China’s Legal System in Flux: Part 1/2

Since China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi (259 – 210 BC), a legal system was established that was relatively modern and forward-looking. Trained administrators were sent across the country to govern by statute. What was right and what was wrong was not subject to the whim of erratic autocrats or juries. Source: Anthropologist in the Attic

In general, ancient China’s legal system attempted to enforce filial piety, to uphold the respect of family ancestors, to avoid legal action when possible, to create deterrents to actions and to “control outbursts” (which may explain why China locks up democracy activists because they are shaking the boat). Source:

No matter how much Westerners may disapprove of China’s ancient legal system, it had the acceptance of most Chinese because they understood the traditions behind the laws.

In May 2006, a short documentary of China’s changing legal system was produced.

As part of its economic reforms and policy of opening to the world, between 1980 and 1984, China established special economic zones in Shantou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai in Guangdong Province and Xiamin in Fujian Province and designated the entire island province of Hainan a special economic zone.

Many of China’s new laws were written after this happened.

The rapid growth in industry led to a large number of work related injuries. For example, In 1998, there were over 15,000 serious work related injuries and industrial accidents.

Zhou Litai, a Chinese lawyer, arrived in Shenzhen in 1995 to work on worker’s compensation cases. He says there are three reasons behind worker’s compensation cases in China.

1. The facilities are old and outdated. Some of the equipment was used in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Korea 20 years ago.

2. The workers don’t get the necessary training before they start work.

In fact, Zhou Litai says, “The government has clearly regulated that workers need to be trained before starting a new job, and working permits are required.”

3. The worker’s health deteriorated due to working overtime on a regular basis.

4. The government control isn’t strict enough (For more than two millennia the legal system avoided legal action when possible).

Many Western legal concepts are foreign to Chinese culture, and “thanks to China’s economic development, the commercial law in China is far more developed than other aspects of the legal system.” Source: Ultravires

Continued on April 30, 2013 in China’s Legal System in Flux: Part 2


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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