Political Liberalism and Political Embeddedness: Understanding Politics in the Work of Chinese Criminal Defense Lawyers
Law & Society Review 45(4): 831-865.
49 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2011 Last revised: 20 Jul 2012
Date Written: September 9, 2011
This article examines the meanings of politics in everyday legal practice using the case of Chinese criminal defense lawyers. Based on 194 in-depth interviews with criminal defense lawyers and other informants in 22 cities across China, we argue that lawyers’ everyday politics have two faces: on the one hand, lawyers potentially can challenge state power, protect citizen rights, and pursue proceduralism in their daily work; on the other hand, they often have to rely on political connections with state agencies to protect themselves and solve problems in their legal practice. The double meanings of politics, namely, political liberalism and political embeddedness, explain the complex motivations and coping tactics that are frequently found in Chinese lawyers’ everyday work. Our data show that the Chinese criminal defense bar is differentiated along these two meanings of politics into five clusters of lawyers, namely, progressive elites, pragmatic brokers, notable activists, grassroots activists, and routine practitioners. They also suggest that a principal manifestation of political lawyering is not merely short-term mobilization or revolutionary struggle against arbitrary state power, but also an incremental everyday process that often involves sophisticated tactics to manage often conflicting interests.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation