Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Jerome Alan Cohen

Whatever else the nineteen sixties may be remembered for—the proliferation of macroweapons, microstates or miniskirts—historians of the decade might allot a footnote to the more modest, but less disconcerting, proliferation of English language studies of Chinese law. Thirty years ago a survey of then recent research on Chinese law revealed “an increased interest on the part of Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholars.” The author noted that, although “[t]he amount of work achieved … constitutes as yet but a slight beginning in what is still a largely unworked field,” it “clearly indicates the potential contributions which further researches can make to our understanding of the evolution of Chinese social, economic and political life and institutions.” No one rose to dispute the author's conclusion that Chinese law offers “a rich source from which to derive a more realistic appraisal of the forces actually at work in Chinese society at different epochs.…” Yet, except in Japan, where all scholars of things Chinese received additional stimulus from the adventitious circumstances of international politics, the cumulative impact of the Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the Chinese Civil War and the triumph of Communism slowed the development of what had been a promising academic field.

Hide All

1 Peake, Cyrus H., “Recent Studies On Chinese Law,” Political Science Quarterly, LII (1937), p. 117.

2 For Japanese scholarship on Chinese law before 1953, see Fairbank, John K. and Banno, Masataka, Japanese Studies of Modern China (Rutland, Vt. and Tokyo, 1955), pp. 7380; for publications during the period 1945–1960, see Katsuaki, Hirano, “Sengo ni okeru Chūgoku hō kankei bunken mokuroku” [A Bibliography of Post-War Publications on Chinese Law], Hogaku shirin, LVIII (1961), pp. 178199; and for a convenient listing in English of Japanese language books and articles on Chinese Communist law, see “Japanisches Schrifttum zum Recht der Volksdemokratien Asiens,” Osteuropa-Recht, VI (1960), pp. 303305; and Uchida, Hisashi, “Japanisches Schrifttum zum Recht der Ostblockstaaten,”id., IX (1963), pp. 239–264.

8 See, e.g., Greenfield, D. E., “Marriage By Chinese Law and Custom In Hongkong,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, VII (1958), pp. 437—451; McAleavy, Henry, “Dien in China and Vietnam,” JAS, XVII (1958), pp. 403415; and Twitchett, Denis, “The Fragment of the T'ang Ordinances of the Department of Waterways Discovered at Tunhuang,” Asia Major, N.S., VI (1957), pp. 2379; and “The Fan Clan's Charitable Estate, 1050–1760,” in Confucianism in Action (Nivison and Wright, ed., Stanford, 1959).

4 Staunton, George T., Ta Tsing Leu Lee, Being the Fundamental Laws … of the Penal Code of China (London, 1810).

5 Alabaster, Ernest, Notes and Commentaries on Chinese Criminal Law (London, 1899); “Notes on Chinese Law and Practice Preceding Revision,” Journal of the North China Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, N.S., XXXVII (1906), pp. 83149; “Dips into an Imperial Law Officer's Compendium,” Monumenta Serica, II (1936), pp. 426436.

6 Jamieson, George, Chinese Family and Commercial Law (Shanghai, 1921).

7 In 1946, ten years after his retirement as Dean of Harvard Law School, Pound, at the age of seventyfive, became adviser to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of China for two years. See Pound, , Some Problems of the Administration of Justice in China (Nanking, 1948); “The Chinese Constitution,” New York University Law Quarterly Review, XXII (1947), pp. 194232; “Progress of the Law in China,” Washington Law Review, XXIII (1948), pp. 345362; “Comparative Law and History as Bases for Chinese Law,” Harvard Law Review, LXI (1948), pp. 749762; and “The Chinese Civil Code in Action,” Talane Law Review, XXIX (1955), pp. 277291.

8 See, e.g., Martin, W. A. P., Traces of International Law in Ancient China (N.P., 1881); Jernigan, T. R., China in Law and Commerce (New York, 1905); Bryan, R. T. Jr., An Outline of Chinese Civil Law (Shanghai, 1925); Blume, W. W., “Christian Legal Education in China,” China Law Review, I (19221924), pp. 131134; and “Legal Education in China,” id., pp. 305–311; and Lobingier, C. S., “The Corpus Juris Of New China,” Tulane Law Review, XIX (1945), pp. 512552, which lists that author's numerous prewar essays.

9 See, e.g., Wu, John C. H., The Art of Law (Shanghai, 1936); Chu, Boyer P. H., Commentaries on the Chinese Civil Code (Shanghai, 1935); and Cheng, F. T., The Chinese Supreme Court Decisions (Peking, 1923).

10 For sporadic exceptions, see Yang, Chao-Lung, “Powers of Chinese Courts,” Vanderbilt Law Review, I (1947) pp. 1646; Kwei, Yu, “Some Judicial Problems Facing China,” Washington Law Review, XXIII (1948), pp. 363374; Cheng, Tien-Hsi, “The Development and Reform of Chinese Law,” Current Legal Problems, I (1948), pp. 170187; Chen, Chiven, “The Foster Daughter-In-Law System In Formosa,” American Journal of Comparative Law, VI (1957), pp. 302314; and Liu, Chin-Sui, “The Chinese Council of Grand Justices,”id., VII (1958), pp. 402–408.

11 See especially Meijer, Marinus J., The Introduction of Modern Criminal Law in China (Batavia [Jakarta], 1949); Van der Valk, M. H., Interpretations of the Supreme Court at Peking, Years 1915 and 1916 (Batavia [Jakarta], 1949), and Conservatism in Modern Chinese Family Law (Leiden, 1956); Hulsewé, A. F. P., Remnants of Han Law, Vol. I (Leiden, 1955); Van Gulik, Robert H., T'ang-yin-pi-shih, “Parallel Cases from under the Pear-tree” (Leiden, 1956).

12 Philastre, P. L. F., Le Code Annamite, etc., 2 vols. (Paris, 1876; second ed., 1909).

13 Hoang, Pierre, Notions Techniques Sur La Propriété En Chine (Shanghai, 1897); and Le Mariage Chinois Au Point De Vue Légal (Shanghai, 1898).

14 Pelliot, Paul, “Notes de bibliographie chinoise, II: Le Droit chinois,” Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême Orient, IX (1909), pp. 123152.

15 Deloustal, Raymond, “La justice dans l'ancien Annam,” Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême Orient, VIIIXIII (19081913); XIX (1919); XXII (1922).

16 Boulais, Guy, Manuel de code chinois (Shanghai, 1924).

17 Maspéro, Henri, “Le Serment dans la procédure judiciaire de la Chine antique,” Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques, III (19341935), pp. 257317.

18 Escarra, Jean, Le Droit chinois (Peking, 1936). This work has been translated into English: Browne, Gertrude R., tr., Chinese Law (Seattle, 1936), reprinted (xerox) (Cambridge, Mass., 1961). For other useful work by Escarra, see, e.g., “Western methods of researches into Chinese law,” Chinese Social and Political Science Review, VIII (1924), pp. 227248.

19 For happy exceptions, see Balazs, Étienne, Le Traité juridique duSouci-chou” (Leiden, 1954); and Gernet, Jacques, “La Vente en Chine d'après les contrats de Touen-houang (IXe–Xe siècles),” T'oung Pao, XLV (1957), pp. 295391.

20 See, e.g., Bünger, Karl, Quellen zur Rechtsgeschichte der T'ang Zeit (Peiping, 1946); “The Punishment of Lunatics and Negligents According to Classical Chinese Law,” Studia Serica, IX (1950), pp. 1—16.

21 See especially Kroker, Eduard J. M., “Rechtsgewohnheiten in der Provinz Shantung,” Monumenta Serica, XIV (1955), pp. 215302; “Dienst-und Werkverträge im chinesischen Gewohnheitsrecht,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, CVII (1957), pp. 130160; and “The Concept of Property in Chinese Customary Law,” Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 3d series, VII (1959), pp. 123146.

22 Seattle, 1960.

23 Paris and The Hague, 1961.

24 Cambridge, Mass., 1962.

25 London, 1962.

26 Cambridge, England, 1963.

27 See, e.g., Kristovich, Public Administrator v. Shu Tong Ng, 228 California Appellate 2d 160 (1964), certiorari denied by the United States Supreme Court, 381 U.S. 902 (1965); and Louknitsky v. Louknitsky, 123 California Appellate 2d 406 (1954); these were respectively an inheritance case and a divorce case in which, had expert testimony on Chinese law been produced, it would have facilitated enlightened judicial decision-making. See also Reghizzi, Gabriele Crespi, “Legal Aspects of Trade with China: The Italian Experience,” Harvard International Law Journal, IX (Winter, 1968), pp. 85139; Li, Victor H., “Legal Aspects of Trade with Communist China,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, III (1964), PP. 5771. In negotiating the recent treaty on outer space, one of the frustrations experienced by members of the American delegation to the United Nations arose from their inability to find within the United States Government someone trained in both law and Chinese studies who could verify the accuracy of the Chinese version of the treaty, which had been prepared by the U.N. Secretariat. The United States finally had to rely on the approval of the delegation of the Republic of China.

28 See Buxbaum, David C., “Preliminary Trends in the Development of the Legal Institutions of Communist China and the Nature of the Criminal Law,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, XI (1962), pp. 130; Cohen, Jerome A., “The Criminal Process in the People's Republic of China: An Introduction,” Harvard Law Review, LXXIX (1966), pp. 469533; Hsiao, Gene T., “Communist China: Legal Institutions,” Problems of Communism, XIV (1965), pp. 112121; Lee, Luke T., “Chinese Communist Law: Its Background and Development,” Michigan Law Review, LX (1962), pp. 439472; Ginsburgs, George, “Theory And Practice of Parliamentary Procedure in Communist China: Organizational and Institutional Principles,” University of Toronto Law Journal, XV (1963), pp. 148; Ginsburgs, G. and Stahnke, Arthur, “The Genesis of the People's Procuratorate in Communist China, 1949–1951,” China Quarterly, No. 20 (1964), pp. 137, and “The People's Procuratorate in Communist China: The Period of Maturation, 1951–54,” China Quarterly, No. 24. (1965), pp. 5391.

29 See the articles by Buxbaum, Cohen, Hsiao, Lee, and Ginsburgs and Stahnke cited in note 28; also Buxbaum, David C., “Horizontal and Vertical Influences Upon the Substantive Criminal Law in China: Some Preliminary Observations,” Osteuropa-Recht, X (1964), pp. 3151; Hsia, Tao-tai, “Justice in Peking: China's Legal System on Show,” Current Scene, V (1967), pp. 112; Lin, Fu-shun, “Communist China's Emerging Fundamentals of Criminal Law,” American Journal of Comparative Law, XIII (1964), pp. 8093; and Tao, Lung-sheng, “The Criminal Law of Communist China,” Cornell Law Quarterly, LII (1966), pp. 4368.

30 See Hsiao, Gene T., “The Role of Economic Contracts in Communist China,” California Law Review, LIII (1965), pp. 10291060; Pfeffer, Richard M., “The Institution of Contracts in the Chinese People's Republic,” China Quarterly, No. 14 (1963), pp. 153177, and No. 15 (1963), pp. 115139; and “Contracts in China Revisited, With a Focus on Agriculture, 1949–63,” China Quarterly, No. 28 (1966), pp. 106129.

31 See Chiu, Hungdah, “Communist China's Attitude Toward International Law,” American Journal of International Law (hereafter AJIL), LX (1966), pp. 245267; “The Theory and Practice of Communist China With Respect to the Conclusion of Treaties,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, V (1966), pp. 113; “Communist China And The Law Of Outer Space,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, XVI (1967), pp. 11351138; “Certain Legal Aspects Of Communist China's Treaty Practice,” Proceedings of the American Society of International Law (hereafter Proceedings) (1967), pp. 117126; and “Communist China's Attitude Toward the United Nations: A Legal Analysis,” AJIL, LXII (1968), pp. 2050; Cohen, Jerome A., “Chinese Attitudes Toward International Law—And Our Own,” Proceedings (1967), pp. 108116; Edwards, R. Randle, “The Attitude Of The People's Republic Of China Toward International Law And The United Nations,” Papers On China, XVII (Harvard University, 1963), pp. 235271; Hsia, Tao-tai, “Settlement Of Dual Nationality Between Communist China And Other Countries,” Osteuropa-Recht, XI (1965), pp. 2738; and Johnston, Douglas, “Treaty Analysis And Communist China: Preliminary Observations,” Proceedings (1967), pp. 126134. For an interesting article by a political scientist, see Leng, Shao-chuan, “Communist China's Position On Nuclear Arms Control,” Virginia Journal of International Law, VII (1966), pp. 101116.

32 See articles by Crespi Reghizzi and Li, note 27, and Hsiao, Gene T., “Communist China's Foreign Trade Organization,” Vanderbilt Law Review, XX (1967), pp. 303319.

33 Cohen, Jerome A., “Interviewing Chinese Refugees: Indispensable Aid To Legal Research on China,” Journal of Legal Education, XX (1967), pp. 3362.

34 See Cohen, Jerome A., “Chinese Mediation on the Eve of Modernization,” California Law Review, LIX (1966), pp. 12011226; Buxbaum, David C., Osteuropa-Recht, note 29, and “Chinese Family Law in a Common Law Setting,” JAS, XXV (1966), pp. 621644; Ma, Herbert H. P., “The Chinese Control Yuan: An Independent Supervisory Organ of the State,” Washington University Law Quarterly (1963), pp. 401426; and Tsao, Wen Yen, “The Chinese Family from Customary Law to Positive Law,” Hastings Law Journal, XVII (1966), pp. 727765. For an historian's analysis of some Ch'ing judicial decisions, see Harrison, Judy F., “Wrongful Treatment of Prisoners: A Case Study of Ch'ing Legal Practice,” JAS, XXIII (1964), pp. 227244.

35 Cambridge, Mass., 1967.

36 Cohen, Jerome A., The Criminal Process in the People's Republic of China, 1949–1963: An Introduction (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).

37 Justice in Communist China (New York, 1967).

38 Chinese Law, Past and Present (New York, 1966).

39 Guide To Selected Legal Sources of Mainland China (Washington, D. C., 1967).

40 Cambridge, Mass., 1968. This volume was sponsored by the Joint Committee on Contemporary China's Subcommittee on Chinese Law, whose origin and activities are discussed below.

41 See, e.g., “The People's Courts in Communist China,” American Journal of Comparative Law, XI (1962), pp. 5265.

42 See Dicks, Review of Ni Cheng-ao, kuo-chi-fa-chung-te ssu-fa kuan-hsia wen-t'i [Problems of Jurisdiction in International Law], International and Comparative Law Quarterly, XV (1966), pp. 913915.

43 See “Voluntary Surrender In Chinese Law,” in Law In Eastern Europe, XIV (1967), pp. 359394; “Movables And Immovables And Connected Subjects In Chinese Law,” id., VII (1963), pp. 167–206; “[The Law Of Inheritance In] China,” id., V (1961), pp. 297–364; “Security Rights In Communist China,” Osteuropa-Recht, IX (1963), pp. 210235.

44 Eduard J. M. Kroker has continued to be productive; see “Sachenrechtliche Gewohnheiten in der Provinz Feng-t'ien (China),” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft (hereafter ZVR), LXII (1960), pp. 184; and “Rechtsgewohnheiten in Hei-lung-chiang (China),” ZVR, LXVI (1964), pp. 29156. In addition, see, e.g., Mäding, Klaus, Chinesisches traditionelles Erbrecht (Berlin, 1966); Bauer, Wolfgang, “Die Frühgeschichte des Eigentums in China,” ZVR, LXIII (1961), pp. 118184; and Miyazawa, Koichi, “Über einige Vorschriften allgemeinen Charakters des ‘Kai-Yüan-lü’ etc.”, Zeitschrift für die gesamte Strafrechtswissenschaft (hereafter ZGS) LXXVII (1965), pp. 119138. For recent studies relating to problems of modernization, see, e.g., Middendorff, Wolf, “Strafgerichtsbarkeit und Kriminalität auf Formosa,” ZGS, LXXVIII (1966), pp. 339; and Tse-chièn, Wang, “Die Aufnahme des europäischen Rechts in China,” Archiv für die Civilistische Praxis, CLXVI (1966), pp. 343351.

45 See Engelborgh-Bertels, Marthe et Dekkers, René, La République populaire de Chine, cadres institutionnels et réalisations. I: L'histoire et le droit (Bruxelles, 1963); Engelborgh-Bertels, , “L'Assimilation De L'Esprit Du Droit Occidental En Chine,” Co-existence, IV (1967), pp. 7793; Dekkers, , “La vie juridique,” in Le régime et les institutions de la république populaire chinoise (Bruxelles, 1960) pp. 5668.

46 See “Lo Studio Del Sistema Giuridico Cinese Contemporaneo,” L'Est, No. 3 (1967), pp. 165205; and “Diritto Cinese E Rivoluzione Culturale,” Rivista Di Diritto Civile, XIII (1967), pp. 301305. Also recall the article by Crespi Reghizzi, note 27.

47 See Aubin, Françoise, “Index de ‘Un code des Yuan’ de P. Ratchnevsky,” Mélanges publiés par l'Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises, II (1960), pp. 423515.

48 “Notes on Chinese Law and Practice Preceding Revision,” Journal of the North China Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, N.S. XXXVII (1960), pp. 139141.

49 Building on earlier versions, the Law Revision Planning Group of the Council for United States Aid of the Republic of China has published very good English translations of the basic legislation in force on Taiwan today and has thereby done a great deal to alleviate problems of coping with Republican terminology. See Laws of the Republic of China, First Series (Taipei, 1961), Second Series (Taipei, 1962).

50 For discussion of inadequacies in the translations of legal materials published by both Peking's Foreign Languages Press and agencies of the United States Government, see Jerome A. Cohen, Review of A. P. Blaustein, Fundamental Legal Documents of Communist China, Yale Law Journal, LXXII (1963), pp. 838, 842.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed