Hope for Rule of Law in China Rises With School

Tapping U.S. Jurists

Anyone would think that having a bestseller in a nation with nearly a billion readers would make the author a fortune.

But Qian Ning, whose book on life in America is a hit in countless Chinese cities, hasn't made a penny of profit from most of the paperbacks sold.

The problem, he says, is publishing industry pirates. Mr. Qian is the son of a powerful figure, Vice Premier Qian Qichen. But, says the younger Qian: "I am powerless to track down the pirates ... even my publishing house has no way to stop the theft of my work."

Although China recently passed a law prohibiting the theft of intellectual property, the authorities here say that piracy is so rampant that they cannot enforce the law across the country.

Thirty years after Communist China's founding father, Mao Zedong, launched a decade-long attack on the legal system, the government is still trying to reconstruct a framework for law and enforcement to guide the country into the next century.

"China today is very similar to America in the years just after the [1776] revolution," says an American legal scholar here. "It is in a state of flux, and only now are the laws and lawyers being produced that will shape China's future."

One of the boldest experiments in mapping out the nation's evolution is taking place at Tsinghua University's new law school, where Chinese youths are being exposed to legal models from around the world.

Though the university is 87 years old, the law school takes it in a bold new direction. For the first time since the 1949 Communist revolution, China is allowing students here to study Chinese and United States law side-by-side under teachers from both countries.

The move marks a breakthrough for China, which during the twilight of Mao's rule a generation ago was one of the most isolated nations on earth.

"Tsinghua is in the vanguard of China's opening to the rest of the world, says Wang Zhenmin, deputy director of the law school.

"Most of Tsinghua's law faculty studied overseas," Professor Wang adds in fluent English. "And they are helping prepare the next generation to continue China's march onto the global stage."

"Tsinghua is the closest thing China has to an American-style law school, says American Howard Chan, a former judge in New York who is helping set up the school.

Among the innovations here:

* Tsinghua admits graduate students who, like their American counterparts, study everything from constitutional to criminal law. Most other Chinese law schools accept high-school graduates and channel students into narrow areas of expertise.

* Tsinghua will feature multi-media classrooms and a digital library, and will publish China's first student-run law review.

* For the first time, Chinese students will practice before an American-style, 12-person jury.

* The school is setting up the country's first institutes in environmental law, health law, legal ethics, and intellectual property.

* Unlike at other Chinese law schools, instructors at Tsinghua employ the Socratic method, which teaches legal principles using discussion and reasoning.

"In China, students are socialized from an early age to listen and take notes, and the teacher is god," says one Tsinghua instructor. "So we've had a hard time deprogramming students to the point where they begin asking questions."

At Tsinghua, where half of the lectures are in English, many Chinese students come into contact for the first time with the tradition of reasoning that stretches from classical Greece to the European Enlightenment to American laws on individual rights.

One second-year student, who cites Thomas Paine as his favorite American writer, says that in China, "The individual is no match for the government in the legal arena today. Perhaps in the courts of the future we can achieve some balance between the citizen and the state."

Yet the school also seems to be training the neoconservatives of the future. "China needs stability to push forward its economic reforms, and any dissidents who threaten that stability deserve to be jailed," another student says.

Several party leaders recently proposed moving China toward rule by law. But it is unclear whether they want a level playing field across the entire system or merely on economic issues.

Tsinghua's Wang says the university is setting up a Rule of Law Institute where "scholars will compare different theories on international law, human rights, and constitutionalism, and in turn offer suggestions to policymakers." He adds, "Many Tsinghua graduates in the government back making the school a model for the rest of the country."

During the rise of reform-minded Zhu Rongji, named China's new premier Tuesday, hundreds of Tsinghua graduates were named to top posts.

"Tsinghua graduates tend to be very open-minded, and many support stronger links with the US," Professor Chan, the visiting American, says.

During a recent visit to Tsinghua, US Ambassador James Sasser said the new law school marked a milestone in US-China cooperation.

Ties between Washington and Beijing were frozen after the Chinese Army killed pro-democracy protesters at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989. Since then, China's suspect record on human rights has triggered a steady stream of criticism from the US Congress.

But a Western official here says that cooperation will work better than confrontation. "China is now more open to contacts with the US than at any time since the Communist revolution, and the congressmen who really want to change things here should back joint programs like Tsinghua's," he says.

Chan says the law school is being set up with a $3.5 million donation from Rong Yiren, who earlier this week ended a five-year term as China's vice president. Mr. Rong, whose family had been among China's richest, was one of the few capitalists to survive the 1949 revolution. Although he helped the Communists nationalize his family's factories, he was persecuted during Mao's Cultural Revolution, begun in 1965.

The fall of Rong is one of China's best-known riches-to-rags stories. His rise after the death of Mao to the largely symbolic post of vice president apparently reflects Beijing's aim to chart a new direction. With Rong's help, Tsinghua is becoming the most modern, high-tech law school in China, Chan says.

Unlike the Soviet-style, fortress-like buildings that dominate other Chinese schools, Tsinghua's "new law school will use columns and glass to create an open-air atmosphere," Chan says.

"The school's library will be the first to be open 24 hours per day in China, and its Western-style student lounges and cafe will make it a good place to hang out as well as study," says Bryan Smith, a Harvard University researcher teaching at Tsinghua.

Chan says the school aims to compile a digital legal data base similar to the Lexis system in the US. "Part of the problem in building a society that is ruled by law here is that few people now have access to the law," he says, adding that Tsinghua welcomes the donation of law books or computers from the West.

Wang says Tsinghua's goal is to become a globally linked law center where Internet and personnel exchanges help break down the barriers that divide China from the West. "By the time Tsinghua celebrates its 100th anniversary in the year 2011," Wang says, "we want the school to become a world-class center of learning."

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