In order to understand the present legal reform in China, an understanding of the pre-reform legal situation is important. We will go back to China's first contact with foreign culture which marked the beginning of China's tortuous process of learning from foreign legal systems. The establishment of the People's Republic by the Communist Party in 1949 did not stop the work of transplanting foreign laws. The cultural source, however, was the Soviet Union alone, resulting in a legal system based on a rigid economy, which, combined with the politicization of law during the Cultural Revolution, has had a lasting effect on China's present legal development.
China's cultural change since the mid-nineteenth century was a process in which Chinese culture constantly was influenced by foreign cultures, resulting in a struggle between self-affirmation and self-negation of the Chinese people. In its legal aspect, the cultural change was also a tortuous process of learning from the Western legal system.
Legal modernization was triggered by the Opium Wars and the unequal treaties with foreign nations in the mid-nineteenth century. China was compelled to accept unequal treaties which included clauses that China had to open up some ports and trading centers in which extraterritoriality and a degree of separate jurisdiction were granted to foreign nations. Different “spheres of interest” were established on Chinese territory. It was at this time that China realized that it had been surpassed by the superior material instruments and superior systems of modern Western countries, of which the legal system occupied an important position. With humiliation, China started to learn from the Western legal system with the aim of removing the extraterritoriality and separate jurisdiction granted to foreign nations.
Shen Jiaben (1840-1913), the commissioner in charge of the legal reform, advocated “referring to the ancients and the moderns, widely surveying both China and foreign countries” as a guiding principle in legal drafting. Modern