Law and Governance in Contemporary China

VU Amsterdam Summer School | Online Course

EU-China interdependent relations have evolved in recent decades. To decision makers and opinion leaders across the EU States, “engaging and cooperating with China is both an opportunity and necessity.” Yet, there lacks a consensus as to what a sound ‘China Strategy’ would be. In that light, we welcome students who are motivated to explore legal and governance issues in today’s China throughout the course, which will consist of opposing theories and disputing cases. 

Lead lecturers, Dr. QIAO Cong-rui and Prof. Tom Zwart, have gained considerable experience in the areas of law, governance and human rights in China, and established collaborations with the Supreme People’s Court and local courts on how to improve the delivery of justice in a variety of dispute situations. Tom is the 2020 laureate of the prestigious Li Buyun Law Prize, selected by a panel of senior legal scholars and practitioners in recognition of Tom’s contribution to research and teaching of human rights law in China for almost two decades.

Session 2
19 July to 30 July 2021 (Online)
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master, open to PhD staff and professionals
Co-ordinating lecturers         
Dr Qiao Cong-Rui and Prof Tom Zwart
Other lecturerstba
Forms of tuitionLectures, excursions, discussions, group work
Forms of assessmentParticipation, book or journal article review, presentation
Credits3 ECTS
Contact hours45 hours
Tuition fee€650-€950, depending on your situation. Read more about our fees.
Social programme
How to apply
Excited to join us? Secure your spot here!
This course is for Advanced Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students as well as professionals from various backgrounds with an interest in law and governance in contemporary China. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students with a wide variety of backgrounds.

The objective of this course is to: 

first, equip students with the knowledge necessary to make sense of China’s major legal and governance reforms, their outcomes and drawbacks; 

and second, help students acquire intellectual skills, in particular analytical, presentational and debating skills, to assess present and rising cases pertaining to China’s law and governance.

The following questions will be addressed during the course:

a. How do the legal and governance systems work in China?

b. How are human rights protected in China?

c. How are government powers regulated in China?

One: An Introduction 

Lecture Day (LD) 1: Sources of Chinese Law and Governance
--> Theories of law and governance
--> Concepts of law and state in ancient China
--> Concepts of law and state in modern China

LD 2: China's Governance Reforms I: Legal and Judicial Reforms
--> Legislative debates and reforms after the 1980s
--> Reforms of China's judicial organs
--> Professionalization of China's lawyers

LD 3: China's Governance Reforms II: Administrative Reforms
--> Reforms of the Ruling Party and State administration after the 1980s
--> Reforms of China's public security organs
--> A case on regulation of AI technology and pandemic crises
Two: A Human Rights PerspectiveLD 4: China's Involvements in the International Human Rights system
--> Human rights theories and mechanisms
--> Chinese human rights theories and practices
--> China's involvements in the international human rights system

LD 5:HR Issues in China (I)
--> Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance: A Case of CHinese Muslims

LD 6 : HR Issues in China (II)
--> Right to legal protection and right to fair trial
Three: A Legal Control PerspectiveLD 7: Legal Control of the State and Complaints against the Government
--> Gov. accountability: norms and mechanisms
--> Disputes over transparency, impartiality and proportionality of State decisions

LD 8: Challenging Gov. Actions: A Procedural Perspective
--> Internal mechanism: administrative reconsideration
--> External mechanism : administrative litigation
--> Alternative option: political petition

LD 9: Protection of Personal Data in A Digitalising Context
--> Government's processing of personal data: privacy concerns and legal reactions
Final day: Is the Chinese Governance Model Unique?
LD: 10: Final presentation and group debate 
*Note: course outline is provisional

You will gain knowledge about key aspects of China’s legal and governance system, so that you may better understand them. At the end of the course, each  student should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of both China’s major legal and governance reforms and their outcomes. Reforms which  to this day have not been sufficiently addressed in the existing English-language literature.
  • Explain the role of law in Chinese society, the way human rights protection  has evolved within China, and how government accountability works.
  • Demonstrate intellectual skills, in particular those necessary to analyse, make a good presentation and conduct a thoughtful debate. 
  • Show  that they can explain the key issues with China’s law and governance.

The reading material is dependent on the prior knowledge level of students regarding the topic. Changes may be made after registration has closed.
1. Books  

  • Jinfan ZHANG: The Tradition and Modern Transition of Chinese Law, translated by ZHANG Lixin, et al, Springer, 2014 (Print ISBN: 978-3-642-23265-7)
  • Daniel Bell and Joanne Bauer: The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights, Cambridge, 1999 [in particular, Joseph Chan, A Confucian Perspective on Human Rights for Contemporary China, page 212-223]

2. Academic journals

  • Yujun Feng, Legal Culture in China: A Comparison to Western Law, (2010) 16, Revue Juridique Polynesienne, page 115-123
  • Qianfan ZHANG: “A Constitution without Constitutionalism? The Paths of Constitutional Development in China”, the International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2010, page 950–976

3. News reports
This course will also offer you the opportunity to discuss relevant, current events in China. When appropriate, news reports will be recommended to and circulated among the students.

Tom Zwart
focuses on the interplay between law and culture, which includes religion. His research includes the following questions: Which value does the local culture accord to formal state law? Which other legal systems are recognised by local culture? Does local culture act as a building block or a stumbling block for compliance with formal state law? Which - invisible - cultural assumptions underlie formal state law? Which role is assigned to culture in the area of comparative law?
Zwart focuses in particular on human rights, especially concepts and ideas developed in the Global South, and the mutual acculturation of minorities, especially Muslims, and the societies of which they are part. In the field of human rights Zwart developed the so-called receptor approach to human rights, which regards culture and religion as building blocks rather than stumbling blocks for human rights protection and promotion. His reserach in this area was awarded with a 1 million Euro grant by the Dutch Foreign Office.

Do you want to make the most out of your summer? You can combine this course with the following course in session 1: