Comparative Law: Why Law? Lessons from China

Comparative Law: Why Law? Lessons from China

Professor William Alford
Spring 2018 course
Th, F 9:30am - 11:30am
4 classroom credits

Note: This is one of the 1L required international or comparative courses and is only available to HLS first-year and LLM students.

Prerequisites: None

Exam type: One-day take-home.

This course uses the example of China as a springboard for asking fundamental questions about the nature of law, and the ways in which it may (or may not) differ in different societies. Historically, China is said to have developed one of the world's great civilizations while according law a far less prominent role than in virtually any other. This course will test that assertion by commencing with an examination of classic Chinese thinking about the role of law in a well-ordered society and a consideration of the nature of legal institutions, formal and informal, in pre-20th century China--all in a richly comparative setting. It will then examine the history of Sino-Western interaction through law, intriguing and important both in itself and for the broader inquiry into which it opens concerning the transmission of ideas of law cross culturally. The remainder (and bulk) of the course will use the effort in the People's Republic of China to build a legal system--said by some to be the most extensive such effort in world history--to ask what it means to build a legal order. Simply stated, what is central and why, what is universal and what culturally specific and why, and so forth? It is intended to be inviting to individuals both with and without prior study of China.