The Leviathan's Rule by Law

Forthcoming, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (December 2015)

31 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2014 Last revised: 15 Jul 2015

See all articles by Ji Li

Ji Li

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 21, 2014


How and how well do authoritarian states rule by law? Extant literature does not fully answer these questions. By analyzing a unique set of time series data and archives in a limiting case, this paper investigates a variety of legal measures implemented by the Chinese government in response to a critical threat -- pipeline vandalization. It finds the Leviathan has followed rudimentary legal procedures in tackling the threat. And over time it tried the death penalty, formal judicial guidance, and the revision and upgrade of substantive rules. The findings of this study cast doubt on the alleged deterrent effect of capital punishment. Moreover, it finds the supreme judicial bodies to be ready servants of the state’s core interests, yet their service adds marginal value as legal dynamics at the local level are shaped mainly by the power distribution of relevant local parties. Furthermore, the statutory upgrade, does not benefit, and may even harm, pipeline safety. As the statute codified the status quo of the bargaining between the oil SOEs and the local governments, statutory allocation of primary protective responsibilities to the former might have relieved the latter from active participation in pipeline protection that is essential to preventing oil thefts. Findings from this research contribute to the literatures on Chinese law and politics, capital punishment, and the rule by law in authoritarian regimes.

Keywords: rule by law, rule of law, authoritarian legal system, chinese law and politics, capital punishment, energy safety, pipeline security, state capacity

Suggested Citation

Li, Ji, The Leviathan's Rule by Law (July 21, 2014). Forthcoming, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (December 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Ji Li (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey ( email )

123 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102
United States

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