bilities and since have vacillated between promotion of contract and greater
81 Such policy incoherence is common in other sectors of the
Chinese economy with respect to many programs. The place of contract, either in
the economy or in the legal system, is far from certain.
Nonetheless, contract law has acquired a certain respectability over the past
decade or so of legal development in the PRC. Even when newly enacted contract
law and regulations are honored more in the breach than by effective implementation, their terms and general tenor are quite widely understood by ordinary Chinese and government officials. The accomplishments of recent legislative efforts
and attempts to construct a legal order in China are still threatened by an excessively politicized legal and judicial administration, but China's engagement of the
wider world and desire for industrialization and modernization make its eventual
legalization inevitable. The 1993 revision of the ECL, however welcome, is
merely the latest accommodation of evolving legal and economic reality in the PRC and remains subject to further shifts in government policy. For the foreseeable future, with respect to contract as well as the PRC's nascent legal system,
uncomfortable ambiguities and a multiplicity of roles will likely continue.
See, e.g., Lubman, "Methodological Problems in Studying Chinese Communist
'Civil Law,'" in Contemporary Chinese Law: Research Problems and Perspectives, ed. Cohen ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), pp. 230-60. See also Hsiao, The
Role of Economic Contracts in Communist China, 53 Calif. L. Rev. 1029 ( 1965); R. M. Pfeffer
, Understanding Business Contracts in China, 1949-1963 ( Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1973).
Macneil, "Contract in China: Law, Practice, and Dispute Resolution", 38 Stan. L.
R. 303 ( 1986). For guarded support from a prominent social scientist who is not familiar
with China, see Dahl, "Social Reality & 'Free Markets,'" Dissent, Spring 1990, at 236
(new commitment to market economy in Eastern Europe requires a "clement political and
See, e.g., Jones, "An Approach to Chinese Law", 4 Rev. Soc. L.3-25 ( 1978)
(pre-1979 Chinese laws not codified law in the Western sense but rather directives for
officials); see also Munzel, "Approaches to Chinese Law: A Comment on Professor W.
Jones' Article", 4 Rev. Soc. L.323-27 ( 1978) (legal regulations are "hidden" in specialized technical rules and internal directives); and Jones, "Approaches to Chinese Law: A
Reply to Comments by Dr. F. Munzel", 4 Rev. Soc. L.329-46 ( 1978) (adumbrating the
basic problems of looking at Chinese law as though it were a Western code).
But see Goldstein, "The Domain of Inquiry in Political Science: General Lessons
from the Study of China", 21 Polity, no. 3 ( Spring 1989), pp. 517-37 (arguing that China
scholars have unfortunately tended to "pursue descriptive institutional studies at the expense of theoretical explanation").
Zhonghua renmin gongheguo jingji hetongfa ( Economic contract law of the PRC),
adopted by the Fourth Session of the Fifth National People's Congress, promulgated 13
December 1981 (hereinafter "ECL"); the Chinese text and an English translation appear in 1 China Laws for Foreign Business, paragraph 5-500(7), at 6,551 (CCH Australia Ltd., 1985 ed.). All citations to articles of the ECL refer to the numbering of articles in the