Between Global Norms and Domestic Realities: Judicial Reforms in China

12 Pages Posted: 9 May 2009

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: May 8, 2009


In 2008, Wang Shengjun succeeded Xiao Yang as President of the Supreme People's Court. Many commentators predicted his appointment would lead to more political control of the judiciary, an abandonment of previous efforts to increase the independence, authority and professionalism of the judiciary and the quashing of hopes for "The Rule of Law" in China.

Wang's appointment came at a crucial time for judicial reforms in China. Following the general pattern for countries transitioning from low- to middle-income status, China's rapid progress in establishing and strengthening its legal institutions has slowed, and the legal system is failing to meet the rising expectations of many citizens. As a result, people have been increasingly taking to the streets to seek justice, leading to concerns about social and political stability.

Since assuming command, Wang has endorsed a populist agenda, vowing that the courts will be more responsive to citizen needs, while at the same time warning that the courts will not be allowed to undermine the authority of the Party or to blindly imitate the role of judiciaries in Western liberal democracies.

This chapter examines recent debates about the role of the judiciary and judicial independence in China. Part I locates the debates over the role of China's judiciary within the more general debates over "international best practices" championed by the rule of law promotion industry. Part II discusses the particular challenges confronting middle-income countries and the implications for the role of the judiciary in China. Part III considers the impact of the color revolutions in the former soviet republics on judicial reforms in China. Part IV examines the Supreme People's Court's Third Five-Year Agenda for Judicial Reforms announced in March 2009 in light of such concerns. Part V concludes.

Suggested Citation

Peerenboom, Randall, Between Global Norms and Domestic Realities: Judicial Reforms in China (May 8, 2009). 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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