legal culture

Legal culture consists of values and norms concerning the content and operation of law. Reflecting as it does embedded values about socio-economic and political relationships, legal culture constitutes the cognitive environment for legal behaviour. Chinese legal culture draws on a reservoir of Chinese tradition derived from Confucianism and its emphasis on authority and hierarchy in social organization. Popular legal culture in China reflects the rich diversity of Chinese society and varies considerably across the many contours of class, gender, occupation and education. Official legal culture, on the other hand, reflects the official norms of the governing regime concerning the role of law. Influenced by ideals of revolutionary transformation drawn from Marxism—Leninism and Maoism, official legal culture in China tends to emphasize governance by a political authority that remains largely immune to challenge. During the first thirty years of the PRC, law and regulation served primarily as instruments for enforcing policies of the Party/state. Norms and processes for accountability were challenged as bourgeois artifacts deemed inappropriate to China’s conditions.
Official legal culture also reflects conclusions that legal limits on government authority might limit improperly the strong state that is needed for China’s development. By the turn of the twenty-first century, even after twenty years of legal reform, the supremacy for the Party/state remains a salient feature in the legal system. Thus, the patrimonialism of Confucianized Marxism—Leninism Mao Zedong Thought combines with the sovereignty of Party/state supremacy to establish a powerful modality of governance in the PRC. Patrimonial sovereignty is thus a typology by which regulators are accountable only to their bureaucratic and political superiors, and as a result have few obligations to heed the subjects of rule in the process or substance of regulation. Under the dynamic of patrimonial sovereignty, political leaders and administrative agencies have responsibility for society but are not responsible to it. This is not an immutable legal culture, however. As the legal reform process progressed through the 1980s and 1990s, increased reliance was placed on legal professionals, an emerging elite whose privilege is based on specialized ability to interpret the policy expressions of law and regulation. Many of these specialists have been trained abroad, in principles of government accountability in law and regulation, raising the possibility of significant changes in official legal culture.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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