Bridging Chinese academia & “the system” (updated)

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President Zhou Qiang & Xu Jiaxin, former head of the SPC Political Dept, with SPC guazhi & other scholars

In a number of legal systems around the world, governments and sometimes court systems have institutions or practices in place to bring legal academics into government service and sometimes into the courts (and there are also professionals going the other way round). My former Havard Law School contracts professor, Charles Fried, illustrates that, as he served as Solicitor General and an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  Similar practices occur in civil law countries–German law professors are often appointed to either the German or European judiciary.  This type of practice has the advantage of bringing some new thinking and ideas into the bureaucracy or judiciary, and for those who return to academia from government service, it grounds their scholarship in the real world. Harold Koh, of Yale Law School, is an exemplar, having spent almost three years as the US State Department’s Legal Adviser during the Obama administration.

What about China?  Chinese academics generally go directly into teaching without any experience in practice and when they advocate certain reforms, they may not understand the institutional environment (the “system” (体制).

Several years ago a system was put in place to bridge the worlds of academia and “the system,” that took one friend teaching in a Chinese law school into a local court, and has taken several others into the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). That system is the temporary assignment/transferred duty (挂职锻炼 guazhi duanlian) system.  I’ll use the term guazhi.

“temporary assignment” (挂职)

As I wrote in my 1993 article, the courts (including the Supreme People’s Court (SPC)) have long used the guazhi system.  Back then (and now) it is used to send cadres (of which judges are one type) to the basic level or at least the lower level for some “real life” experience (while retaining their upper-level position) and often is the prelude for promotion.  The system has finally caught the attention of political scientists outside of China, as some recent academic articles attest.

Under the guazhi program that these friends participated in, academics go into the courts and procuracy for one or two years, depending on the institution.  The basis for the guazhi system between legal academia and the courts and other legal institutions was originally a 2011 joint document between the Central Political-Legal Committee and the Ministry of Education, Some Opinions on Plans for Cultivating Outstanding Legal Talent (教育部 中央政法委员会关于实施卓越法律人才教育培养计划的若干意见). This document has been updated to incorporate the latest policies on training high-quality legal professionals in the post 19th Party Congress new era.

In October 2018, the Ministry of Education and Central Political-Legal Committee issued an updated (2.0) version of this document.  The guazhi system must have been assessed as worthwhile, successful, and helpful in training legal professionals for the new era because it remains firmly in place: “select core law school legal academics to go to the operational departments of the legal system for temporary assignment” (选聘高校法学骨干教师到法治实务部门挂职锻炼).

The full text of the document (关于建立人民法院与法学院校双向交流机制的指导意见), that the SPC issued to implement the 2011 joint document appears not to have been released, and it is too soon (as of this writing) for the SPC to have updated its earlier document. The requirements for guazhi scholars are clear from the notice soliciting applications. The small number of scholars posted to the SPC must commit for a two year period, may sit as judges (they are appointed as deputy division chiefs or their equivalent and confirmed and removed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee), must be recommended by their home institution, meet both (the standard) political and scholarly requirements, and be under the age of 55. They must work at least two days a week or at least 100 hours a year and may commit to the SPC either part or full time.

SPC guazhi scholars have included:

In the field of international/cross-border law, Liu Jingdong of the International Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Shan Wenhua of Xi’an Jiaotong University. A few searches show that Professor Liu, who was posted to the #4 Civil Division (dealing with cross-border issues) worked on some of the important issues that the division is dealing with: maritime law, arbitration, free trade zones, and Belt & Road. Professor Liu’s farewell to the SPC #4 Division gives a flavor of the issues that the division is dealing with as well as the long hours worked by its judges(and may go some way to explaining why guidelines on the operation of the China International Commercial Court have not yet been issued).

Criminal law: Lin Wei of the China Youth University of Political Studies and Lu Jianping and Liu Guangsan of Beijing Normal University. Professors Lin and Lu have both commented on death penalty-related issues.

Administrative Division: Wang Xizhuang of Peking University.

Judicial Reform and Research Office: Sun Xianzhong (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) and Wang Haiyan (China University of Political Science and Law).

The scholars are all from leading institutions and many of them have some experience outside of China.  Several of them were asked to stay beyond the original two years, indicating that they were well-received. The vast majority have been men.

The bottom line is–does guazhi work for both the institution and the individual?  In theory, guazhi in the SPC should benefit both sides–the academics, who generally lack practical experience, the SPC, by having another pair of senior hands to work on research linked to drafting judicial interpretations and other policy documents with some fresh ideas, including ideas based on research or experience abroad.

But it likely depends on other skills of the individuals involved.  Are the scholars able to adapt to the culture of the hierarchical Chinese court system?  Do their temporary colleagues help them to adapt or do they step away? Are they able to communicate with senior court leaders in the required language?  When they discuss cases, visit local courts or train local judges, are they able to leave academic jargon behind?  One knowledgeable person suggested that the best guazhi scholars are able to influence senior leaders in a positive way, bringing new ideas into the bureaucratic court system, while another noted that unless guazhi scholars work full-time, their contribution will be limited, as they fail to harmonize with the way the system operates.

 

Farewell Judge Fang Jingang

 

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Funeral of Judge Fang Jinggang, #4 Circuit Court, Zhengzhou

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from website of Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center

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While Party leaders (including Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang) were attending the 19th Communist Party Congress, tragedy again struck the Chinese judiciary. Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Judge Fang Jingang, who was working in the #4 Circuit Court in Zhengzhou, succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 51. Joining the dark-suited crowd pictured above (his circuit court colleagues and selected current and former senior personnel from Supreme People’s Court (SPC) headquarters and elsewhere, including his former superior Jing Hanchao, now deputy secretary of the Central Political Legal Committee )  in spirit was a large crowd of former colleagues and friends, located in China and abroad who were unable to attend the funeral in person.

Judge Fang can be considered a symbol of the new generation of elite Chinese judges. He spent many years  in the local courts as well as the SPC and also spent time abroad.  Like many of his colleagues, he had a PhD, and had worked in Hunan courts before being recruited to the SPC, initially to the Institute of Applied Jurisprudence and SPC’s judicial reform office. While at the Institute and thereafter, he and colleagues translated foreign materials (including several year-end reports of the federal judiciary) for internal reference and publication and he continued to research and make use of foreign law. He also spent several months at Yale Law School as a visiting scholar and as a result made friends among the Chinese law academic community in the United States (and continued to keep up with English language news, presumably from foreign sources).

After he returned to China he transferred to the “front line”–to the SPC’s case acceptance division and #2 civil division and was also sent to work in Tibet’s Higher People’s Court for three years under the SPC’s “assist Tibet” program.  While at the #2 civil division, he was part of the team of people drafting the #4 Company Law interpretation and has been at the #4 Circuit Court in Zhengzhou since the beginning of this year.  He continued to work with his #2 civil division colleagues on the Company Law interpretation and somehow find time to write articles on the interpretation, including one comparing US corporation law with the new Company Law interpretation, the latter published posthumously.

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Judge Fang in meeting at 4th Circuit with Columbia Law School Prof. Benjamin Liebman & others, May, 2017

SPC-related media obituaries range from the very official (on the SPC website) to the more personal (this one with quotes from several of his former colleagues). Early indications are that Judge Fang may also become a “model judge” (like Judge Zou Bihua) as SPC President Zhou Qiang and Executive Vice President Shen Deyong have already said that others should learn from Judge Fang. Judge Fang was posthumously awarded the title of “national excellent judge.”

Query whether Judge Fang’s death might indicate that the SPC’s circuit court model is too “lean and mean.” Statistics issued by the SPC in August indicate that almost half of all cases accepted by the SPC in the first half of this year have been accepted by the circuit courts, meaning that circuit court judges are under extreme pressure to deal with cases that are complicated/involving large amounts in dispute on time, and discrete inquiries indicate that many are working weekends and into the night.  Like Fang, many of them who were involved in judicial interpretation drafting when working at SPC headquarters continue to provide input to the work of their colleagues at SPC headquarters and are pulled into other research and writing projects.  And like Fang, working in a circuit court means that they away from their families.

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Judge Fang, center, singing karaoke

When singing karaoke recently, he changed the lyrics of a song to say “live as a fourth circuit person, die as a fourth circuit spirit.” 还说:“生是四巡人,死是四巡鬼”