Law, Trust and Institutional Change in China: Evidence from Qualitative Fieldwork
46 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2017 Last revised: 1 Mar 2017
Date Written: January 12, 2017
China’s rapid growth in the absence of autonomous legal institutions of the kind found in the west appears to pose a problem for theories which stress the importance of law for economic development. In this article we draw on interviews with lawyers, entrepreneurs and financial market actors to illustrate the complexity of attitudes to contract, corporate and financial law and economic growth in contemporary China. In the case of product markets, we find that business relations are increasingly characterised by a mix of trust-based transacting and legal formality which is not fundamentally different from practice in the west. Financial markets are less like their western counterparts, thanks to the preponderant role of government in asset allocation, and a lack of transparency in market pricing. However, in both sets of markets we find evidence of a transition from inter-personal trust (guanxi) to impersonal transacting, and of growing demands from business and legal groups for the impartial application of legal rules and market regulations. China’s experience does not suggest that law is irrelevant or unrelated to growth, but that legal and economic institutions coevolve in the transition from central planning to a market economy.
Keywords: Chinese law; new institutional economics; law and finance; law and development; guanxi
JEL Classification: G20, K12, K22, K41, K42, N25, O17, O43, P20
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