Document Type


Publication Date



In 1977 when China's leaders dedicated themselves to the four modernizations, they consciously decided to reestablish formal legal institutions as part of their ambitious plan of growth. In light of China's legal history since the Communist victory in 1949, this decision is significant. Since 1949 law had borne the heavy imprint of politics; since the late nineteen-fifties, the Chinese leadership had shown little concern for the fate of formal legal institutions; during the Cultural Revolution, the legal system had virtually disappeared. But since 1977, despite fluctuations in economic policy the attitudes of the leadership toward law, repeatedly echoed by lower level officials, have been noticeably positive and consistent. The efforts that have been made recently to begin to build legal institutions are quite remarkable.

This essay examines recent attempts in China to create a formal legal system, identifies the principal themes associated with those efforts, and analyzes some of the functions of the new institutions. In one sense, this is an inquiry into what has come to be considered "law" or "legal" in China today.


International Law | Law