Citations (15)


Footnotes (444)



Xinfang: An Alternative to Formal Chinese Legal Institutions

Carl F. Minzner

Fordham University - School of Law

February 5, 2010

Stanford Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, p. 103, 2006
Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 10-02-03

Formal legal institutions are almost entirely absent from the lives of most Chinese citizens. A range of petitioning institutions and practices operate as a dysfunctional proxy for formal legal channels. Deeply rooted in imperial Chinese history, these practices and institutions have survived into the present in the form of citizen petitioning efforts directed at numerous “letters and visits” (xinfang) bureaus distributed throughout Chinese government organs, including the courts.

This Article examines the historical origins and regulatory basis for the modern xinfang system. It outlines the characteristic tactics of Chinese petitioners who seek to use the system to resolve their grievances. The Article also examines the overlap between xinfang institutions and formal legal ones, and analyzes statistics suggesting that the use of the former far exceeds the latter.

The Article argues that the xinfang system serves as a multi-purpose governance tool for Chinese leaders, with resolution of individual grievances but one of several objectives. Xinfang interests overlap with, but also contradict, those of formal legal institutions. Further, Chinese xinfang regulations and institutions create a unique incentive system to which the behavior of Chinese petitioners is an adaptive response. This interplay not only poses serious challenges to the development of the rule of law in China, but may also be fueling a dangerously escalating cycle of social destabilization.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 93

Keywords: Xinfang, petition, petitioning, China, Chinese, letters and visits, responsibility systems, cadre evaluation, social unrest, protest, law, grievance

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: February 7, 2010 ; Last revised: January 20, 2013

Suggested Citation

Minzner, Carl F., Xinfang: An Alternative to Formal Chinese Legal Institutions (February 5, 2010). Stanford Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, p. 103, 2006; Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 10-02-03. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1548577

Contact Information

Carl F. Minzner (Contact Author)
Fordham University - School of Law ( email )
140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 4,432
Downloads: 806
Download Rank: 21,153
Citations:  15
Footnotes:  444

© 2016 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollobot1 in 0.250 seconds