Criminal Law Pays: Penal Law's Contribution to China's Economic Development

80 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2013 Last revised: 30 Apr 2014

Date Written: March 31, 2014


China’s rapid rise to become the second largest economy in the world is nothing short of extraordinary. When economic reforms took off in the late 1970s, China had been without formal criminal law for three decades. China’s economic development since the launch of the reform period has occurred directly alongside the development of its criminal law, but the academic literature has failed to ask what role criminal law plays in China’s impressive growth.

This Article argues that not only has the People’s Republic of China leadership historically used criminal law in service of economic ends but also, going forward, criminal law will likely play a multifaceted role in the leadership’s strategy to sustain growth. This inquiry is particularly timely on the heels of a once-a-decade leadership transition and as China’s ability to maintain a robust growth rate is facing rising skepticism.

Looking beyond China, the law and development literature more generally has also failed to seriously discuss criminal law. At a time when many are rethinking the role of law in economic development, it is worth broadening the discussion to include criminal law. China is an instructive test case to begin that conversation.

Keywords: China, law and development, criminal law, economic growth

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Margaret K., Criminal Law Pays: Penal Law's Contribution to China's Economic Development (March 31, 2014). Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 47, No. 2, 2014, Available at SSRN: or

Margaret K. Lewis (Contact Author)

Seton Hall Law School ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

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