Accepted paper:

Peasant lawyers, law activism and the morality of politics in China

Author:

Susanne Brandtstädter (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

Law in China cannot be separated from government politics or public moralities. My paper looks at law activism in China. I argue that legal processes working towards accountability are in rural China typically diverted into efforts to rebalance relations between particular local activists (and their ‘constituencies’) and their local government.

Paper long abstract:

Law in the People's Republic of China is an important new tool of governance and cannot be neatly separated from either government politics or public moralities. In order to explore local visions of law, and law's possible resignifications, it is necessary to take into account the realities of juridical processes, and of fazhi ('governing through law') as a discourse that emphasizes accountability towards the state, citizen morality and social stability or harmony. My paper looks at law activism in China. I argue that while legal processes might formally work towards establishing accountability, in China's particular context this is typically diverted into efforts to rebalance relations between particular local activists (and their 'constituencies') and particular local governments. 'Settling a case' here means to create new spaces for political and moral negotiation, a new 'balance' of interest by bridging the quest for accountability with situated sensibilities, derived from particular moral relations. Justice is here primarily sought as a social aesthetic ('balance') not as the outcome of legal processes. Such a search for justice with, but ultimately beyond the law, is often interpreted as 'culture corrupting law'. This is a serious misinterpretation/beyond the point. Instead, my paper argues that such appropriations of law are central in linking local moralities to the public sphere, in creating new spaces of negotiation and in injecting local relations (including what is ordinarily seen as state and society) with a new notion of the 'right' (as opposed to both 'rights' and to the morally good).

panel W069
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