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April 27, 2016: The West’s view of Chinese law is influenced by accounts of coerced confessions, jailed lawyers, and the disappearances of those who speak out against the Communist regime. But despite the stories of misconduct, China’s legal system includes many dedicated practitioners and advocates for the rule of law, including Zhiyuan Guo, a top Chinese legal scholar who gave an overview on her country’s legal evolution during her visit to New England Law | Boston.

Professor Guo, who is the deputy director of the Center for Criminal Law and Justice at Beijing’s China University of Political Science and Law, said China’s legal system is undergoing a period of rapid modernization.

With 15,000 full-time students, China University of Political Science and Law is the world’s largest law school.  

“Professor Guo is an authority on China’s treatment of mentally ill persons, criminal justice reform efforts, and capital punishment, and a resource for the New York Times on Chinese criminal justice issues,” said Professor David M. Siegel, who coordinated the visit. “She is one of China’s foremost young criminal justice scholars, and New England Law’s faculty and students were very fortunate to hear her perspective.”

Unlike its American counterpart, the Chinese Constitution is very general and “needs other laws to flesh it out,” said Guo, who is currently a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at Stanford Law School. She explained that the People’s Republic of China had no criminal procedure law from 1949–1979, but the 1979 Criminal Procedure Law and subsequent amendments have developed a growing legal framework.

Guo’s presentation to New England Law students detailed the most recent, 2012 amendment, which marked a major step toward transparency. Proposed legislation was posted to the Web for public comment, receiving 80,000 comments from all walks of life, and rules governing self-incrimination, surveillance, and torture were codified.

Some of the greatest strides came in the areas of criminal defense and legal aid. “Now lawyers can play a bigger role in protecting suspects at a crucial stage of the investigation,” said Guo. Written legal rules must still contend, however, with the prerogatives of power, as evidenced by wiretapping rules that have no limits on renewal and, as noted by Professor Siegel, “You never need a judge involved.”

Guo’s April 2016 visit expanded existing ties between New England Law and China University of Political Science and Law. Professor Siegel taught Current Topics in American Criminal Procedure last year as an international faculty member at the school’s campus in the Changping district of suburban Beijing. He plans to return there in May to teach a course on American Criminal Trial Advocacy.

Guo’s visit was co-sponsored by the Faculty Development Committee, the Center for International Law and Policy, the Center for Law and Social Responsibility, the International Law Society, and the Asian and Pacific American Law Students Association.