The legal system in the United States comes primarily from English Common Law (influenced by Roman law and Greek teachings). English Common Law is a system based on the principle that the rulings made by the King’s courts were according to the common custom of the realm. Common law is grounded in precedent and local tradition stressing community and individualism.
Legalism, the foundation of Chinese law, emphasizes the need for order above all other human concerns. The founder of the Legalistic school was Hsün Tzu (312–230 BC). He believed that humans are inherently evil and inclined toward criminal and selfish behavior. Since morality does not exist in nature and humans are part of nature, the only way to control behavior was through habit and harsh punishment. Without this, the result would be conflict and social disorder.
Even though both Confucianism and Legalism called for tradition and governmental control, the difference between the two is that Confucius (551–479 BC) advocated ruling benevolently by example. Both theories still play an important role in the cultural and legal development of China.
However, the legal system in the People’s Republic of China is currently undergoing gradual reform since international trade and globalization are influencing changes. What is evolving is a blending of English Common Law and Legalism.
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