Talk on China's Lawyers on 27 April 2017

Talk by Judith Bout, EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales), Paris.

This presentation will be given in French.
Cette intervention aura lieu en français.

The talk takes place on Thursday, 27 April, at 18:00 in the seminar room in Erbprinzenstraße 12 (4th floor).

“Should we take the brutal repression of China’s politically engaged lawyers under Xi Jinping as a sign, among others, that China is getting ready to take a great leap back to the Cultural Revolution? Many are those, both foreign observers and Chinese intellectuals, who worry about such a prospect. Indeed, the profession has never before suffered attacks comparable to those we see today.

However, Judith Bout argues that, while this repression constitutes a change of direction, it does not signal a return to the legal nihilism that was prevalent during the Cultural Revolution. On the contrary, as it is carried out in the name of preserving the “socialist Rechtsstaat”; the violence of the attacks against the lawyers underlines that the question of law, which was of secondary importance in the early period of reform and opening up, has now become a central concern to the Chinese Communist Party, to the point that it has been integrated in the party doctrine.

In her talk, Judith Bout will trace this evolution through three major stages: first, the use of law as a tool and the reestablishment of the lawyer profession (from 1979 to 1998); second, law as method and the transformation of the lawyer into a spokesperson (1999 to 2012); finally, law as value and the party’s renewed preoccupation with the lawyers (2012 to today). 

To illustrate her presentation, she will draw upon a unique set of materials: testimonies and private archives recovered over more than ten years from circle of lawyers around the godfather of the profession – Zhang Sizhi (1927–).

Judith Bout is an analyst of the debates in the French Senate. She is currently working on a PhD dissertation at EHESS, under the supervision of Yves Chevrier and Isabelle Thireau, on the history of lawyers in the People’s Republic of China. In 2013, she published her biography of Zhang Sizhi: Les confessions de maître Zhang (Paris: François Bourin, 2013).


Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Institut für Sinologie
Werthmannstraße 12
D-79098 Freiburg i. Br.

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