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Reviewed by:
  • The China Legal Development Yearbook
  • Carl Minzner (bio)
Li Lin, editor. The China Legal Development Yearbook. Volumes 1 and 2. Leiden: Brill, 2008 (vol. 1), 2009 (vol. 2). xiii, 320 pp. (vol. 1); xiii, 408 (vol. 2). Hardcover $148.00 (vol. 1), $148.00 (vol. 2), isbn 978-90-04-15639-5 (vol. 1), 978-90-04-17303-3 (vol. 2).

Social Sciences Academic Press (SSAP), the publishing arm of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, produces a valuable annual series of Chinese-language Blue Books (蓝皮书), addressing topics ranging from economic development to rule of law to social stability. These books are useful for their carefully crafted articles by leading Chinese academics on social and political problems of the day. Despite the unique political considerations that accompany efforts to publish in mainland China, articles such as Yu Jianrong's 2005 piece on the xinfang (letters and visits, or petitioning) system1 and Zhao Shukai's 2006 article on township government2 (published in SSAP's Blue Books on Chinese society) contain excellent, hardhitting analyses on very tough issues. Accurate English translations of the SSAP Blue Books would consequently be both a superb research tool and a channel for a non-Chinese audience to appreciate the intelligence and nuanced analysis of their Chinese academic counterparts.

Unfortunately, although it purports to be the translated English edition of the SSAP Blue Book on Rule of Law, Brill's The China Legal Development Yearbook is not such a work. Rather, it appears to be a censored version of the original Chinese volume, edited to remove sensitive political content.

An example of such selective censorship is the English translation of the analysis of the 2005 State Council Xinfang Regulations by noted public interest lawyer Xu Zhiyong, founder of the Open Constitution Initiative. (The organization was closed in the summer of 2009 amid a government crackdown.) Brill's English translation of his article follows:

Therefore, the answer to this problem [of letters and visits] lies not in restructuring the department but rather in reducing the quantity of letters and visits. This reduction is not the responsibility of a sole government department; the entire authority system is responsible. The National People's Congress, judicial departments, administrative heads and the public will work together to meet this goal.3

This translation is simply incorrect. The original Chinese version of Xu Zhiyong's article in the relevant 2006 SSAP Blue Book reads:

Therefore, the answer to resolving the problem of letters and visits does not lie in strengthening or weakening letters and visits bureaus. It does not lie in sending problems back to the source to manage, or in implementing unified management of them. Rather, it lies in reducing the number of petitions. Responsibility for reducing the number of petitions is not the problem of a single government department. Rather, it is the problem of ensuring that the entire system of power is effectively supervised and made responsible from the bottom-up [from [End Page 456] citizens]. This requires commencing reforms in a number of areas, such as implementing the legally-guaranteed rights of people's congresses, judicial independence, elections for administrative heads, and strengthening public opinion supervision [of government].4

The original Chinese-language content has been systematically neutered to remove Xu's explicit call for political reform.

However, the problem goes beyond merely altering the language of individual authors. Entire articles present in the Chinese-language SSAP Blue Books have disappeared in Brill's English translations. The original 2006 Chinese-language Rule of Law Blue Book contains ten articles that do not appear in Brill's translation. These include Qi Jianjian's "Deficiencies in Criminal Law Revealed by the Murder Case of She Xianglin's Wife" (a discussion of a sensational 2005 case in which a man wrongly convicted for murder was freed after eleven years), Chang Jiwen's "Reflections on China's Environmental Law in the Light of the Songhua Pollution Incident" (an analysis of a 2005 environmental disaster in northeastern China), and Jiang Peng's "Elimination of the Agricultural Tax" (a discussion of national efforts to reform local government finances).

These missing Chinese-language articles are objective and detailed analyses of current social...