An Irresistible Inheritance: Republican Judicial Modernization and Its Legacies to the People's Republic of China

Glenn Tiffert, University of California, Berkeley
Supreme People's Court, Beijing, 1952. Source: Beijing jiucheng (1996,92).
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Abstract

Commentators have long treated the Republican and People’s Republic of China (PRC) judicial systems in nearly hermetic isolation from each other. Yet it is impossible to grasp fully the history of the PRC judicial system independent of its Republican heritage, and to decouple the two is therefore to foreclose critical avenues of understanding. As a step toward repairing that rupture, this paper specifies the configurations and distributions of courts, as well as the discourses of judicial malaise and reform that the Republican period deposited on the doorstep of the PRC. It establishes the necessary empirical foundation from which to appreciate the institutional deficits and imbalances, developmental dilemmas, and normative discourses that confronted Chinese Communist Party (CCP) judicial planners in 1949, and it equips the reader to understand the planners’ responses—not just through the lens of ideology but also as reasoned reactions to concrete, practical problems. Additionally, this paper suggests that memory of the Republican judicial system served as a repository of value from which to shape, assess, and comprehend law’s fate in the PRC.