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Researching Chinese Law in English: Print & Online Resources   Tags: china, chinese law, communist party, mainland, people's republic  

Highlights resources available at/via Tulane libraries as well as on free, reliable websites. Coverage includes primary & secondary sources. Feel free to contact me whenever you need more help researching Chinese law in English.
Last Updated: Mar 21, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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Roy L. Sturgeon

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Roy L. Sturgeon, Foreign, Comparative, & International Law/Reference Librarian
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Like most nations, China has a written constitution. The current one was adopted in 1982 & has been amended 4 times. For more details, see:


Like most nations, China publishes gazettes (i.e., official government journals) containing new laws, regulations, & other legal information. But only in Chinese. For similar English-language sources, see:


"China Law. Do Not Try This At Home"


Basics & Superlatives

Established on October 1, 1949, in Beijing (or Peking as it is still sometimes called), the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the world's most populous nation, with around 1.4 billion souls. It is also the world's largest one-party state: that party being the Communist Party of China (CPC or CCP), which is the world's largest political organization, with around 85 million members. China has the world's fastest-growing & second-largest major economy, trailing only the United States (US), which it might surpass by decade's end. Its legal system is a hybrid of traditional Chinese law (dating back 3,000 years), Soviet law, & continental European—especially German—civil law.

Sources featured in this LibGuide pertain mostly to the PRC (or mainland China) & not the special administrative regions of Hong Kong & Macao or the self-governed island of Taiwan. For historical & political reasons, these 3 places—although Chinese—have different legal systems, sources, & research methods.


"Is There Law in China? Is There Justice?"

New York University law professor Jerome Cohen helped pioneer the study of Chinese law by US scholars in the 1960s. After Nixon's historic 1972 China trip, Cohen was among the first US academics to visit & practice law in the PRC. In 2008 he gave an invited lecture at UC San Diego about China's legal system. Watch below:


General Research Guides & Treatises

For more help with learning about & researching Chinese law, see:

Cover Art
Chinese Law: Context & Transformation (Rev. & exp. ed.) - Jianfu Chen
Call Number: KNQ68 .C3638 2016
Fully updated since previous edition in 2008. Discusses "legal culture" & modern law reform, constitutional law, legal institutions, law-making, administrative law, criminal law, criminal procedure law, civil law, property, family law, contracts, torts, business entities, securities, bankruptcy, IP, foreign investment & trade, Chinese investment overseas, dispute settlement, & law implementation.

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China Law Deskbook: A Legal Guide for Foreign-Invested Enterprises (4th ed., 2 vols.) - James M. Zimmerman
Call Number: KNQ78.B87 Z56 2014
Discusses the court system & litigation, contracts, financial regulation, taxation, tender & government procurement, consumer protection, customs & trade, labor & employment, M&A, liquidation & bankruptcy, securities, property rights & land use, environmental law, & dispute resolution. See book's website ( for free updates.

Cover Art
Chinese Legal Research - Paul Kossof
Call Number: KNQ47 .K67 2014
Gives background, tools, resources, & tips to effectively research Chinese law without learning written Chinese. Discusses the constitution, legislation, regulations, courts, treaties, secondary & internet sources, research strategies, & citations. Appendix has 3 of China's most important laws, selected lists of ratified treaties, & useful contact information.

Cover Art
China Law Reader - Lawrence Foster et al.
Call Number: KNQ440 .C47 2013
Introduces readers to the language of Chinese law. Also, broadly introduces Chinese law's nature & substance. Has vocabulary lists (in simplified Chinese characters, pinyin romanization, & English).

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Chinese Law & Legal Research - Wei Luo
Call Number: KNQ47 .L86 2005
Discusses the constitution & government structure, legal system & institutions, sources of law, legislative process, legal publishing & government information, primary & secondary sources, & research strategies. Also has 4 appendices of lists & bibliographies. Volume 8 in Hein's "Chinese Law Series."

Cover Art
Chinese Law: A Language Perspective - Deborah Cao
Call Number: KNQ92 .C36 2004
Author trained in both linguistics & law, & experienced as a court interpreter & legal translator. Explores communicative aspects of Chinese law. Discusses interpretative interaction between the past & present in Chinese law, & between Chinese & non-Chinese.

Foreign Law Guide - "China, People's Republic of"
Subscription database by BrillOnline Reference Works. Discusses government & legal system, primary sources, & other materials. Searchable & hyperlinked. Last updated 2016.


Citation Guides

For help with citing to Chinese law materials, see the Bluebook (Rule 20.2.4, pp. 194–5 & Table 2.9, pp. 344–9), Annex: Bluebook Supplemental Rules for Chinese Sources (pp. 559-66), Citation Guidelines for Chinese Language Materials, & Guide to Foreign & International Legal Citations (pp. 35–9).

Reel Chinese Law: Fact & Fiction

Take a break from reading & check out these flix on DVD @ Howard-Tilton Library:

  • Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
    Award-winning documentary about world-renowned Beijing-based artist & outspoken Chinese government critic Ai Weiwei. Gives nuanced treatment of today's China & 1 of its most compelling public figures. See film's website ( for more details. Also, check out sequel Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case on DVD @ Tulane Law Library (call # N7349 .A5 A86 2013 [Media]).
  • China From the Inside
    Fascinating & fair documentary about politics, women, freedom & justice, & the environment in today's rapidly changing China. Filmed openly & with government permission. See film's website ( for more details.
  • Human Rights in China: The Search for Common Ground
    Nuanced documentary examines UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights; uniqueness of Chinese culture; social order, economic change, & human rights; & religious persecution. Interviews some of the world's best China scholars, including Chinese professors, activists, & government officials.
  • Red Corner
    Award-winning actor Richard Gere stars as an American lawyer having business talks in Beijing. Suddenly he is arrested, accused of murder, & must prove it was a frame-up together with his court-appointed young female Chinese lawyer. Has romantic tension, a chase scene through old Beijing, a showdown at the US embassy, & lots of courtroom drama.
  • Struggle
    Brave documentary about 3 injured sweatshop workers in southern megacity Shenzhen & a crusading self-trained lawyer who helps them get compensation & regain their dignity. Has 1st-person interviews & rare courtroom footage. In Chinese with English subtitles. See film distributor's website ( for more details & films.
  • The People's Court: Introducing the Rule of Law in China
    Fascinating & fair documentary about efforts to modernize China's legal system. Interviews judges, lawyers, law professors & students, & ordinary citizens in Sichuan Province. Has rare courtroom footage. See film's website ( for more details.
  • The Story of Qiu Ju
    Award-winning black comedy about a very pregnant peasant woman's quest for justice in China's legal system. The incomparable Gong Li stars & the acclaimed Zhang Yimou directs. In Chinese with English subtitles. Based on prize-winning novella by contemporary writer Chen Yuanbin.

Good News!

It is much less difficult to research Chinese law in English than ever before. Accurate translations of most of China's major laws can be found in print &/or online (fee & free). In recent decades, growing numbers of scholars & practitioners (in & out of China) have published books, articles, & other materials in English, mirroring China's post–1978 re-emergence on the world stage. Also, the fairly new subscription database Westlaw China owes its existence to China's latest rise as well as a growing demand by English-language users to learn about Chinese law for academic & other purposes.

By & About the Government

Court Decisions

Like most nations, China has courts that decide (& help settle) disputes between parties. But few court decisions ever get translated into English. For some examples, see:



This information was first given by Roy L. Sturgeon as part of an invited panel talk at the 2013 American Association of Law Libraries annual conference held July 13–6 in Seattle, WA. He expanded & published it as this LibGuide in September 2013 for Tulane University Law School in Louisiana.


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