Are China's Legal Reforms Stalled?

10 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2008

See all articles by Randall Peerenboom

Randall Peerenboom

La Trobe University - Faculty of Law and Management; Oxford University - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Date Written: September 2008


China has made remarkable progress in a short time in improving the legal system, having essentially begun from scratch in 1978. China performs better than the average country in its lower-middle income class on rule of law, and also does reasonably well on most other core indicators of good governance. Although China's rapid progress in improving the legal system and good governance appears to be slowing, the perception that China's legal system as a whole deteriorated between 1998 and 2004 is incorrect. It is much too early to conclude that China is trapped in transition. China is currently following the "East Asian Model," adapted slightly in light of the realities of the twenty-first century.

There are still many shortcomings in the legal system, as there are in all legal systems, especially those in large developing countries such as China. Deeper reforms are required, as readily acknowledged in China. Yet such reforms are complicated and controversial.

Accurate assessment of China's legal system and its potential for future development are hampered by (i) use of idealized standards from developed countries as a benchmark for reforms in developing countries; (ii) problems with existing data; (iii) the size and diversity of China; (iv) subjective bias; and (v) the tendency to conflate rule of law with democracy and the protection of civil and political rights.

Suggested Citation

Peerenboom, Randall, Are China's Legal Reforms Stalled? (September 2008). La Trobe Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008/13. Available at SSRN: or

Randall Peerenboom (Contact Author)

La Trobe University - Faculty of Law and Management ( email )

Department of Economics and Finance
Victoria 3552, 3086

Oxford University - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

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