Contact

KU News Service
785-864-8860

Author: Understanding tradition key to political, legal relationships with ever-changing China

Wed, 10/23/2013

LAWRENCE — The idea of transparency is central to Western law and policy. Lawmakers and politicians regularly tout the importance of being clear in why and how laws are made, and in what specific behavior those laws require or prohibit. Things are somewhat different, however, in one of the largest and increasingly powerful nations in the world — China. A University of Kansas professor and alumna have co-authored a book exploring the notion and history of transparency in Chinese law and how an understanding of the concept is central for understanding China.

John W. Head, Robert W. Wagstaff Distinguished Professor of Law at KU, and Xing Lijuan, assistant professor of law at the City University of Hong Kong, wrote “Legal Transparency in Dynastic China: The Legalist-Confucianist Debate and Good Governance in Chinese Tradition.” While the book explores the notion of transparency in China from about 1000 B.C. to 1911, it is not only for those interested in history.

“It looks like it’s really old stuff, from quite far away,” Head said of the subject matter. “It might seem, therefore, that what we’ve written in this book is far removed from current reality. But I think it’s just the opposite.”

As China becomes increasingly central to the global economy and more politically important, Head says it would behoove those in charge of maintaining relationships with that country and its leaders to understand their legal history. Throughout the many centuries the book examines, a dominant line of thinking in Chinese law was not that it was imperative for laws to be written down and made known publicly. It was more vital that society was governed by the overwhelming influence of a highly educated, virtuous and enlightened elite class of virtuous people whose sheer power of example would lead the general population to behave properly.

The book examines how Confucianist thought led to the idea that an elite class should govern society as much as possible without written laws. It also traces the challenges that Confucianist thought received from a competing school of thought — that of the so-called legalists — and how the resulting debate led to a compromise around the 3rd century B.C. that resulted in a “Confucianization” of the law. The authors go on to explain ways in which the competing ideologies determined how Chinese law — a system that many consider one of the most effective in human history — functioned for many centuries.

While the Chinese legal system eventually embraced transparency to a certain extent, the Confucianist ideals never disappeared. Head said China’s legal system is now largely a mix of a traditional system that embraces opaqueness and what Western society might consider a relatively “modern” system with an impressive array of published laws, a somewhat transparent process for enacting those laws, and a full complement of law schools, judges, legal practitioners and other features that look similar in many ways to those of the West. However, the last five to 10 years have seen a resurgence in Confucianist thought in China — a development strongly supported by the government to help manage dramatic cultural changes occurring in the country. An official policy of urbanization continues to expand very large cities, absorbing thousands of citizens who were formerly agricultural peasants. Those changes are leading to questions of identity not only among the citizens but those in power — questions that the government hopes a return to Confucianist values will help address. The political motto of establishing a harmonious society put forward by the Chinese government in 2004 has its deep roots in Confucianism.

“Taking all these factors into account, it strikes me that there is great contemporary value in understanding how Confucianism dealt with legal transparency and opaqueness throughout Chinese dynastic history,” Head said.

The book goes on to examine how the idea of legal transparency fits into current Chinese law, and how the influence of Western powers have sought to increase its presence there. Throughout, the book provides a narrative of how the idea of transparency has been addressed in more than 2,000 years of Chinese history.

Head and Xing began work on the book in 2011-2012 when the latter was a doctoral student at KU’s School of Law. Head, drawing from legal training in both the U.S. and England, has broad experience in international and comparative law, with some special emphasis on China. Xing has graduate degrees and practical experience in both U.S. and Chinese law, with specializations in international trade and legal history. Moreover, Xing provided extensive translations of Chinese legal and historical documents as well as cultural insights that were central to the collaborative research.

The result is a book that is of value not only to historians or those interested in Chinese law, but also to policy makers internationally and “those in charge of relationships with a changing China,” Head said. “Some things, if not eternal, are very, very long-lasting. This idea of the rejection of transparency, I think, is one of them — and it’s worth understanding.”



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@NYTimes columnist @WCRhoden will speak at a symposium about race and sports April 23. http://t.co/UiKA9MYNv0 http://t.co/PHwCOHqcfD
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times