China Legal Education and the Public’s Understanding of Legal Concepts

China’s Legal System. Editor: Pan Guoping and Ma Limin. The Sinopedia Series Singapore: Cengage Learning, 2011.

A Diversified Legal Education System

The building of a nation ruled by law must by definition include legal education, which encompasses important functions such as training of legal professionals, dissemination of legal knowledge, and the promotion of the standards of a legal system. Legal education can be correlated to the degree of civilization of a society and the building process of the state’s rule by law. From the 1970s, China’s legal education experienced development processes that range from minor to major, from single to comprehensive, and from simple imitation to constant innovation. The initial goal of legal education was just to train legal practitioners. However, the current emphasis is to both train legal practitioners and conduct courses on legal concepts for the public, placing equal priorities on upgrading the quality of legal practitioners and improving the citizens’ legal knowledge over time. In recent years, China’s legal education system has become increasingly diverse, with the creation of courses in legal education in higher education institutions, vocational education, public education, and many other categories. Through these legal education systems, the Chinese people have gradually become more familiar with common legal concepts.

From the early years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, great importance was attached to legal education in higher education institutions. The central government planned and established the Beijing Institute of Political Science and Law (now the China University of Political Science and Law), the East China University of Politics (now East China University of Political Science and Law), and other specialized political science universities. Faculties of law were also set up in the Chinese People’s University, Peking University, Fudan University, and other comprehensive universities.

Since 1979, China’s legal education has gone through various processes; from recovery to development, and then to maturity. In 1978, China began to recruit students for her Juris Doctor programs. In 1984, the first batch of doctors of law was registered in universities. In 1995, China confirmed that the legal education’s main goal was to train lawyers with a comprehensive, practice-oriented, and international outlook of law. Since 1996, China began to recruit and train Juris Masters (JM), which involved legal training with Chinese characteristics. At the same time, the set-up of China’s faculty of law in higher education institutions experienced rapid development, and China’s law lecturers now stands at 55,000. On the management of law courses, China learnt the models of legal education used in developed countries and subsequently carried out a series of reforms. At the same time, China has also revised the Judges Law, the Public Procurators Law, the Legal Practice Law, and also implemented the State Judicial Examinations.

In 2001, China had 292 higher education courses, with the majority catered for undergraduate law. However, as of November 2008, this number grew to 634. Currently, China has more than 300,000 law undergraduates, 220,000 college students studying law, 333 higher education institutions awarding masters of law, 29 schools and institutions awarding doctors of law, and 13 mobile stations for post-doctorates of law. In addition, there are more than 60,000 postgraduate masters of law students, 30,000 masters of law students, and 8,500 doctor of law students. China has created the basic hierarchy of a higher education legal system with bachelors, masters, and doctors of law as its mainstay with the education of JM as supplementary training. However, it should be noted that while such educational development is to be applauded, China’s legal education also reveals some contradictions and shortcomings. Examples include an upgrade of educational management structure, critical economic situation that results in confusion over training standards, the low academic standards of new students, poor teaching resources, and so on. At present, China’s legal establishment has shifted focus from legislative to judicial matters as the key area of development, and this will present new challenges for China.

Continuing legal education, or legal professional education, is an important part of establishing China’s legal education and legal system. Specically, China’s legal professional education and training are tailored for judges, procurators, police officers, lawyers, notaries, and other members who will be involved in the legal profession in various ways. Before 1978, due to historical reasons, China’s legal professional education was almost non-existent. With the continuous development of China’s political, economic, and legal sectors, legal professional education was gradually institutionalized and standardized. Among these, professional training courses designed for judges and procurators constitutes the basic content of the legal profession’s educational system with Chinese characteristics.

Since the National Judges Academy was established in 1997, judges’ training in China has replaced the traditional training approach with a more standardized version. The National Judges Academy has trained a large number of senior judges, including professional qualification training for potential presidents and vice-presidents of higher or intermediate courts, professional qualification training for working senior judges of national courts at all levels, qualification training for the promotion to the level of senior judges and pre-employment training for trainee judges. After approval by the Supreme People’s Court, the National Judges Academy successively established its branches in the Higher People’s Court of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Henan, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Jiangsu. The academy has organized education and training courses for all levels of judges in the local courts. In 2000, the Supreme People’s Court formulated and promulgated the Regulations for Training of Judges, and has successively formulated education and training plans for the cadres of national courts (2001-2005) and education and training plan for national courts (2006-2010), thus achieving standardization and institutionalization in the professional education of Chinese judges. In recent years, China has further strengthened international exchanges and cooperation on judicial training, by nominating some judges to study abroad in accordance with the related regulations of the state, and has invited foreign legal experts and judges to China to deliver lectures.

According to official statistics, up till August 2007, the National Judges Academy has trained nearly 30,000 presidents, senior judges, and judicial administrators of courts at all levels. Provincial judicial training institutes have trained 50,000 judges and other court staff. In 2008, the National Judges Academy established a Chinese judges training network and recently added another mode of judicial training through network teaching.

After 20 years of hard work since the 1980s, China has formulated increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for professional procurator education. In 1998, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate established the National Procurators Academy and also gradually established its branches and procurators’ training institutes in provincial procuratorates. Training with multiple channels, standards, and forms for procurators were also conducted. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate formulated the education and training plan for national procurator cadres (2001-2005 and 2006-2010) in order to realize the institutionalization and standardization of procurators’ professional education. In 2007, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate promulgated the Regulations on the Training of Procurators, which further strengthened and enhanced procurators’ professional education and training.

Furthermore, professional education for the Chinese police is also organized and implemented separately by specialized public security colleges. Compared to the relatively complete professional education system for judges and procurators, the professional education development for Chinese lawyers and notaries is relatively lagging behind and still needs further development.

Since 2002, China has implemented a unified judicial examination system for junior judges, procurators, and legal qualification for lawyers. Thus, junior judges and procurators must be selected from excellent candidates who have passed the National Judicial Examination. This system promotes professional educational standards for judges, procurators, lawyers, and notaries.

The Public’s Understanding of Legal Concepts

Popularization of legal education is important for China and is also a legal education method with Chinese characteristics. The large-scale popularization of legal education began in the mid-1980s. At that time, after experiencing years of upheaval without any structured legal services, people’s desire for democracy and rule of law was stronger than ever. An awareness campaign to promote the popularization of legal activities was carried out for all the Chinese people after the Sixth NPC Standing Committee’s 13th Meeting adopted the Resolution of the Basic Universal Legal Knowledge for Citizens on November 22, 1985.

The campaign was aimed at the general public and also at civil servants. The purpose of popularizing knowledge of the legal system for all citizens is to improve their awareness and thus obey these laws. But more importantly, the campaign was carried out to teach the citizens how to use legal tools to protect their legitimate rights and interests. Civil servants are the main implementers of administrative activities. For them, the purpose of this campaign was to thoroughly understand the concept of the rule of law, and more consciously work according to and under the law. Through combining the popularization of legal knowledge with the rule of law, China has embedded the idea of the rule of law in public daily life and work in all local areas, departments, and units. The productivity and lives of citizens have been greatly improved by the standards of the rule of law. It could be said that in the process of making further changes to the functions and speeding up of the development of the rule of law, the popularization of legal education did played an important role.

Since 1985, the Standing Committee of the NPC has adopted five decisions for the popularization of legal knowledge among citizens, and implemented four 5-year plans for the popularization of the legal system. During the first public education campaign (1986-1990), more than 700 million Chinese citizens studied relevant basic legal knowledge, and many citizens had their first encounter with the law. During the second public education campaign (1991-1995), China declared that under the publicity and education of departments’ professional legal knowledge, 96 industries had developed the popularization of the legal system, and focused on guiding people to learn more than 200 laws and regulations whose main contents were on socialist market economic laws and regulations. On December 9, 1994, the first law course of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee was held at Zhongnanhai Huairen Hall. The leadership of the CPC Central Committee led by example and attended the law course, which promoted the further deepening of national legal awareness. During the third public education campaign (1996-2000), 30 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities carried out management work according to laws combined with the popularization activities of the legal system. And 95% of cities, 87% of counties (districts, cities), and 75% of grassroots units carried out their work according to the rule of law. Within this campaign period, China formally wrote the basic philosophy of the rule of law into her constitution.

In 2001, China began her fourth public education campaign (2001-2005), where a total of 850 million Chinese citizens received various forms of education in the legal system, with the result that all citizens’ lives related to legal services being improved substantially. China began to realize her transformation from an administrative management to the rule of law. In June 2001, the website “China Legal Publicity” was officially launched. It was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, which added the modern media platform for the popularization of legal activities. On December 4, 2001, (the promulgated year of the current constitution), China celebrated her first National Law and Regulations Day. Every year, December 4 is celebrated at all corners of the country with large-scale publicity events relating to legal knowledge.

From 2006, China moved onto her fifth round (2006-2010) of legal popularization campaign. The current compaign of popularization of legal activities has become more creative in terms of content and form. For example, on the afternoon of November 11, 2006, in the conference room of the No.2 Middle School of Fengtai District, Beijing, the citizens held a role-play trial under the guidance of judges. All the participants, such as the judge, jury, procurator, defendant, and lawyer were students. Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, and other cities have carried out Olympic legal publicity events, known as the “Humanities Olympics: Rule of Law.” These events made a positive contribution to the qualified success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In addition, Guangxi, Henan, and other provinces carried out the campaign of Legal Film Screenings for the Countryside.

Through more than 20 years of continuous legal popularization activities, the spirit of rule of law has made a profound impression on the Chinese people’s consciousness. In 1992, the film, Story of Qiuju, directed by Zhang Yimou, was released and drew widespread public attention. This film tells the story of a Chinese woman from the countryside who successfully defended her family’s rights and interests using legal channels and procedures. A phrase in the film, “I demand a reasonable explanation” signified that the true spirit of the rule of law has awakened among ordinary Chinese people. For example, in 2004, Hu Xuemei and about 150 farmers living in Hongqiao Village, Binhu District, Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province, sued the Ministry of Land and Resources in the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court. During the hearing, four representatives of the farmers spoke in their local dialect and carried out a debate with the ministry officials. Similarly, a retiree from Nanjing, Wu Jinwen, sued and won a RMB 0.20 lawsuit over a supermarket’s “No return of small change” policy in Zhengzhou. These legal suits of “I demand a reasonable explanation” would have been difficult to imagine some 20 years ago.

In recent years, the formulation of each law closely related to the productivity and livelihoods of the general public have been of great public interest. Some 40 days after the publication of the draft Property Rights Law for public feedback, people at all levels of the community sent a total of 11,543 proposals. About 30 days after the publication of the draft Law on Labor Contracts, the Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee received 191,849 letters of suggested amendments for the law. Citizens are enthusiastic in participating in the legislative process, and this spirit was ignited by a concerted effort to promote and spread a greater understanding of the rule of law in China

In addition to the National Law and Regulations Day (December 4), there are other days related to the observance of legal rights and are used to enhance public education and awareness of the legal system. Some examples are March 15 for International Consumer Rights Protection Day, June 5 for World