Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

Article Title

The Rule of Law in China


Eric W. Orts

First Page



This Article explores contemporary meanings of the rule of law with a focus on its meaning in Chinese history and tradition, as well as Chinese legal institutions. Part II considers the concept of law in China, from early understandings in Confucianism and Legalism to more recent treatments in Chinese Communism. It also reviews efforts that the People's Republic of China has made in recent decades to strengthen its legal institutions. Part III begins with a discussion of the Western jurisprudential idea of the rule of law and suggests a distinction between two basic understandings: (1) rule by law as an instrument of government, and (2) the rule of law as a normative and political theory. The Article proceeds to make a controversial claim that Chinese development of the rule of law may be separated from the development of Western-style democracy, at least in the present historical situation. The Article concludes with several recommendations for promoting the rule of law as a normative and political system in China.