Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1998

Center/Program

Center for Chinese Legal Studies

Abstract

Class struggle has moved to China's courtrooms. Since the passage of China's 1991 Civil Procedure Law (CPL),1 which explicitly permits class action litigation,2 multiplaintiff groups have brought suits seeking compensation for harm caused by pollution, false advertising, contract violations, and securities law violations. Although administrative bodies continue to resolve most disputes in China,3 the increasing prevalence of class actions is one aspect of an explosion in civil litigation over the past decade. Class action litigation has the potential to alter the role courts play in adjudicating disputes, increase access to the courts, and facilitate the independence of the legal profession.

The undeveloped status of class action litigation in China, the paucity of written materials on class actions,4 the absence of statistics on its incidence,5 and the development of class actions within a legal system undergoing radical change impede any attempt to draw broad conclusions concerning the significance of class action litigation in China. However, China's experience with class action legislation and litigation illuminates both its experimental approach to law reform and the evolving roles of courts, individuals, and lawyers within the Chinese legal system. As China's leaders struggle to determine whether they can foster a law-based society without losing control, class actions provide a window on fundamental tensions in the Chinese legal system: between a government policy of increasing the importance of the courts, in part to force local officials to obey the law, and a system still inhospitable to plaintiffs; between government's desire to harness a market-driven legal profession to further law implementation and its desire to continue to regulate lawyers tightly; and between government efforts to shape the legal system and the plurality of factors that contribute to the evolution of that system.

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