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STL Hosts Sino-US Comparative Law Symposium

Kicking off the celebrations for its 10th anniversary, Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL) hosted an academic symposium on “China, The U.S. and Comparative Law Today“. The event took place on the 23rd and 24th of November and brought together leading scholars, from China and abroad, to explore the concept of legal orientalism by considering how interactions across borders and legal systems have shaped law in both China and the US. Speakers also grappled with the implications of legal orientalism for the field of comparative law and legal reform projects.

On November 23rd, STL Associate Clinical Professor Nicholas Frayn chaired the main public session, during which Professor Teemu Ruskola at Emory University School of Law, the author of Legal Orientalism: China, The United States, and Modern Law, discussed his book. In his book, he argues that the US conception of its own legal system was in part formulated through its interactions with Chinese law and its understanding of the Chinese legal system. Legal orientalism suggests that the conventional ways that legal practitioners, scholars, and government officials engage across legal systems can prevent meaningful understanding of the “other” system. Thus, Ruskola’s account challenges the very enterprise of comparative law and suggests comparative law tells us more about the practitioner’s own legal system, than about the one she claims to study.

Engaging in this comparative discussion between Chinese and Western legal cultures, Liang Zhiping, Professor at Chinese National Academy of Arts, presented his own views on the challenges faced by China. He argued that, since China did not experience changes akin to the Western model of reform, China had to find a new base that weaved in elements of its own traditions. Finally, the session concluded with Zheng Ge, Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University KoGuan Law School, offering his perspective on the matter by analyzing contemporary Chinese law through the lens of his prior teaching experiences in Hong Kong. He examines Ruskola’s account of Chinese Law, especially Chinese traditional law, as compared to that depicted by other Chinese scholars.

The following day was divided into four workshops. The first was titled “Comparative Law And The Problem of Legal Orientalism: What’s Next?”, the second was titled “The United States and the Legacy of Legal Orientalism”, while the third was titled “Historical Origins and Impacts of Legal Orientalism” and finally the fourth, “ Comparative Law and Chinese Legal Reform.”

These workshops further investigated the concept of legal orientalism from several angles. Some speakers interrogated the very existence of the phenomenon, challenging some of the claims of legal orientalism, while considering the implications for comparative law or of any study across legal systems. Other speakers considered how the phenomenon of legal orientalism has shaped legal development in the US while others considered how orientalizing notions of Chinese law may influence legal reform in China.

The workshops were moderated by STL’s faculty while speakers included professors from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Emory University, and Hong Kong University.

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