The Battle Over Legal Reforms in China: Has There Been a Turn Against Law?

23 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2014

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: August 12, 2014


Legal reforms are at a crossroads in China. Liberal reformers hoped that the transition from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping and the replacement of the much maligned party-system cadre Wang Shengjun by the legally-trained technocrat Zhou Qiang as head of the Supreme People’s Court would lead to a turn toward liberal legality and a new era of liberal legal reforms. This article assesses the future of legal reforms in light of the Central Committee Decision concerning Some Major Issues in Comprehensively Deepening Reform, the SPC's new five year court reform agenda, and recent events. Part I begins with a brief overview of reforms and the major faultlines or challenges for legal reforms to provide context for the Decision. Part II summarizes and critically appraises the Decision and the SPC's agenda. Part III discusses two dominant approaches to assessing legal reforms in China. The first emphasizes structural factors, sees a continuity from SPC presidents Xiao Yang to Wang Shengjun to Zhou Qiang, and therefore predicted there would be no turn toward liberal legality under the new administration, while the second emphasizes personalities, saw Wang Shengjun as a radical departure from the tradition of liberal legality under Xiao Yang, and thus predicted a return to a more liberal approach under Zhou Qiang. Part IV concludes.

Keywords: Rule of law, China, judicial studies, political economy, law and development

Suggested Citation

Peerenboom, Randall, The Battle Over Legal Reforms in China: Has There Been a Turn Against Law? (August 12, 2014). 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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