The Leviathan's Rule by Law

32 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 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: December 2015


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, this article investigates a variety of legal measures (the death penalty, formal judicial guidance, and the revision and upgrade of substantive rules) implemented by the Chinese government in response to a critical threat–pipeline vandalization. The findings of this study cast doubt on the alleged deterrent effect of capital punishment. Moreover, it finds the supreme judicial bodies in China 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 parties. Furthermore, the statutory upgrade does not benefit, and may even harm, pipeline safety. As the upgrade codified the status quo of the bargaining between the oil SOEs and the local governments, the 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.

Suggested Citation

Li, Ji, The Leviathan's Rule by Law (December 2015). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp. 815-846, 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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