Hope for Rule of Law in China Rises with School Tapping U.S. Jurists

Article excerpt

Anyone would think that having a bestseller in a nation with nearly a billion readers would make the author a fortune.

But Qian Ning, whose book on life in America is a hit in countless Chinese cities, hasn't made a penny of profit from most of the paperbacks sold.

The problem, he says, is publishing industry pirates. Mr. Qian is the son of a powerful figure, Vice Premier Qian Qichen. But, says the younger Qian: "I am powerless to track down the pirates ... even my publishing house has no way to stop the theft of my work." Although China recently passed a law prohibiting the theft of intellectual property, the authorities here say that piracy is so rampant that they cannot enforce the law across the country. Thirty years after Communist China's founding father, Mao Zedong, launched a decade-long attack on the legal system, the government is still trying to reconstruct a framework for law and enforcement to guide the country into the next century. "China today is very similar to America in the years just after the {1776} revolution," says an American legal scholar here. "It is in a state of flux, and only now are the laws and lawyers being produced that will shape China's future." One of the boldest experiments in mapping out the nation's evolution is taking place at Tsinghua University's new law school, where Chinese youths are being exposed to legal models from around the world. Though the university is 87 years old, the law school takes it in a bold new direction. For the first time since the 1949 Communist revolution, China is allowing students here to study Chinese and United States law side-by-side under teachers from both countries. The move marks a breakthrough for China, which during the twilight of Mao's rule a generation ago was one of the most isolated nations on earth. "Tsinghua is in the vanguard of China's opening to the rest of the world, says Wang Zhenmin, deputy director of the law school. "Most of Tsinghua's law faculty studied overseas," Professor Wang adds in fluent English. "And they are helping prepare the next generation to continue China's march onto the global stage." "Tsinghua is the closest thing China has to an American-style law school, says American Howard Chan, a former judge in New York who is helping set up the school. Among the innovations here: * Tsinghua admits graduate students who, like their American counterparts, study everything from constitutional to criminal law. Most other Chinese law schools accept high-school graduates and channel students into narrow areas of expertise. * Tsinghua will feature multi-media classrooms and a digital library, and will publish China's first student-run law review. * For the first time, Chinese students will practice before an American-style, 12-person jury. * The school is setting up the country's first institutes in environmental law, health law, legal ethics, and intellectual property. * Unlike at other Chinese law schools, instructors at Tsinghua employ the Socratic method, which teaches legal principles using discussion and reasoning. "In China, students are socialized from an early age to listen and take notes, and the teacher is god," says one Tsinghua instructor. "So we've had a hard time deprogramming students to the point where they begin asking questions." At Tsinghua, where half of the lectures are in English, many Chinese students come into contact for the first time with the tradition of reasoning that stretches from classical Greece to the European Enlightenment to American laws on individual rights. One second-year student, who cites Thomas Paine as his favorite American writer, says that in China, "The individual is no match for the government in the legal arena today. …