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Spring 2023 Course

Comparative Law: Why Law? The Experience of China

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: Any 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 example of the People’s Republic of China – which has, for example, gone from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of lawyers in a few decades – 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? In addition to examining the principal institutions of the Party-state and the uses to which law is put, the contemporary parts of the course will consider issues of the economy, rights, the family and much more.

This course, which satisfies the Law School’s international legal studies graduation requirement for JDs, is intended to be inviting to individuals both with and without prior study of China.