UPDATE: Finding Chinese Law on the Internet

By Joan Liu
Updated by Anna Guo

Liangyu (Anna) Guo received her JD degree at Duke University School of Law. She was born in China and lived in the United States and Syria. Anna is particularly interested in the development of law in China, and hopes to contribute her part. She is currently practicing antitrust law in New York City.

NOTE: The original version of this article was an excerpt from Roaming the Virtual Law Library: A Guide to Online Sources for Legal Researchers, edited by Joan Liu and Liying Yu, Law Press China (2004), with minor revisions. The article was subsequently revised by Anna Guo in 2017.

Published September/October 2017

See the Archive Version!

Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1: The Chinese Legal System and Legal Information System - Characteristics and Sources of Chinese Law

1.1. The Chinese Legal System: An Atypical Example of the Division of Legal Systems

A great deal of research has been done in recent years on the portrayal and evaluation of the Chinese legal system.[1] The legal scheme of the People's Republic of China seems to be a combination of traditional Chinese culture and the Soviet model, mixed with the characteristics of the civil law family.

The current legal order in China is completely new from an ideological point of view, coming into existence after the Kuomingtang (KMT) government was abolished and its leader defeated by the Communist Party in 1949. However, certain traditional influences, for instance, the ethical nature of the law reflecting the teachings of Confucianism, a school of thought dating back over two thousand years ago in Chinese history, remain distinct features of the law of the PRC. The present legal framework, which was officially established in 1949, was based on Marxism and Leninism. Before the Chinese government adopted the Open Door Policy in 1978 to promote economic development within the country, a series of successive political disruptions had disturbed the formation and progression of the modern legal order. (Before the Criminal Code was enacted in 1979, the Constitution Law passed in 1954 was the only statute for 25 years!)

Massive legislation from the late 1980s, which emulated the legislative experiences and techniques of Western countries, was beyond the structure of the Soviet model.[2] Socialism, however, remained the foundation of the law, as did its ultimate goal of becoming an instrument of social order and control. Consequently, the law had no place for such ideals as justice and equity, which are often claimed by Western society.

As shown by its legal structure and form, the laws of the PRC share the same characteristics of the civil law system rather than those of common law. As concluded by Rene David, "Chinese law can be ranked within the family of the laws deriving from the Romanist tradition".[3] As David stated, this can be partly attributed to Europeanization (which more specifically refers to the legal systems of Germany and Japan, not Britain and the United States), the movement which took place during the first wave of legal reform that started at the end of the Qing Dynasty.[4] However, China's own rich history of over two thousand years' worth of written law traditions, ranging from the Qin Code during the Qin Dynasty in 220 BC, to the most complete and mature Tang Code (Tanglue Shuyi) of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century, to the Great QingCode of the Qing Dynasty (the last monarchy of China during the 7th-20th century), to the Six Codes of the Republic of China before 1949), also contributed heavily to modern day Chinese law.

The two legal systems of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the Macao Special Administrative Region (Macao SAR), however, are the exceptions from the legal framework of the PRC. The two are responsible for adding many unconventional and unprecedented traits to the Chinese socialist system.

The HKSAR and the Macao SAR were set up directly under Deng Xiaoping's (the former President of the PRC and a giant of the Party theory of "one country, two systems." The National People's Congress (NPC) enacted both the Basic Law of the HKSAR (adopted on April 1990) and the Basic Law of the Macao SAR (adopted on March 1993) before the PRC resumed its exercise of sovereignty over both areas. (The Basic Law of the HKSAR can be found online in both Chinese and English, along with the Basic Law of the Macao SAR. This was done for the purpose of maintaining state dominion over the special economic positions of these two regions.

The two Basic Laws of the HKSAR and Macao SAR are national laws, not local laws. As such, no other laws, ordinances, administrative regulations, and normative documents of the HKSAR and the Macao SAR shall violate their Basic Laws. Furthermore, it is stated clearly in the Basic Laws of both regions that the existing capitalist system and the people's current way of life shall remain unchanged for the next 50 years. Laws previously in force are also kept and maintained. Hence, the legal systems in both regions have combined the characteristics of both civil and common laws, creating a political scheme that is a mixture of both capitalism and socialism.

1.2. Sources of Law of the PRC, HKSAR, and Macao SAR

As mentioned above, though the Chinese legal system claims to be distinct from all other legal systems, jurists of the PRC follow the rules of the civil law family. The legislation of the PRC reflects a structural similarity to countries of the Romano-Germanic family. Moreover, Chinese jurists value legal doctrines and hold written law in high esteem; concrete judicial decisions are not officially considered a source of law.

According to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Legislation (2001), the NPC and its Standing Committee pass the national statutes, including the Constitution Law, criminal substantial and procedural laws, civil principles and procedural laws. The NPC and the Standing Committee are the highest authority in the land.

In China, legal interpretations are commonly grouped into three categories: legislative, administrative, and judicial. The State Council is empowered to enact administrative regulations in accordance with national laws. Government agencies, ministries and commissions, which are under the State Council, are vested with the power to issue orders, measures, and directives in conformity with the State Council's regulations. Local congressional and government bodies enact local laws and administrative measures. The People's Congress of National Autonomous Regions is empowered to enact autonomous regulations. However, they cannot be in conflict with national statutes.[5]

Judicial decisions are not considered official sources of law. The judgments of the Supreme People's Court are, however, factually respected by the lower courts and used as guidelines when the provision of law is in obscurity.

The main sources of the laws in the HKSAR are: (1) Basic Law; (2) laws stipulated in the Basic Law, Article 8 (that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation, and customary law previously in force in Hong Kong); (3) laws enacted by the SAR; (4) laws enacted by the NPC or its Standing Committee (which are defense and foreign affairs related, and as stated in the Basic Law, Article 18).[6]

As a colonial region, Macao's legal order was based upon the Portuguese legal system, which belongs to the civil law family. The Macao Basic Law by the NPC became its constitutional law after she was returned to mainland China. However, Portuguese laws that were formerly applied to Macao, but not in conflict with the Macao Basic Law, still remain in force. Also, the laws enacted by the Macao SAR legislature and other administrative regulations passed by the government are still laws in Macao.[7]

1.3. The Legal Information System in China

Although a tremendous amount of legal materials on Chinese law can be found on the Internet nowadays, an adequate information structure - a systematized information unit consisting of laws and regulations, case reports, law treatises, law reviews, and finding tools (such as an index and digest) - is still in the early stages of construction. Some components of the legal information system, such as finding tools, updating services, and citation standards, took years before they were forged into the Western systems. Without a comprehensive legal information system, which is the foundation of legal study and practice, legal research cannot be conducted accurately and efficiently.

In China, the major predicaments or challenges we face include the scarcity of legal information, the high difficulty of information access, the quality of legal publishing (which is below standard), the lack of a uniform system of subject classification, underdeveloped library facilities and services, and the shortage of information specialists.

1.4. Problems in Accumulating and Accessing Legal Information

Due to the absence of law for nearly three decades in China after the establishment of the PRC in 1949, the development and progress of legal scholarship had been bleak in the country. Of the minimal amount of research publications available, most are directly copied from the works of the former Soviet Union or simply political propaganda. Attention to and study of legal information access were almost zero and legal information professionals were few.[8] Moreover, few financial resources were available to legal education and research institutions, government agencies, and law enforcement and judicial institutions in the amassing of limited materials.

Law schools had no steady resources to establish a competent collection to support legal teaching and research. Textbooks that were rife with political preaching ideals and Soviet doctrines were the main teaching materials, and often the only materials available for certain subjects. As a result, law graduate students in the 1980s found themselves trapped between dual difficulties - the scarcity of legal materials and the lack of fundamental communication means for their theses. Consequently, a huge portion of their time was spent physically traveling around the country to collect information and data and visiting other law schools to exchange ideas and insights with their colleagues in person.

At the end of the 1980s, the renaissance of legal research resulted in the flourishing of the legal publishing industry.[9] However, the collection of legal materials is not well balanced. Unlike those major law schools in big cities (which were supplied with more governmental and other funds), small to medium-sized law schools in the hinterland and judicial institutions have been struggling with the lack of basic legal materials.[10]

1.5 Paradox of Legal Publishing and Classification of the Law

The proliferation of legal publishing since the 1980's[11] did not automatically form a solid legal information structure to serve legal research. Instead, problems from legal publishing still impede the development of a strong system supporting legal research.

The major problem is the utilitarian and pragmatist approach of the legal publishers, which are mostly owned by the state. These publishers are the ones who determine the publishing scheme, and they pay little attention to adopt commonly accepted techniques (such as providing an index, digest, and standardized or unified citation). Moreover, law classification is primitive and not uniform, two factors that play important roles in restraining the development of a competent legal information system in China.

Instead of a well-balanced scholarly and practitioner-oriented publishing scheme for primary and secondary sources (seen by West Publishing as the base of the information pyramid[12]), publishers are driven more or less by the idea of profit making. The utilitarian values adopted by legal publishers have resulted in the repetitive publishing of practical materials, popular legal readings (such as law or regulation compilations), and all sorts of legal handbooks. This pragmatic tendency has squandered precious resources, hindering the production of research tools that are really needed. For example, the legal periodical index, which is the most fundamental finding tool in legal research, only came out in 2001, while the "Reprint of Newspaper and Journals" by the People's University has been continually published over the decades. The "China Academic Journals" by Tsinghua University, another powerful secondary source for various subjects, including law, has only recently been released onto the Internet. Before these major research tools were available, the frustration experienced by legal researchers from China and elsewhere cannot be described appropriately to give it justice.

Some legal publishers, however, have started to emulate the format and method of Western publishing styles. For instance, the Laws of the People's Republic of China, a loose-leaf service by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC. This 16-volume loose-leaf set follows, to a large degree, the structure of the Commerce Clearing House (CCH), a savvy loose-leaf producer. Furthermore, each volume of the set comes with a very comprehensive index.[13]

However, the majority of legal publications have not yet adopted the standard rules and techniques of information management. Without these standards and techniques, information retrieval becomes problematic. Law compilation under various titles is a typical example of the above. After roughly browsing a law bookstore or an online catalog, one can find hundreds of different kinds of law compilations amassed by different agencies and published by different publishers.[14] Such compilations are commonly put together chronologically according to when the laws were enacted and then grouped by different subjects. They are usually published as multiple volumes, and the table of content only appears in the first volume. Because of the lack of indices, if one is clueless as to the title of the document or its citation, one has to read through the whole set to locate specific documents.

Moreover, since systematic updating services are not yet available, researchers sometimes have to "shepardize" the laws themselves to make sure that the information they have is current and up to date. The Criminal Code can be used as an example. This Code had not been comprehensively amended until 1997, after it was initially enacted in 1979. Over the years, the NPC has released over twenty amendments or supplemental decisions, published individually, but not consolidated with the Code itself. Therefore, researchers not only have to read through the whole Code, but also all supplemental materials.[15]

Among the several classification systems, there are three major ones: the People's University Library Classification, the Beijing Library Classification, and the Science Academy Library Classification. The Beijing Library Classification system, the recommended standard classification schedule, is widely used by academic libraries, including law libraries. The dissonance generated by the multiple classification systems and the primitiveness found in subject classification affect information retrieval and sharing.[16]

1.6. Predicaments of Law Libraries

Due to the lack of acknowledgement given to those who pursue law scholarship, the law librarianship is considered as one of the less favorable professions in China. This has resulted in an underdeveloped legal information system and a shortage of legal information specialists. After the economic and political reforms of the 1980s, there was a great demand to learn more about the other legal systems of the world and how to access legal information. When Chinese legal scholars were given the opportunity to study in the West, they were amazed and impressed by the sophistication of the Western legal information system. Learning not only the substantial laws, but also the methods and techniques of conducting legal research, this group of legal scholars returned to China with expectations of a corresponding legal information system. Consequently, they became the first library constituency in law schools who pushed for progress on a legal information system in China.

The Committee on Legal Education Exchange with China (CLEEC), sponsored by the Ford Foundation and which consists of legal educators, scholars, and law librarians from the United States, was one of the few organizations that focused on Chinese legal education and research. From 1982 to 1996, the CLEEC not only offered the opportunity for young law teachers to study law abroad, but also committed itself to supporting Chinese legal education institutions in both facility and personnel training. Sensing the significance of legal information to the rule of law in China, CLEEC also granted young legal scholars the chance to study legal information by offering scholarships and organizing activities that include collecting law book donations to law schools and training law librarians.[17] Unfortunately, the people who obtained a Library Science degree devoted themselves to more practical and popular areas such as law research or teaching, not pursuing a career as law librarians.

The deficiency of law librarians makes it harder for the law library to supply legal information to researchers. Because of the lack of attention paid to the law library and the scarcity of resources, the mentality of library personnel tends to lean toward the possession and control of library resources rather than proactively facilitating services to ensure their maximum usage. Consequently, the course on teaching legal research has not been added into the curriculum. There are only a few testers to make the library stacks open to the public. The "reference desk" is still a relatively new concept in many law libraries. In spite of the appeals of law librarians from China and other parts of the world, an association of law librarians has still not yet been formed.[18]

Even after stepping into the first decade of the twenty first century, the development of law libraries in China continues to face many obstacles, thus creating an additional challenge to people who wish to conduct legal research in China.

Most librarians still do not have relevant education in law or research, and a significant amount of the staff that work in law libraries in universities are family members of the faculty.[19] In fact, offering a legal research course is still a new concept in China.[20] And there is still debate as to whether legal research should be perceived as an independent area of study.[21] Academics have argued that legal research should be a subgroup under information retrieval.[22]

The individuals that do have the credentials to be good law librarians are not valued in the current Chinese legal education system as a true professional.[23] As of 2013, Tsinghua University School of Law, one of the most prominent law schools in China, have 52 faculty members and over 1500 enrolled students, but only one law librarian that is not temporarily employed.[24] This is a norm and not an exception amongst law schools across the nation.[25]As long as the traditional perception that the library is just a place for reading and finding documents persists, under which infrastructure improvements are emphasized more rather than recruiting talent, this profession will have little room for development in China.

Also, lacking in Chinese law environment is the training provided to law librarians. Many librarians have reported that they rarely receive any training in the profession. And although modern technology has largely altered the way we gain access to legal information, the expectation for the responsibilities and tasks law librarians perform has been limited to circulating library materials.[26]They lack knowledge about legal information retrieval from the internet and electronic databases.[27]

Despite the many predicaments law libraries in China face, there has also been significant improvements in this profession. [28]

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in communication and exchange between law libraries in China and law libraries elsewhere in the world. This is a concerted effort for law libraries in China to learn from the better developed systems from their counterparts in other countries, and also establish collaborations to share legal information and access to databases. As a result of this continued collaboration, the Chinese and American Forum on Legal Information and Law Libraries was founded in 2010 with the goal to "promote the accessibility of legal information and foster the education of legal information professionals in the United States and China."[29] Furthermore, although there has yet to be a national law library committee in China to share information, local collaborations have sprung up starting in 2010 to host conferences to discuss development and collaboration in this profession. [30]

Please see article authored by Kara Phillips, Wei Luo, and Joan Liu entitled “Law Librarianship in China: Challenges and Opportunities,” 18 Spectrum 11 (December 2013) for an update on the state of law librarianship in China.

1.7. Eastlaw vs. Westlaw: The Impact of the Internet on Chinese Legal Information[31]

What Does The Internet Mean to Chinese Legal Information Access?

The growth of computer technology in the 1990s has created an opportunity for online legal information access in China. The Internet has developed at an unexpected pace, making it a special means of legal information storage and retrieval. The Chinese government's commitments have helped set up a foundation for the Internet, allowing legal information to be accessed by this special tool and distributed in an unconventional way. If the impact of the Internet for the Western legal system is more of an instrumental significance, then it has multiple impacts on China; the Internet is not only instrumental, but also the ideal.

Economic globalization and the sharing of legal information, all partially made possible by the Internet, have put China in a position where its government operations, policy making processes, and legislatures are pressured to show transparency and standards for its legal information system.[32] Moreover, the Internet probably can also help China eliminate the huge amount of time and financial resources spent accumulating her legal collection by promoting the sharing of legal information via technology. A virtual law library will replace current "law reading rooms". The Internet has also changed the concept of accessing information; the availability of information is beyond the boundaries of space and time. Therefore, the utilization of information is more important than the possession of information. Those conceptual changes from the Internet offer a new perspective to Chinese legal researchers on how to construct a Chinese legal information system and library.

Is Computerization the Sole Answer to the Development of the Chinese Legal Information System?

There have been many improvements in the Chinese legal information system in recent years, but at the same time it is well recognized that the system is still in a developmental stage that faces many challenges.

In recent years, China has made a big effort to make government policies and regulations more accessible to the public through the internet. In 2006, the Chinese central government officially opened its webpage. By 2007, over 15 thousand websites have already emerged with the domain name gov.cn.[33]

The crucial issue of the lack of secondary resources and research tool guides have been recognized in China, and this problem still persists. Although PKU Law does contain secondary resources, the resources are still not widely available and lacks in depth compared with what is provided in the west.[34] Percentage of books published that are tool guides comparison?

On the legal database front, PKU law, Chinalawinfo's flagship service has evolved into the most comprehensive legal database produced by China. Up until 2015, the database includes over 1.3 million legal documents, over 9000 of which are provided in English.[35] Other Chinese legal databases such as Lawyee.net and PrimeLaw have also emerged throughout the years, but are much less widely used than PKU Law. Despite this fast growth of technology and internet in China, compared with legal information products from the West, such as Westlaw, Westlaw China, and Lexisnexis, Eastlaw still has much to improve on in terms of the quality of the substance and service.

There are several reasons to explain this quality gap between the east and west. First, market entry barrier remains high for commercial legal websites.[36] Since most of the laws in China are promulgated by central government entities, a commercial entity cannot obtain sufficient legal information to build a legal database unless they have an "established channel" with the government. Thus, this significantly raised market entry barriers, and resulted in the fact that renowned Chinese legal databases in China are mostly backed by college institutions.

In addition, the development of legal information system is hindered by the lack of a self-governing body.[37] There is still not an organization in China that is responsible for standardizing legal information and organization. A lack of coordination and support for growth, as well as the existence of multiple standards results in a waste in resources. In an effort to change the current landscape, ten Chinese legal websites have established a mechanism for collaboration in April 2007. The China Law Society, the official organization of Chinese legal academic profession, highly encouraged this effort, which aimed to promote resource sharing and cooperation amongst the internet platforms. This is one small step of the many required to reach the much needed level of self-governance in the industry.

Perhaps the most fundamental challenge to the development of Chinese legal websites and databases is the lack of a robust legal system in China. Compared with the laws in the developed west, laws relating public legal information and commercial use of legal information are unclear and gray areas exist for unfair competition. A lack of strict market regulation for the commercial legal information industry further exacerbates this problem and restricts the development of commercial legal services industry on internet platforms.[38]

The developments to legal information production seems to be strong enough to convince people that the Eastlaw myth is not far from reality. But our optimism should not allow us to ignore the fact that although the Internet indeed is significant to the Chinese legal information system, it is ultimately only a tool for information storage and distribution. In a metaphorical sense, the Internet is an opportunity for China, and a channel connecting China to the rest of the world. However, it is not decisive as to the substance and nature of the databases; the online databases or services are only electronic versions of their paper counterparts. To establish a real modern legal information system in China, we have to improve the factors behind the computer screen and our interfaces.

Therefore, the emphasis on the professionalism and the level of commitment to scholarship are not mere technical issues. These demands should be redefined with current regulation. The Regulations on the Management of Compiling, Editing, and Publishing Laws and Regulations, by the State Council in 1990, strictly assigns a specific body for the compilation of law and regulations in Article 4. For instance, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC is the sole compiler for the national laws, and the Bureau of Law under the State Council is the sole compiler for its administrative regulation.

However, Article 5 sets up an exception for compilation through other channels. For the purpose of practice, study, teaching, and research, other relevant organizations, associations, and enterprises and institution may compile and publish laws and regulation for internal usage.[39] This assumption is so broad that almost any situation can be used to produce its own compilation. Therefore, revisions and amendments to the provision should ensure the quality control of law compilation, the biggest legal publishing domain and also the most confusing and problematic aspect of law publication in China. This is a problem the Internet cannot solve by itself.

Another crucial issue to the legal information system is the adoption of modern legal publishing standards and techniques. The indexing and digest system ought to be included in legal publishing. Some unified citation system should be created and adopted. One of the main causes for the difficulty in information access is the lack of a commonly accepted citation system in China. The citation system is a unique information organization component as well as a search term.

Furthermore, as we discussed earlier, with the current existing legal publishing structure, secondary sources and finding tools are not yet well developed. Research tools and guides, directory materials, and statistics and factual data should be released regularly and systematically. Online search algorithms make retrieval more efficient, but Internet technology itself does not create the databases.

Lastly, the government ought to keep its policies about legal information archival, retrieval, and distribution more transparent, consistent, and steady to the public. As with any civilized modern government, the Chinese government is the biggest legal information creator and supplier who distributes the official versions of legal documents, including laws, regulations, statistics, and directories. These should be the original sources for any commercial legal online database. A more systemic and sophisticated government information protocol, such as the Government Printing Office (GPO) in the United States or Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) in the United Kingdom, should be considered future goals for the Chinese government.

In response to the intensive "Government to Internet" project, the majority of government agencies have published their websites. Though the project is only a transitory measure to promote the openness of government operation, its goal should not be limited to this stage, but taken further. The government should utilize the magical power of the Internet to make the official information about the law and the policy available to the public, which is its principal mission. The guarantees of accuracy, comprehensiveness, and easy access of government information should become a perpetual responsibility, not a provisional task.

The Internet can be a dilemma, a double-edged sword. First, it is an efficient means and tool for the storage and delivery of government information, enhancing the efficiency and transparency of its operation. However, it also gives the government the opportunity to control and censor, interfering with the citizens' right to information access with harsh measures. Therefore, the Chinese government should be discrete on its policy on the issue of information access via the Internet.

2. Chapter 2: Major Chinese or Bilingual Online Resources

Categorizing online resources is an almost impossible and futile task. For the purpose of simplifying our discussion, the resources have been subjectively grouped into four sections in Part I as legal online services with full text databases, governmental websites, electronic journals, and legal research tools and directorial websites.

The online resources discussed here are accessed via the World Wide Web and have been further divided into two portions by language: bilingual (English and Chinese) or Chinese only. Each group of resources is then further subdivided into sequential order based on the criteria of comprehension, reliability, search capacities, and the subjective experience of the author.

Most of the available online full text Chinese law databases are commercial services, which provide systems that are similar to the comprehensive Computer-Assisted Legal Research (CALR) tools, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. Like the CALR databases, these Chinese law databases are also comprehensive and come with features that include a systematic updating process, standardized data retrieval systems, and powerful technical support. Furthermore, all of the aforementioned features are operated by professional information institutions.

Official government websites are grouped separately since they are supposedly the most reliable sources for official policies and legal information. Systems such GPO Access are not readily available in China, but the sophistication of the Hong Kong government website makes it an appropriate model for the future construction of an online governmental information system.

When looking at government websites, please keep in mind that the rules for identifying domain names are not strictly followed in China. Most of the government websites now use .gov.cn, but some government sites could use .org, .edu, or even .com; therefore, one has to read the description carefully in order to make a decision on the authority of the source.

Electronic journals cover specific subjects and topics. While online legal services focus on primary legal resources such as statutes, regulations, case reports, and other core legal documents, electronic journals supply research articles, the most current legal issues and discussions.

The remaining online resources are grouped as legal research tools and directorial websites. Though some of these websites may also maintain databases that cover a significant amount of the legal documents, they are usually rudimentary in nature and lack systematic updating and standardization. Consequently, they are mainly regarded as resources of bibliographic and directorial information. The major sites for research guides, legal publishers, and law vendors are also listed and annotated in this part.

2.1 Sources in English or Bilingual with Chinese

2.1.1 Online Services with Full Text Databases

Chinalawinfo (Chinese and English)

Chinalawinfo was developed in the 1985 by the Legal Information Center of Peking University Law School and it contains over 183,000 articles in its databases starting from 1949. Its retrieval system comes in two versions - English and Chinese - both of which can be accessed via its website. Chinalawinfo's fee-based service allows the user to obtain the full text versions of new laws and regulations; local laws of all 31 provinces, autonomous regions; the laws of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan; Chinese foreign treaties, foreign laws; arbitration decisions, contract samples, and law tutorials.[40] Free Law service, on the other hand, provides free access to some national statutes and regulations.

The Cases feature offers free access to a list of selected cases by the Supreme People's Courts. The system also provides an index to the "Four Big Gazettes"; namely, Gazette of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress, Gazette of the State Council, Gazette of the Supreme People's Court, and Gazette of the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

At present, Chinalawinfo is one of the most complete online database with reliable search functions available for Chinese law. It also offers the best categorization for cases. However, the flaws inherent in the database structure and its advanced search capacities could be discouraging for end users.

The Chinese version of the databases is more comprehensive than its English counterpart. "New Laws", which contains the full text versions of recently promulgated laws, administrative regulations, and judicial interpretations at the national level, is a fee-based service. "Major National Laws", on the other hand, is a free service.

Other available resources include selected case reports, which provide the full texts of major case decisions in different courts. The website also serves as a gateway to other law related resources. The databases can be searched via various methods and are updated regularly. The most advanced feature of the databases is its hyperlinking function, an enhancement that renders this service the best online legal service among its Chinese competitors.

Westlaw China (formerly isinolaw)
Westlaw contains all the Hong Kong SAR judgments from all its court levels that were originally published by Sweet & Maxwell Asia in paper. The earliest reports date as far back as 1905. Several law journals on the laws of the PRC and Hong Kong that were published by Sweet & Maxwell Asia and popular newspapers such as the South China Morning Post are also included in the database.

Many researchers prefer Westlaw China over Lexis China due to the fact that Westlaw China acquired Isinolaw, an online legal database that contained Mainland China laws and regulations. Despite its usefulness, Westlaw China lacks scholarly articles and secondary resources. [41]

Lexis/Nexis China
The Lexis/Nexis Online Services covers the laws of the PRC and Hong Kong SAR, as well as the updating service for the same. For Hong Kong Case Law, important decisions from all court levels in Hong Kong since 1946 are included in its database. Reports are updated regularly; new case reports are usually available on Lexis/Nexis one or two weeks after the decisions are released. It also comprises the laws of the PRC, including statutes, administrative regulations, important judicial interpretations, and local laws and regulations, covering over 60 subjects of law in total. Practitioners in China often use Westlaw China alongside with Lexis China and find that Lexis China offers a more accurate translation of Chinese laws.

China Academic Journals CNKI

The full text journal database houses a comprehensive range of research articles, including legal literature. This commercial database has an English index and also Chinese full text. The articles archived here date back to 1915. As of now, it is the most comprehensive and powerful database for finding legal articles in the Chinese vernacular with advanced search methods.


Mondaq is an article database that houses online resources of professional's expertise and knowledgeon legal, accounting, regulatory, compliance and commercial issues. The database is free of charge, and includes insights and regular alerts about law and policy change in China.

2.1.2 Official Government Resources

The National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China 中国人大网 - The NPC website is one of the most authentic sources for information on the NPC system and development of the Chinese legal system.

It mainly reports on the "missions and activities of the congress and its standing committee, releasing the laws, resolutions/decisions and lists of appointments and removals passed by the standing committee, and introducing the NPC system."[42]

Specifically, in the Chinese version of the website, the legal interpretation and answer section offers the official statutory interpretations and notes by the NPC on national laws.

This site serves as a platform to central governmental information. The site is searchable and contains the latest releases and news on national policies and state council meetings in English.

State Administration of Taxation of The People's Republic of China 国家税务总局 - The State Administration of Taxation (SAT) was established at the central government level as an organization directly under the State Council in charge of the taxation work. This website provides national tax laws and tax treaties dating back to 1985, as well as tax related news.

Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China 商务部 - The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) is an executive agency of the State Council of China. It is responsible for formulating policy on foreign trade, export and import regulations, foreign direct investments, consumer protection, market competition and negotiating bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. The website contains recent policies dated back to 2015 and policy interpretations, as well as news and electronic versions of the China Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Gazette dated back to 2005.

State Administration of Foreign Exchange 国家外汇总局 - The State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) is an administrative agency that is responsible with drafting rules and regulations governing foreign exchange market activities, and managing the state foreign exchange reserves. Its parent agency is the People's Bank of China. The website contains a limited number of rules and regulations that dates back to 2008.

State Administration for Industry and Commerce of the People's Republic of China (SAIC) 国家工商总局 - The SAIC is the authority in the People's Republic of China (SAIC) responsible for advancing legislation concerning the administration of industry and commerce in the People's Republic. On a local level, the organization's responsibilities are similar to the secretaries of individual states in the United States as a registration and licensing authority.

The People's Bank of China 中国人民银行 - The People's Bank of China (PBC) is the central bank of the People's Republic of China with the power to control monetary policy and regulate financial institutions in mainland China. The webpage contains monetary policies and regulations dating back to 2005, and it also has an advanced search option.

Ministry of Education 教育部 - The Ministry of Education (MOE) site contains the full text of its official publication, the Official Journal of the Ministry of Education (Jiaoyubu zhengbao), and also legislation related to educational matters. The Official Journal can be searched by keywords and publication date, but the compilation of laws itself is not searchable, and also not up to date.

This bilingual website contains laws and regulations on education and networking technology. It also offers extensive statistical information on the Chinese education system. The compilation of the linkages to the Libraries offers a gateway to the sites of public libraries and colleges/university libraries in China.

The Supreme People's Court of the PRC 中国最高人民法院 - The official website of the Supreme Court covers information similar to that of China Court, but the provisions do not have hyperlinks and the search functions are not as adequate as the latter. This site contains directory information about the Court and also provides databases on statutes and regulations, along with the court's own interpretations. "Important Cases" (dianxing anli) are excerpted from the Gazette of the Supreme People's Court, but the cases are not indexed.

Specifically, the Chinese version of the website provides a legal database for national and local law and regulations, treaties, policies, and judicial interpretations from the Supreme Court.

China Court - This website is sponsored by the Supreme People's Court of the PRC and focuses on judicial news and legal information. Access to the service is free, and the laws and regulations are available in English. However, court judgments are not particularly available on this site. The database can only be searched by using keywords.

This free database contains a comprehensive collection of national laws and regulations, local laws, and treaties, which can be searched by keywords and promulgation dates. Hyperlink capacity is also available for relevant laws. The most authoritative section in this database is the one that contains the interpretations of the Supreme People's Courts and the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

China Internet Information Center- This website is an "authorized government portal site to China" and highly resembles an encyclopedia. It is published under the China International Publishing Group and the State Council Information Office; however, it does not use the .gov domain. This site covers topics such as politics, culture, science and technology, and various economics aspects of China, which is available in both English and Chinese.

BLIS - BLIS, which stands for the Bilingual Laws Information System, is a database for Hong Kong law. This official legal online service can be found at the website of the Department of Justice of the HKSAR and is open to the public for free.

BLIS contains Hong Kong statutory laws and also selected constitutional documents in both English and Chinese. The Current Ordinances section corresponds to the printing version as published in the loose-leaf edition. In the International Agreements section, both bilateral agreements and multilateral treaties are listed. This database provides the most current version of the laws of the Hong Kong SAR, and is updated on an average of two weeks after the publication of the Gazette.

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Gazette - This is an official site providing full-text access, but the databases are not archived; only the latest issue of the Gazette is available.

Laws of the Macao SAR - This is the website of the Government Printing Office in Macao. The database contains the complete laws of Macao and some national laws of the PRC in Chinese and Portuguese, with some documents provided in English. It is archived and kept up-to-date.

CIETAC & CMAC & BCC - This website contains official information on the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, the Maritime Arbitration Commission, and the Beijing Conciliation Center. It also provides introductions and states arbitration rules for each agency.

State Intellectual Property Office 国家知识产权局 - This English website for the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO) covers currently available information, including an introduction about the agency and also the full text of the Patent Law of the People's Republic of China.

China Securities Regulator Commission 中国证监会 - The China Securities Regulatory Commission website contains an informative introduction about the Ministry and capital markets in China. It also provides the full text of the Security Law of the PRC and statistical data, but the databases are neither searchable nor up to date.

National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC 国家统计局 - This is the most reliable website for obtaining the official statistics of China. It offers a compilation of statistical matters and related laws and regulations, but is not searchable.

Xinhua News Agency 新华社 - This site releases reports on the latest legal developments and governmental policies. The databases are searchable.

2.1.3 Electronic Journals

China Daily - This is the online version of the Chinese official daily newspaper, China Daily, which covers legal news. The online database allows free access for full text. Keyword searching is available. Contents are archived for about three months.

China Law and Practice - This is the electronic version of the journal under the same title by Asian Law and Practice. The commercial journal offers the most current reports, translations, and commentaries on the new laws and legal development in China, and has multiple search functions.

People's Daily (mirror site) - This is the official paper of the Party and contains reports on legislation and legal developments. New laws are usually first released in full-text in this newspaper. The paper is archived and the database provides multiple search options.

South China Morning Post - This is a Hong Kong based newspaper that reports a considerable amount of news on the legal disputes from the PRC and Hong Kong. The database has advanced search capabilities and is now available via WESTLAW.

China and WTO Review (English Only) - China and WTO Review (CWR) is an internationally referred scholarly journal which is semi-annually published by YIJUN Institute of International Law. CWR is dedicated to discussing critical legal and political issues arising out of China and the WTO. The Review takes on a very proactive view on China's involvement in the WTO and how it impacts areas including dispute settlement proceedings, international and comparative law, legal economics and policy. Further, to the extent relevant to WTO covered agreements (or other trade accords for that matter), the Review deals with foreign investment, copyrights and other trade-related issues.

2.1.4 Legal Research Tools and Directorial Websites

A. General Directorial Sites

China Today (English) - This website is created and maintained by InfoPacific Development Co., Canada and Kompass International Information Service Co. Ltd., China. This site covers general information about China. A section on the "Laws and Regulation of the PRC" is also included, as well as directorial information on governmental agencies and judicial institutions. However, the information is not current and no search functions are available.

Chinasite.com (English) - This directory has links to some Chinese law related websites; however the site suffers heavily from link rot.

Chinese Law at WashLaw Web (English) - This site was created and is maintained by the Washburn University School of Law Library. It provides links to various Internet resources on Chinese law, including the full text of the Constitution Law of the PRC and also some general introduction to the laws of the PRC.

Guide to Law Online (GLIN) (English) - The gateway service by the Law Library of Congress contains major primary and secondary sources for the PRC, the HKSAR, and the Macao SAR.

Directory of Law Firms (English) - The Hieros Gamos's website compiles a directory of law firms in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao.

B. Research Guides and Annotated Online Bibliographies

Legal Research Guide: China - This Chinese legal research guide, by the Law Library of Congress, provides a general introduction to China's legal and political system, and also includes web and print resources for legal research.

Chinese Legal Research at the University of Washington - This research guide is very user friendly by organizing each of the separate topics into a graph, but the downside is there isn't a lot of information provided about each of the resources it introduces.

People's Republic of China Legal Research - The Harvard Law School Library produced research guide is much like this guide and provides some of the best resources for Chinese legal research in both English and Chinese. It is also very up to date.

Chinese Legal Research - Curated by the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School, this online guide offers basic overview of the PRC's legal system, Chinese laws and cases, and number of secondary sources including journals, data, news. It also offers information on the basics on Hong Kong, Macau SAR, Taiwan, and US-China Relations.

Guide on Judicial Information - Judicial Information of the People's Republic of China: A Survey by Zhai Jianxiong is a good research guide on the Chinese judicial system.

China International Book Trade Corporation - This website contains good bibliographic information on publications in China, including Chinese law books.

China Books and Periodicals - This is a San Francisco based book jobber that accepts subscriptions for Chinese legal serials.

Asia Law & Practice - The website of the publisher provides significant bibliographic information on Chinese legal publication and is a useful resource for acquiring research materials on China.

CCH ASIA - CCH ASIA is a part of CCH/Wolters Kluwer International and has increasing publications on Chinese business law. The website offers detailed bibliographic information on the publications.

Read also more guides on this topic:

C. Translation Tools

Youdao Dictionary - Youdao dictionary is now one of the most widely used online translation softwares for both desktop and mobile users in translation between English and Chinese. Translations are based on the data that comes from the Youdao search engine and massive data mining, as well as natural language processing, therefore most translations of legal terms are fairly accurate. The software has all of the original features of an online dictionary including acoustic translation, smart screen word identification, real-time synchronization with network up-to-date vocabulary, and other word look-up features. It can also translate the text in the picture using OCR technology.

Youdao Human Translation - is another service that Youdao provides to users for a fee. Users can select the "fast translate" option and label certain requirements for the translation, and after inputting the text, there is an automatically generated price and time frame of when the final product will be ready. Customers can also choose from the "document translation" tab and upload the documents they need to translate, and select the options provided in order for Youdao to provide a better translation.

2.2. Sources in Chinese

2.2.1. Online Services with Full Text Databases

Lawyee - As one of the top three legal databases in China, Lawyee is advertised as having the largest Chinese database in the world in several areas, including for Chinese legal cases and categorized sample contracts with comprehensive risk analysis attached.[43] Its legal database includes cases from both Hong Kong and Macao as well as from Mainland China.[44] But it only provides links to legal articles, and it does not provide English translation to the documents. Compared with Chinalawinfo, it is also updated at a slower pace. [45]

Law-lib - This website is maintained by the Xihu Bookstore and provides extensive coverage on Chinese legal information on both primary and secondary sources. It also offers an e-mail service, which delivers all new enacted national laws, administrative regulations, judicial interpretation, and decisions by the ministries for no charge. The databases are archived and searchable. The section on "Articles and Treatises" is available in full text and represents the most recent legal research.

Another highly acclaimed database, "Civil Litigation Court Case", collects cases from all courts (including the Supreme Court, District Court, and Bankruptcy Court) from 1989 to the present. The database can be accessed by various search approaches via its website and should be viewed with the Big 5 code.

China Laws - This Shanghai-based commercial online service provides a collection of comprehensive legal databases and resources. It is updated regularly and employs a basic search method.

China Judge - This webpage contains both laws and research articles and books. It can be accessed freely and is updated regularly. This site compiles resources on Chinese legal study and practice, including judicial reports, a brief catalog of the major law journals, and legal research articles. The most valuable part of the database is its collection of full-text legal anthologies written by prominent jurists in China.

LawXP - LawXP is a Beijing-based national commercial website that serves as a legal database and many legal resources for legal practitioners as well as the general public.

Itslaw - ItsLaw is another Chinese legal case database website that boasts over 39,000,000 cases, recommendations for legal professionals in the country, and laws.

2.2.2 Government Official Resources or Government Affiliated Resources

The Supreme People's Procuratorate of the PRC - The website of the Supreme People's Procuratorate of the PRC introduces the Chinese procuratorate system and the structure of the Procuratorate. It contains information in areas of anti-bribery, investigative supervision, and crime investigation. It maintains a vast collection of the major national laws, case analyses, and the working reports of the National People's Congress, a feat rarely accomplished in other databases. The databases, however, are not searchable.

Ceilaw - This website is closely affiliated with the State Council and launched in 1997. It is mostly available only to Chinese government agencies as an important source for Chinese rules and regulations dated back to 1949. This online service is part of the China Economic Information (CEI) network, which is hosted by the State Information Center, a government agency. Its legal online information system contains the most comprehensive and authoritative Chinese law databases, which include both national and local laws and regulations, case reports, and treaties.

Chinese Lawyer Association - The Chinese Lawyer Association was founded in 1985 under the guidance of the judiciary department. Its official website includes information on Chinese laws, Chinese law firms, and industry standards for the legal profession in China.

2.2.3. Electronic Journals

The Legal Daily - This is the online version of the Legal Daily in paper that is published by the Political and Legal Commission of the Central Committee of the Party. It was originally the official paper of the Ministry of Justice before it was taken over by the Party in the mid-1980's and became an influential newspaper. The newspaper is archived up to 6 months online and is searchable. Its most valuable column is the "Release of New Laws", which publishes new laws in full text and also gives legal interpretation from the legislature, judicial, and administrative agencies.

The People's Court Paper - The electronic version of this newspaper is published by the Supreme People's Court. This newspaper is a good resource for finding the new decisions of the Supreme People's Court, as well as its judicial interpretations and policies. The contents of the newspaper can be searched.

The People's Procuratorate Daily - The e-version of the daily paper of the People's Procuratorate only archives the news for the last three years.

2.2.4. Legal Research Tools and Directorial Websites

A. The Webpages of Universities and Research Libraries

The websites by higher education and research institutions, along with their libraries, are the best gateway to access law related information and materials. These websites are usually maintained by professional Internet experts, whose levels of expertise lead to a privileged intellectual environment. Thus, they are good starting points to getting general and background information on Chinese legal research without surfing the web from scratch. Following are a few examples of these websites:

Fabao365.com - Fabang is a Chinese only website that operates like a legal search engine which includes a lot of links to major law related websites. Users can conduct searches under the tab laws and regulations, or choose from the categorized legal topics provided on the home page.

Wusong Reading - Wusong Reading is a very practical mobile software that provides clients with a wide range of law related websites, all sorted by subject area. Clients can also conveniently use the application to get access to the latest legal news. Wusong Reading is not accessible via desktop, therefore, some inconvenience can occur since most legal research is not conducted through a phone and some websites did not optimize their webpage to have mobile friendly view.

B. Indices and Library Catalogs

Library Online Catalogs - This site contains comprehensive links to all online library catalogs nationwide. In China, the majority of law libraries have adopted the library automation system. Card catalogs have been converted into electronic formats with an integrated library system developed by either domestic or foreign vendors. Tsinghua University is on the Innovative system, but its law and social science collections are not as comprehensive as those of the Beijing University Library or Beijing Library.

Ministry of Education - The entry for "library" probably contains the most complete linkage to the other online catalogs from both public and academic libraries.

C. Directory of Legal Publishers and Law Firms

The websites of professional legal publishers that are owned by the state offer exhaustive bibliographic information on the law books they publish. They also provide gateway service by linking law and legal publishing related Internet resources.

2.2.5. Wechat Subscriptions and Articles (微信)

Wechat has gradually become the most important smartphone application in China. It is known as the "super app" because people not only use to communicate, pay their bills, but also conduct legal research. It has grown to be one of the main secondary resources for one to obtain background information about a legal subject area at the start of legal research.

Wechat users can use keyword search to subscribe to different channels that focus on different legal practice areas. Subsequently, periodic articles and updates will be sent to the subscriber's Wechat. In addition, legal scholars and practitioners join Wechat groups with a specific legal focus that answer and discuss specific legal questions the members have.

It is worth mentioning that the Wechat channels and articles can now be searched on a PC via the Sogou search engine. Thus, one is no longer limited to access to subscription articles on a legal topic on a phone.

3. Chapter 3: Features of Online Sources and Search Strategies

This chapter discusses helpful strategies to finding information on Chinese online legal resources. Before doing so, we will first summarize and evaluate the resources described in Chapter 1. This chapter also illustrates a pathfinder for a hypothetical research topic by utilizing a combination of information and resources.

3.1. Evaluating Chinese Online Legal Resources

3.1.1. Content Coverage

There are two sides to the meaning of the word "completeness" as we use it. The first meaning deals with reviewing the contents of the database or Internet resource to determine whether they are exhaustive and systematically structured. For instance, does the commercial online service include both primary and secondary sources or does it contain only one component? Are the contents of the database complete or rudimentary? The second meaning pertains to the format of the information contained in the database or Internet resource. For example, does the database contain only digests and abstracts or does it contain information in full text?

As described in Part One, Chapter 1, the majority of Chinese commercial databases contain a fairly comprehensive coverage of the statutory laws of the PRC from 1949 to the present in full text and are also updated regularly. Some databases also contain local laws and regulations. However, the level of completeness of each online service might vary.

The official versions of legal materials are provided by the government, which is also considered to be the most reliable source. However, a government information mechanism, like the Government Printing Office in the United States, has not yet been established in China. Furthermore, government websites are not well developed in English. Although these sites do provide some official information, the information found therein is often scattered, sporadic, and most definitely not current. As a result, one has to rely on commercial online resources and printed materials.

Another major drawback to current Chinese online resources is their lack of secondary sources (i.e., treatises, law reviews, and restatements), and tertiary sources or search tools such as the index, and other finding tools. Moreover, English online services usually have a smaller scope in coverage than their Chinese counterparts. Another problem is the quality of translation. In light of these circumstances, commercial resources should be given first priority.

3.1.2. Authority

According to the laws of the PRC, legal compilation and electronic publishing should be examined and approved before they can be published by a specific government agency as assigned by the legislature. The sole lawful publisher for national laws should be the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC and the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council. However, for research and study purposes, non-official publishers (such as research institutions and commercial publishers) are also allowed to publish law compilations. Due to the lack of adequate quality control on legal publishing, the accuracy and authority of the commercial online databases is sometimes questioned. Furthermore, law databases produced by volunteers or less qualified commercial agencies also undermine the reliability and authenticity of online legal resources.

For secondary sources and finding tools, websites produced and maintained by prominent academic and research institutions, which possess intellectual and technical preponderance, are the most informative and reliable, especially for gateway services. Included in this category are the Peking University Law School in Beijing, Tsinghua University Law School, the Nanjing University, and the Beijing Library.

3.1.3. Access Capabilities and the Electronic File Format

Another defect is the primitiveness of the search function, which then undermines the retrieval of information from the databases. Except for chinalawinfo.com, isinolaw.com, and a few other major online Chinese legal services, the majority of the online resources can only be searched using the title of the law, the date of promulgation, and the legislatures. Advanced search functions or the Boolean search are still missing. For example, CEI online databases can only be searched by using a combination of the document names and their dates of enactment. Despite the fact that the service provides complete search functions for its CD-ROM products, an advanced Boolean search or Natural Language search algorithms are still not yet implemented with the web version.

Few Chinese online services offer the PDF format; instead, they use the MSW format, even though the former is closer to the format of the original print document, and thus more desirable.

Access is another technical issue caused by the refusal of the online services to adopt the more efficient IP-based access to ensure business profits. The use of passwords is a very common practice that online services offer foreign users. With a sole password and invisible "login" and "logout" algorithms in the web layout, the passwords are often locked erroneously. Such pure technical defects are some main restraints to access.

3.1.4. Output or Downloading

Although downloading from online databases can be carried out with a Chinese reader application, trashy characters due to non-standardized coding are sometimes unavoidable. Reload or refresh is needed each time you change the configuration for different Chinese coding systems. Downloading directly to the printer requires a printer equipped with a big buffer.

3.2. Strategies of Online Legal Research

First, we have to keep in mind that a corresponding electronic format is not available for all Chinese legal materials, especially judicial information and secondary sources. Although an increasing number of judgements are published regularly, to locate juridical materials, your first choice should still be the printed resources. Also, secondary and tertiary sources are not among the focus of Chinese legal publishers; therefore, it is harder to locate their electronic versions. But as countries share civil law systems characteristics, the legal treatises by Chinese jurists are proliferating, and even full text access is freely available. See the legal anthology sections of Chinalawinfo and China Judge.

Secondly, one has to be very careful in selecting which databases to use from the numerous accessible free databases. Some of them are not up to date. When searching for databases, we need to know the following information:

For Chinese legal online resources, the producers or providers of the databases are the most important components in determining their authority and reliability. For primary materials, you should first go to commercial or government resources. For secondary materials, some free database sites could also be reliable and valuable.

Thirdly, when determining a starting point, unless you are looking for factual data or information (which can be found directly or via single search), we should generally start from secondary sources-treatises and journal articles-and work our way to primary sources. West's pyramid theory is very true for Chinese online research. We also ought to use direct and indirect search simultaneously, for instance, finding clues from citations and footnotes.

Fourthly, researchers need a grasp of basic web searching skills or computer operation techniques. Standard legal terminology should be used while performing keyword search. Know the special search mechanism for each specific database (for instance, some databases see each Chinese character as a phrase or cannot have spaces between characters). Advanced searching and Boolean search techniques should be used since keyword search is more time-consuming and inefficient. (Natural language has not yet been adopted by Chinese databases). While inputting the URL, use Microsoft functions and avoid copying by hand to minimize potential errors. Also, use multifold resources to confirm the reliability of the results. Set up mini "yellow pages" by bookmaking those websites most often used, and update them regularly to make a handy self-help tool.

3.3. Misconceptions of Online Resources in China

To begin with, a significant amount of Chinese laws including administrative regulations, detailed rules or regulations by government agencies, legal interpretations by the NPC and judiciary, judicial decisions by different levels of jurisdictional institutions, and local or provincial legislations have not yet been computerized. Therefore, researchers have to rely on printed sources. Those who are Internet savvy are often under the impression that any Chinese legal information can be located in the Internet. This might be true for countries with a well-developed Computer Assisted Legal Research system (such as the United States), where legal researchers are often able to conduct their research mainly via the online library. Not in China.

Additionally, People tend to believe in the fantasy that search engines such as Google or other online services like Westlaw can be an exclusive and universal "navigator" or tool that can locate everything. However, for Chinese legal materials, although Google can provide useful insight, it is not the most efficient search engine and certainly not suitable as a starting point. The importance of Baidu, the biggest search engine in China, should not be overlooked. Baidu sometimes yields more useful results than Google does on Chinese law and information when conducting the search in Chinese. Additionally, commercial databases, such as Chinalawinfo, also should not be relied on as a sole resource, since the information in those databases may not completely parallel to Westlaw or LexisNexis. Therefore, a "one stop search" cannot be done while locating Chinese legal materials. Moreover, the Internet resources, which are mainly available for free, are known for their instability.

Further, because of the seemingly omniscience of Internet resources, people have relinquished their curiosity to pursue true knowledge by accepting available handy information as knowledge. The assumption that information equals knowledge is more easily embraced in China, where information is scarce and needed. Since an abundance of information is exposed on the Internet swiftly, bewildered people just gobble up whatever is available, oftentimes failing to be wary of false or erroneous information. In fact, some websites with low quality control have no value.

But beware that even the reliability of information coming directly from official government sources should be verified by different sources. For example, the implementation status of rules and regulations posted on government websites might not have been updated for political reasons. In 2014, the CRBC published The Guidelines on Promoting the Application of Safe and Controllable Information Technology "the Guideline" to regulate foreign banks operating in China. Although the implementation status of the Guideline remained "in force" on the CRBC website and no reports of any change of status appeared after a Baidu search, a google search will reveal in several western media reports that the regulation had already been suspended by April due to pressure from the US government.

People may also mistakenly assume that the English translation of rules and regulations on government websites is the only name and restrict their searches to that translation. Although using the official translation will yield some results, some very useful information might remain undiscovered due to the use of a different translation, which is a very common mistake. For example, the Guideline can be referred to CBRC Notice 317 or CBRC Guidelines. Inputting each term in the search engine would yield different results.

Similarly, because of the ambiguity of a lot of the laws and regulations in China, as well the lack of legal interpretation by agencies and government entities, especially at a local level, legal research online or via print resources might not yield answers to how to comply with a regulation or how it will be implemented. This problem might not be as prevalent in more developed cities, but is still fairly common. When faced with this challenge, it is a big advantage for a person to be able to speak Chinese so she can pick up a phone and call the local entities to resolve the ambiguity. In fact, this is what lawyers in Chinese law firms do quite often while conducting legal research.

Last, when conducting legal search in English, it might be easy to assume that many websites are not well managed and lack up-to-date information, when in fact the information is provided only on the Chinese version of the website. The most comprehensive English translations for documents are usually found only on big commercial databases like Chinalawinfo and Westlaw China.

3.4. Researching Chinese Law on the Internet: A Sample Problem

3.4.1. Background

The Security Law of the PRC does not regulate civil liability for "inside trade" and the supreme judicial institution has not yet made any interpretations on the liability and procedures. Say you are interested in conducting research on the jurisprudence of civil liability of inside trade in English - how do you find the materials for your search? (Note: this topic is similar to the one discussed in the Westlaw part by Min Chan. You can conduct a comparative search and learn the different legal information systems of these two jurisdictions).

3.4.2. Search Strategies

Start with Secondary Sources

The China Academic Journal is a productive beginning. Under the "Basic Search" tab, Input query "inside trading", select search in "Subject", and select the relevant database "(G) Politics, Military Affairs/ Law" from the general list (which also includes Electronic Technology & Information Science, Agriculture, etc., other sub-databases, see Figure 1-3-3) in the left. Your initial search only brings you 1,707 articles. This result is evidently fairly satisfying, but you can narrow your search to get more relevant information. Conduct another search using the "search in result" function. This time, you should query "security" after "And". The second search gives you 245 articles. You can browse the citation of the articles with abstracts and decide which ones are most relevant to your topic.

Figure 1-3-3 from http://www.cnki.net/

You can also search the section of "Legal Journals" from Chinalawinfo.com, which includes 68 journals and also a preliminary index. You may also search library catalogs to find books on this topic. There should be ample resources on this topic. Journal articles are also appropriate to find the desirable materials for your research.

After gaining a general background understanding from articles and journals, one must obtain the reliable interpretation of different legal terms mentioned in the resources, for example how "insider trading" is defined in China. The NPC and Judiciary provide the most authoritative interpretations of the law and legal terms, and are widely cited and followed.[46]

You also know that some research has been done on this issue in US; therefore, Westlaw and LexisNexis are the best places for finding the most recent research and latest ongoing trials (if any) on this issue. See the chapters by Min Chan and Peggy Mu on Westlaw and LexisNexis, respectively.

Furthermore, it would also be very helpful to search for the laws and regulations obtained in the searches above on Google and Baidu. Many articles written by both domestic and foreign law firms and NGOs analyzing a rule or regulation may not be in the legal databases, but are still very useful for understanding the legal environment in China.

Locate Primary Materials

While searching the secondary sources, you found some important facts, such as the titles of the laws, regulations, judicial interpretation, and the date of the promulgation. You can now locate the original law documents from different resources. A relatively simple and straightforward way is to search Chinalawinfo.com or Westlaw China. The former cross-references relevant laws from the provision of the law, to regulations, judicial interpretations or case reports. The provisions are also hyperlinked.

From Chinalawinfo, you can also use the "advanced search" function. In the search query box for "English Keyword", input "inside trade", in the "Area of Law" section, choose "Securities". Next, select "fuzzy search" and "Full Text". This will help you to obtain the maximum number of results. Click the "Search" key. You have close to seventy documents. See Figure 1-3-4.

Figure 1-3-4 from http://www.lawinfochina.com/index.aspx

After obtaining the laws and regulations from the legal databases, trace the primary source back to the government entity and search on their official websites to find any other relevant materials, including notices and public announcements.

Finding Cases

As described before, judicial information is the weakest area in the Chinese legal information system, compared to the common law family. Case locators, such as the index or digest, are not equipped at all. Therefore, finding cases is always a hard step in Chinese legal research.

In this case, the Supreme People's Court published a notice, Notice of the Supreme People's Court on Not Accepting Civil Cases of Compensation Concerning Securities Temporarily, on September 21, 2001, but it was later reversed in 2002. Now the intermediate courts in provincial capitals, administrated cities, and the SEZs have the authority to hear the cases.[47] You can find the cases under both the Westlaw China Database and Chinalawinfo.com.

Be mindful that the same legal documents might be listed under different tabs in Westlaw China and Chinalawinfo. For example, the Announcement is listed under "Judicial Interpretation" in Chinalawinfo, but Westlaw might categorize this document under "Administrative Law" instead. We are not going to discuss the rationality of the categorization of each database, but we have to realize that the variance of the subject scheme among online databases requires one to know the structure of each database in order to be able to conduct efficient research.

Search the Internet

If you need more supplemental information on this issue, you can search on the Internet by using Google and Baidu. Because you have learned quite a bit about the topic and grasped the necessary bibliographic and substantial information, you are now able to find something crucial for your search in the boundless Internet Ocean without drowning.

If you used Google as your first trial, however, you might still be wandering in the overflowing Information Sea. In Google, you can enter "security", "inside", "China" and "trade" as keywords, which will give you about some documents. As an experienced searcher, you can easily spot the valuable materials that are unique and will provide the newest legal developments on this issue. For instance, you will see that the first case is about civil liability on security.

Record the Research Process

If you are working for a judge or lawyer on a Chinese law research assignment, it is always a good idea to keep a record of your research process that includes the resources that you have tapped, the search terms you used, and the worth-mentioning results from using different terms to show your work and insure that the search is comprehensive.

[1] Unlike the dry and "eight-part-essay-ish" (stereotypical) style used by Chinese legal scholars in the advent of legal reform in the 1980s, recent research offers a more trustworthy analysis from a neutral, reasonable, and objective perspective on the history and status quo of the Chinese legal system. Some examples are: Xin, Chunying, Chinese Legal System & Current Legal Reform. Beijing: Law Press (1999); Hsu, C. Stephen, Understanding China's Legal System, New York University Press (2003); Chen, J. Chinese Law: Towards an Understanding of Chinese Law, Its Nature and Development, Kluwer Law International (1999).

[2] In the legislative process, relevant foreign laws are studied and researched, and foreign legal experts invited for consultation. Professor Jerry Cohen of New York University Law School, a prominent Chinese law expert, had assisted the Ministry of Finance in its work on international taxation law in 1979 when he was a professor at Harvard Law School. See Hsu's Understanding China's Legal System, supra note 1. His colleague at NYU, Professor Richard Steward, was also invited by the Environmental Protection Committee of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress as a foreign expert. Unlike the legal reform of the Qing Dynasty during the late 19th century, which used Germany and Japan, members of the civil law family, as models of modernization to Chinese law, current legislation emphasizes more on legislative ideal and techniques. It is, however, not restricted to any particular law family

[3] David, Rene, Major Legal System in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law.

[4] See Chen, J., ChineseLaw: Towards an Understanding of Chinese Law, Its Nature and Development. Kluwer law International, 1999. The author makes concise remarks on the legal reforms between the end of the Qing dynasty to the beginning of the Republic of China.

[5] See The Law of the People's Republic of China on Legislation (July 1, 2000), article 7, 56, 63 through 66

[6] See Dobinson, Ian and Derk Roebuck, Introduction to Law in the Hong Kong SAR. 2nd ed. Sweet & Maxwell Asia, 2001.

[7] See the Basic Law of Macao SAR at WIPO, http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/mo/mo019en.pdf.

[8] According to ZhongguoChu Ban Nian Jian (Yearbook of Chinese Publishing) by Shang Wu Yin Shu Guan, 1980-, from 1975 to 1979, 79 law books were published; from 1980 to 1989, the number has jumped up to 3446 titles in 10 years; from 1990 to 1999, it increased fivefold from the previous ten years up to 15433, 1540 per year; and in 2000, 2051 law books were published in one year alone.

[9] See id.

[10] A very significant survey conducted by Liying Yu on the present state and future of the law library in China, this report offers valuable statistical data on the huge gap of legal materials collected among the various law libraries. See Liying Yu, the Construction and Utilization of Law Library, Prosecutor Daily, May 20, 2003.

[11] See supra note 9.

[12] See the section about West Publishing and Westlaw by Min Chan.

[13] Laws and Regulations of the People's Republic (loose-leaf) by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC, Law Press, 1995- .

[14] Let us use National Library collection as an example. By entering the keywords "compilation of laws and regulations", "compilation of laws", or "compilation of regulations" to search, one can find hundreds of entries. Compilations are done by legislatures, government agencies, academic institutions, or individuals. Coverage of the laws and regulations are based upon different subjects, different time periods, or for different audiences. The amount of compilations published under these classifications stun researchers.

[15] See Luo, Wei, "The Advantages of Codification and A Few Ideas for Establishing Codification System suitable to China", Study on Legislation, (check) March, 2002. This is one of the reasons Luo believes that China needs to adopt a subject-oriented codification process under the model of the US Code.

[16] The Unification of classification in bibliographic control is a not disputed issue only in China. In the US, some insignificant local classification schemes have been replaced gradually and naturally by the Library of Congress's classification system, proof that automation of the library collection and demands for resource sharing will lead people toward a more unified and standardized class system. This should, indeed, be China's future direction.

[17] See the Preface of this book by Kathie Price.

[18] See supra note 10.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[24] 中国法律图书馆业:挑战与机遇 p. 238

[25] Id.

[27] Id.


[31] Eastlaw here is solely used as a symbolic expression for an idealized version of a Chinese online legal information system similar to Westlaw. The discussion doesn't refer to the substantial Chinese law and Western legal system.

[32] After his historical journey to mainland China and Hong Kong in the spring of 2002, Ronald Dworkin made remarks, in his candid style, on the topic of human rights in China and its problems with the rule of law. One of his criticisms deals with judicial independence in China in his complaint of the availability and access of judicial decisions. This, however, seems to be a controversial statement. There are some publications of judicial reports, for instance, the Gazettes of the Supreme People's Court of the PRC, which covers important cases, judicial interpretations, and the Court's advisory opinions and guidelines. The Compilation of the People's Courts Cases, an official collection of cases published by the People's Court Press, contains significant and polemical cases decided by all court levels. Those are openly published serials and collected by some US law libraries. From isinolaw.com and chinalawinfo.com, some English translations of case reports in full text are available. Nevertheless, they are limited partially because of their publishing techniques. Also, the criteria Dworkin uses for his complaint is the US model, which is the best developed judicial information system in the world, complete with case digesting, invented by West Publishing, and shepardizing systems. The lack of judicial decisions cannot be solely attributed to the failure of judicial independence. The fact that Chinese law does not belong to the common law system so judicial reports are not seen as an official source of law is another factor.

[33] 中国法律信息事业发展与现状 p.21


[38] P.7.

[39] See Westlaw China.

[40] 实习律师之法律检索 p.6.

[41] Kossof Paul, Chinese Legal Research. Carolina Academic Press (2014).

[43] 国内法律专业数据库值比较 p.51.

[44] Id. at p. 52.

[45] Id.