Rebuilding a Bridge

Linked with Francis S.L. Wang – USA & China.

Published on Association of American Law Schools AALS.org, by Professor Francis SL Wang, 8 pages, May 2004.

An excerpt: … With the forced opening of China, beginning in the mid 19th century, and through a succession of unequal treaties which granted ever expanding rights to the Western powers, China’s traditional administrative structure slowly collapsed. The Western powers demanded and were granted extraterritorial rights in China.

This meant that their nationals and commercial enterprises had the right to be tried in their own consular courts applying their own laws. The Chinese system of adjudication was scorned. This coupled with various territorial concessions (foreign powers granted sovereignty over large areas of land at the treaty ports opened to Western trade), created in China two systems of law and adjudication – one for the Chinese, and another for nationals of the foreign powers.

While China has had a long tradition of law, its organization and emphasis, as well as the institutions for adjudication, were not similar to those of the West. Its highly centralized governmental structure dating back more than two thousand years, which reinforced a policy of stability, did not resonate with Western legal structures. There are many parallels, but the approach and goals were different.


The potent combination of a lack of understanding coupled with a powerful war machine enabled the Western powers to impose their vision of the rule of law on China. The Qing Dynasty’s response was mixed – from total rejection (Boxer Rebellion) to those who advocated a total embrace of Western ideas and institutions. China looked to the Japanese reformation as a model. However, the intransigence of millennia old values and institutions did not yield easily to change, even to some of the more moderate changes which were proposed … (full long text).

Comments are closed.