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China's Internet revolution has set off a furious debate in the West. Optimists from Thomas Friedman to Bill Clinton have predicted the crumbling of the Chinese Party-state ("Party-state"), while pessimists suggest even greater state control. But a far less discussed and researched subject is the effect of China's Internet revolution on its domestic institutions. This Article, the product of extensive interviews across China, asks a new and different question. What has China's Internet revolution meant for its legal system? What does cheaper, if not free, speech mean for Chinese judges?

The broader goal of this Article is to better understand the relationship between how a legal system functions and how judges communicate, both with each other and with other parties, including the media, the public, and political actors. Information transmission is an important but poorly understood part of any legal system. A precedent system, amici briefs, and the rules on ex parte contacts all serve to regulate how parties in a system communicate and what kind of information "counts." Media and political pressure cannot help but affect a legal system. In the words of Ethan Katsh, "Law is an organism whose lifeblood is information and media of communication are the veins and arteries.

The People's Republic of China stands as a useful case to study the effects of changing means of communications on a legal system. Over the last fifteen years the Chinese legal system has undergone important transformations in the costs and means of disseminating information – the consequence both of new technologies and of the simultaneous commercialization of the Chinese media. This has led to changes in both the information available to judges and the attention paid to the judiciary's decisions. Such changes have come precisely as the Chinese courts are undergoing dramatic reforms, the stated aim of which is to make courts more competent, fair, and authoritative actors in the Chinese political system.


International Law | Internet Law | Law


Originally appearing in the Chicago Journal of International Law, 8 Chi. J. Int'l L. 257. Reprinted with permission from the University of Chicago Law School.