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Legal System Expansion (2:06) Excerpt from film "The People's Court", July 2007
Overview of the expansion of the legal system in China as market forces lead to new circumstances requiring legal solutions.

Country: China

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Guiding Questions
  1. How many law schools have been created in China in the last quarter century? How many judges and lawyers have been trained? Why has this been necessary?

  2. According to Professor Jianjun, what are the two goals of China's law schools?

  3. How does the case shown here relate to the expansion of market capitalism in China?
Background Essay
China's move to market capitalism is forcing deep changes in society. In the past twenty years, the number of cases going through the court system has more than doubled and hundreds of thousands of judges and lawyers have been trained.

When China's Civil war ended in 1949, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party established the People's Republic of China. They wanted to centralize power, unify the country and develop China's industry and infrastructure. A few of Mao Zedong's nationwide projects were the Great Leap Forward, a 5-year economic and social plan that he initiated in 1958, and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Unfortunately, at the end of the Maoist era, the economy and the education system of China were very weak.

Deng Xiaoping, who became China's leader in 1976, introduced new policies to encourage economic growth. Large segments of the economy were cut loose from direct state control. The private sector boomed, a new class of entrepreneurs prospered and China's formal legal system was re-established. At the same time, however, the Communist Party remained in control of a one-party, authoritarian state and a growing gap between rich and poor emerged. Employers used their newfound market power to exploit workers. Tensions developed. Conflicting claims of property rights came to be a significant problem.

The government of China decided to address these issues by trying to expand and modernize the legal system. Since the 1980s the country has opened almost 400 law schools, training hundreds of thousands of lawyers and judges. The country has also created education campaigns to encourage people to settle their issues in court rather than on the streets.

Before 1995, many judges did not have college degrees or much knowledge about the law. Since 1995, the requirements to become a judge have gotten stricter: now judges need to have a university degree and must pass a national exam. However, the judges are appointed and paid by the one-party government. Their decisions, as well as decisions and actions of lawyers, are often influenced by the Communist Party and local governments. Many Chinese citizens are bothered by the corruption they see as widespread in China.

In 2003, Hu Jintao was elected as the President of the People's Republic of China. His challenges include trying to find solutions to China's economic, social and environmental problems. One of his initiatives, the Socialist Core Value System, encourages honesty and law-abiding and ethical behavior among all Chinese citizens. Whether President Hu's goals lead to real improvements will be a key measure of China's progress toward implementing the rule of law.

A practice court for law students at Sichuan University in the city of Chengdu. 1000 miles southwest of China's capital, Beijing.

They're re-examining a real-life industrial injury case between a laborer and his employers.

The plaintiff, Feng Yong, never signed a labor contract with us. In fact, we didn't even know he was one of our workers.

China's move to market capitalism is forcing deep changes in society.

The number of cases going through the courts has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

We have his time sheets and his site pass, which prove he was indeed working there and under the supervision of the defendants.

To keep pace with the booming economy and maintain order, China has put in place a whole new legal system.

In the past quarter century, China has created nearly four hundred law schools, and trained hundreds of thousands of judges and lawyers.

Few nations have ever attempted to produce a body of law so quickly.

The company has the nerve to claim that my accident didn't happen at their worksite.

You're lying to the court about your injuries. You're acting!

- I worked myself to death for you and now I'm blind and it's your fault. How dare you say I'm lying!

Order! Calm down!

We have two goals in our law schools: to teach students the law, and also to nurture their sense of social awareness and their obligation to pursue justice in society.

Related Links
The People's Court on PBS.org

CIA World Factbook: China

Chinese Constitution, Criminal Procedure Law, Civil Procedure Law, and others translated into English

World Factbook of Criminal Justice System: China

Foreign Affairs "Don't Break the Engagement" (May/June 2004)

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