry, many officials only answer to their superiors, with little pressure from ordinary citizens. Government supervision of the media and an absence of institutional restraints on power...

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9. An Open Letter to the CCP Politburo Standing Committee Regarding Media Censorship

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pp. 181-188

In recent years, members of the Standing Committee have repeatedly emphasized on different occasions governing the country in accordance with law. We think that, like us, you will not forget the inspiring words of General Secretary Hu during his first public activity after being elected general secretary...

Part V: The Legal Protection of Human Rights

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10. Challenging the Death Penalty: Why We Should Abolish This Barbaric Punishment

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pp. 191-215

The topic I would like to discuss with you this evening is a heavy one; it’s the death penalty. As we know, the death penalty is a focal issue in many countries around the world. As a matter of fact, the death penalty has been abolished or basically abolished in more than 120 countries worldwide. In other...

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11. A Plea for Genuine Political Progress in China

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pp. 216-220

Deutsche Welle: Professor He, you jokingly complained at the beginning of your speech earlier that the organizer inviting you to Germany did not tell you beforehand that the program’s main subject is Tibet. So let’s start our interview with this issue. Do you agree that the West’s strong reaction to the...


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pp. 221-249

Further Reading

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pp. 251-255


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pp. 257-269

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815722915
E-ISBN-10: 0815722915
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815722908
Print-ISBN-10: 0815722907

Page Count: 269
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Thornton Center Chinese Thinkers Series