Chinese Law

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

This module is designed to provide students with a broad introduction to China’s legal past and present.  It is divided into two sections: one examining the laws of traditional China and the other examining the laws of modern China.  Each week’s lecture will introduce students to key features within a major “field” of law, and during the tutorials students will consider and discuss in detail a specific issue emanating from this major “field”.

During Term One, students will be introduced to China’s legal past through an examination of the legal thought, institutions, personnel, and practices prevalent during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911).  Topics covered may include (but are not limited to): ancient legal thought, sources of law, criminal procedure, traditional commercial/contract law, marriage/divorce, adoption, land law, extraterritoriality, and East-West treaties.

Term Two focuses on legal developments in post-1949 China.  Topics may include (but are not limited to): post-1949 legal history, constitutional law, legislation, sources of law, legal institutions, criminal law, civil procedure, property law, and marriage/divorce.

Prior knowledge of Chinese language is not required; however, students will be expected to learn specific terminology for traditional and modern Chinese law.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • A familiarity with the contents of and methods for analysing traditional Chinese law;
  • A firm grasp of key terminology related to traditional Chinese law;
  • An understanding of key features of traditional Chinese law related to criminal justice, family law, commercial law and property law;
  • Knowledge of Chinese-Western interaction during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the legal ramifications of that interaction;
  • Changes to legal theory and institutions during China’s transition from an imperial system to a republic;
  • A familiarity with post-1949 CE developments in Chinese legal history;
  • A comprehensive understanding of modern Chinese legal institutions, court structure, and personnel associated with law;
  • A broad understanding of key “fields” of law in modern China;
  • An ability to assess the development of and specific features of modern Chinese law, such as marriage law, criminal procedure, constitutional law and legislation.


  • Weekly 2 hour lecture
  • 1 hour tutorial (please see syllabus for details of when tutorials are scheduled)

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 20% (2000 words)
  • Presentation: 10%
  • Unseen written exam: 70%

Suggested reading

  • G. MacCormack. The Spirit of Traditional Chinese Law.  U of Georgia Press, 1996.
  • C. Morris and D. Bodde.  Law in Imperial China.  Harvard U Press, 1968.
  • P. Potter. China’s Legal System.  Polity, 2013.
  • J. Chen.  Chinese Law: Context and Transformation.  Brill, 2008.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules