Engaging the Law in China: State, Society, and Possibilities for Justice

By Yang, Song | Law & Society Review, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Engaging the Law in China: State, Society, and Possibilities for Justice


Yang, Song, Law & Society Review


Engaging the Law in China: State, Society, and Possibilities for Justice. Edited by Neil J. Diamant, Stanley B. Lubman, & Kevin J. O'Brien. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005. Pp. 240. $49.50 cloth.

Engaging the Law in China presents nine original analyses of Chinese law and society. It addresses issues such as mistreated villagers, disgruntled veterans, discontent pensioners, displaced workers, anticounterfeiting regimes, sympathetic police in situations of social unrest, and profiteering labor camps-all significant topics and hot-button issues for politicians.

China is a very complicated society with an institutional environment drastically different from Western democratic nations. To start, China does not have three separate and independent branches of government-executive/governmental, legislative, and judicial. Instead, the government subsumes legislation and courts, using them as instruments to achieve social control and coordination. Rising above these is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which oversees and often overrides any rulings with various decisions, measures, and instructions. This structure renders the study of the relation between law and society in China a formidable task. Engaging the Law in China assumes such a task by presenting high-quality manuscripts that investigate various legal mobilization processes and legal institutions in China.

The book contains two sections. The first section focuses on the legal process in which ordinary people mobilize law to redress injustice. The second section explores various legal institutions. The introduction by Diamant, Lubman, and O'Brien depicts a pyramidal schema of legal mobilization processes in China that, despite the outpouring of grievances, result in only a small minority of cases moving to the court filing stage. Such a discrepancy invites serious scrutiny regarding the trajectory factors affecting the legal mobilization process.

In the first section of the book, O'Brien and Li investigate how villagers use the Administrative Litigation Law (ALL) to redress official misconduct and unlawful administrative acts in rural China. The analysis documents major obstacles in each stage of the litigation process. Gallagher shows that despite the common discontent of workers in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) with enterprise reform, the rate of increase in labor disputes for SOE workers is still lower than it is in other enterprises, such as foreign-owned, joint-owned, and private firms. Gallagher points out that SOE workers prefer to use zhao lingdao-talking to the enterprise leader to settle their disputes rather than using other formal methods of mediation, arbitration, or appeals to courts. …

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