NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Naumann Foundation Study: China's Legal System Lacks Justice

June 4, 1996

During his visit, President Clinton facetiously suggested "swapping American lawyers for Chinese engineers," since China has only 115,000 lawyers for 1.2 billion people. Actually, China is in desperate need of trained lawyers and judges -- and a legal system that protects civil and property rights -- according to one of the few field studies by western researchers.

Researchers for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, based in Germany, conducted field surveys in 1994 and 1995, interviewing farmers, businessmen, lawyers and judges in two provinces of China to assess the legal system.

  • They found bribery is widespread, with 72 percent of businessmen and citizens surveyed in the field saying they bribe officials, and judges are frequently corrupt, since they must raise their own revenue.
  • Bribery is also used by criminals -- particularly government officials and managers of state-owned industries -- to escape punishment.
  • Torture by local police and security officials is a widespread problem -- for instance, attorneys in Hunan province told researchers "only women and those over 70 do not get beaten."

In some courts, the local Communist Party secretary is president of the court -- with the power to appoint other members of the court -- and many judges have little or no legal training. Also, there is little distinction between criminal and civil courts, and the standard operating procedure for criminal trials is "decision first and trial second."

The researchers also found that almost all economic activities -- from opening a business to closing one -- require "administrative permission," making it very difficult to go into business. For instance, to obtain permission for a new business, a factory manager spent 10 months obtaining 392 official approvals -- but it was estimated he would need a total of 440.


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