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June 9th, 2008
China’s Rule of Law: Changing with the Times?

Introductory Activity: Thoughts About China (one 50-minute class session)

Divide students into groups of three and assign one student in each group the role of recorder. Distribute a sheet of chart paper and one marker to each group recorder. Have students revisit what they know about China’s economic development. Invite them to reflect on how this development has benefited and/or changed the nation. Have students also note in what areas China, despite its progress, has fallen short (i.e., human rights, labor, migrant workers, individual rights, government, etc.). Have them speculate on what China will look like in 20 years: how far it will have progressed, not only economically but also politically and socially. Group leaders should chart this information. Have each group post its chart; have all groups read the posted charts and as a class, come to consensus about the key sociopolitical and economic issues that frame China’s past, present, and future.

Activity 1: Introducing China’s Legal System

Have students revisit their findings from the introductory activity. Ask them to consider how China’s legal system functions, based on what they know about the nation and its recent and ongoing development. Chart and synthesize their thoughts.

Direct the small student groups to “The People’s Court Timeline” Ask students to review the timeline and speculate on what historic elements might continue to influence China’s present rule of law. Invite each group to share its thoughts. Provide additional historic background where appropriate. If time permits, invite students to take the interactive quiz

Introduce THE PEOPLE’S COURT. Show Part I, “Legal Genesis” Distribute the accompanying graphic organizer, Legal Genesis. Instruct students to read the two-part worksheet, take notes as they watch the film, and then complete the worksheet in small groups afterward.

On the first chart, they identify the various reforms and the benefits and deficits associated with them. On the second chart, students elaborate on the causes of the identified benefits and deficits to ultimately recognize their combined effects. (Note: To guide students in the completion of the fishbone diagram, reference Redesign or reproduce the chart to facilitate ease of student learning.)

Have students discuss their findings and briefly detail improvements they view as necessary to enhance China’s current legal processes (this leads into the culminating activity).

Activity 2: Negotiating Players’ Roles and Place

Divide students into groups representing the parties involved in China’s legal system, including judges, lawyers, migrant workers, rural residents (“peasants”), and Communist Party officials (add other groups that emerge from the film). Have each group reflect on how its respective party views, is engaged in, and negotiates the Chinese legal system.

Show students the following segments of THE PEOPLE’S COURT that speak to these roles (if time permits, students may view each film segment in its entirety):

Part 2: Judges and Thieves
Time segments:

Part 3: Reaching Out
Time segments:

Part 4: Individual Rights
Time segments:

Ask groups to build on their reflection and the film segments to create profiles of the parties they represent. The profiles may reflect actual individuals portrayed in the films or a fictitious composite. They should reflect how the parties fit into the legal system. If students desire, they can transform the profiles into dramatic monologues that underscore how China’s rule of law materializes in these individuals’ lives.

Have the groups present their profiles and/or monologues. The class determines what elements of the roles and interactions are modifiable in terms of the system’s improvement potential; in this, they highlight the circumstances that inhibit change. To promote discussion, pose one or all of the following questions (or similar ones):

  • What is the status of urban migrant workers in the labor force? Can this status evolve over time? What would have to occur on the legal, political, educational, and economic levels for such evolution to occur?
  • What is the relationship between the government (Communist Party) and the legal system? What role does the government play? Is this a favorable role? Explain.
  • What are Chinese expectations of its nation’s legal system? How are these expectations realized or stifled? Are there instances where citizens are not clear on the rule of the law? Explain.

Culminating Activity: Proposing Change

Explain to students that with their knowledge of the current state of China’s legal system, they are in a position to consider improvement/enhancement strategies.

Point students to The U.S.-China Legal Cooperation Fund Have them review the site to understand the fund’s purpose and the types of efforts it has supported in the past.

Divide students into groups of three. Distribute a modified grant application to each group. Instruct the students to develop a project/program that would support the enhancement of China’s legal system. Be sure that they consider potential program/project obstacles, such as the connection between the Communist Party and the rule of law. Students should then write a proposal that their peers, serving as grant readers, will review and comment upon. If so desired, the class may select a proposal that would be most likely to receive a grant fund.

Extension Activities

  • Media Studies:
    There are those who argue that the media only highlights the negative elements. Have students review varied Western and Asian (Chinese) media to determine how China’s legal system is presented. Ask students to create a visual media analysis (i.e., PowerPoint presentation) on this issue using actual media resources. The following represent some of those sources, in this case, speaking to the positive aspects of China’s development as well as “Western media China bashing.” These are examples of media that contrast against standard media reports on China.

  • Social Studies:
    THE PEOPLE’S COURT briefly addresses the topic of female roles in the Chinese legal system, noting that women have more power than they did in the past. Invite students to further study this notion and to research whether women’s roles across careers, social status, etc., have improved as a result of the nation’s economic development. Students can write a “white paper” on this topic or a journal article.

    Students can explore the tradition of mediation in Chinese society and how it continues to hold a place in conflict resolution today. Then they can create a strategy for combining mediation with more contemporary legal practices in China.

  • Mathematics:
    Students can determine what large corporations annually earn in China and how those monies figure into the nation’s economic status (GDP, etc.). They can also calculate what migrant workers should rightfully earn, based on such earnings; the salaries of urban and educated workers, etc.

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