The New Legal System and Its Significances in China

Lin Cong’ 14

On October 10, 2012, the Asia Law Society was honoured to have Professor Zhenmin Wang to speak on the exciting changes in the legal system in China. Professor Wang is the dean of law school at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of the best in China. He teaches an intensive course at the University of Toronto and spearheads the exchange program for law students at the University of Toronto to study law at Tsinghua.

Vince Wong’ 13 introduces Professor Zhenmin Wang at the event, “the New Legal System and Its Significances in China”

Professor Wang commented on the lunch provided at the event and began his speech with a joke about studying bible and eating. A prisoner asked a priest if he could eat when studying the bible. The priest said no because bible study is a serious matter and eating would distract the study. Then, the prisoner changed the question and asked if he could study the bible when eating. The priest answered, certainly because that shows one has the bible in mind even when eating.

A photo of “ya men” (衙门), the traditional criminal law court and prison, in China.

Professor Wang then turned to a more serious topic on the history of legal systems in China. He discussed the unique features of the ancient Chinese legal system, which emphasizes criminal law, a way for the ruler rule its subjects. In the dynastic times, rites, “Li” (礼), is more important than law. The picture above shows the entrance of “ya men”  (衙门), the traditional criminal law court and prison, in China. The characters above read, “natural law, national law, humanity”.

Professor Wang summarized the more recent changes in the Chinese legal system as from nothing to something and perhaps one day to everything. Thanks to the demand of China’s economic rise, the commercial law in China is far more developed than some aspects of the legal system. Moreover, Professor Wang demystified certain aspects of Chinese legal and political system. For instance, China is a socialist not a communist or capitalist country contrary to some popular or academic opinions.

During the Q&A session, Professor Wang answered a wide range of questions posed by the audience. In response to student question on what Canadian law students and lawyers-to-be could do with knowledge of and interests in legal changes in China, Professor Wang referred to Professor Betty Mayfoon Ho (1948-2010), who obtained a L.L.B. from the University of Toronto in 1977 and began teaching in the University of HongKong in 1988 and Tsinghua University Law School in 2002. Professor Ho was heavily involved with the development of the rule of law in China. Professor Wang encouraged the students to take advantage of the exchange opportunities in China and practice or teach in China if it is where their passions lead.

Professor Wang answers questions from the students

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