Finding Chinese Law on the Internet

By Joan Liu

Joan Liu is an associate curator and head of the Acquisitions & Serials Department of the New York University School of Law Library. She received her LLM from the East China Institute of Politics and Law (1988) and her MLS from Rutgers University in New Jersey (1995). Before her career as a law librarian in the United States, Ms. Liu taught law in her Alma Mater from 1988 to 1989. Ms. Liu’s most recent article on Chinese legal information is “Beyond the Border: The Chinese Legal Information System in Cyberspace”, International Journal of Legal Information, 29.1 (2001). Her latest translation of legal works is Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution by Ronald Dworkin, Oxford Press (1996), Shanghai People’s Press, (2001). Ms. Liu is a member of both the American Law Library Association (AALL) and Association of American Law Schools (AALS).

*This article is excerpted 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.

Published February 2005

Read the Update!

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Chinese Legal System and Legal Information System
Characteristics and Sources of Law
Legal Information System in China
Eastlaw vs. Westlaw: the Impact of the Internet on Chinese Legal Information
Chapter 2: Major Chinese or Bilingual Online Sources
Sources in English or Bilingual with Chinese
Sources in Chinese
Chapter 3: Features of Online Sources and Search Strategies
Evaluating Chinese Online Legal Resources
Strategies of Online Legal Research
Some Misconceptions of Online Resources
Researching Chinese Law on the Internet: A Sample Problem and more research guides

Chapter 1: The Chinese Legal System and Legal Information System
Characteristics and Sources of Chinese Law
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.[i][i] 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.[ii][ii] 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.[iii][iii] 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”.[iv][iv] 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.[v][v] 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 Qing Code of the Qing Dynasty (the last monarchy of China during the 7th–20th centuries), 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.

Sources of the 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.[vi][vi]

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 affaires related, and as stated in the Basic Law, Article 18).[vii][vii]

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 law in Macao.[viii][viii]

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.

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.[ix][ix] 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.[x][x] 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.[xi][xi]

Paradox of legal publishing and classification of the law

The proliferation of legal publishing since the 1980s[xii][xii] 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[xiii][xiii]), 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.[xiv][xiv]

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.[xv][xv] 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.[xvi][xvi]

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.[xvii][xvii]

Predicaments of law libraries

Due to the indifference shown to those who pursue law scholarship, the law librarian 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 also how to access legal information. When Chinese legal scholars were finally 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 a few organizations that focus 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.[xviii][xviii] 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 negligence of 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.[xix][xix]

Unlike the US, where the American Bar Association set up requirements to ensure that the library is seen as a heart of legal research and study, the law library in China is seen more as a warehouse for books. So far, there are no formal qualification requirements to be a law librarian. People are not surprised to see that law library staff has neither bibliographic knowledge nor a legal background. However, this situation is improving.[xx][xx]

Eastlaw vs. Westlaw: [xxi][xxi] the Impact of the Internet on Chinese Legal Information

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.[xxii][xxii] 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?

A big success to the progression of the legal information system in China is due to the online legal databases produced by Chinese academic institutions or government agencies under the template of Westlaw and LexisNexis. In the 1980s, legal researchers started thinking of adopting CALR for Chinese legal research. The goal is to create a service similar to Westlaw that would supply comprehensive online legal services. The exhaustive coverage, powerful searching capacities, and omnibus help features were all seen as models of online database services in China.[xxiii][xxiii]

Chinalawinfo, formerly known as the Information Center at Beijing (Peking) University, used to cooperate with both Westlaw and LexisNexis on supplying Chinese law databases in both Chinese and English. It also released the Chinese legal retrieval system, a pioneer online legal service in China. Its database initially included some national and local laws related to economics and foreign business. After the advent of the Center for Legal Information of the Peking University, the databases were expanded to contain national statutes, regulations, treaties, and some judicial decisions dating from 1949. In the summer of 1999, this online service was formally incorporated into China Law Information Inc. and published an English version. It also designed its webpage as a gateway to other online resources with its own search engine. In 2002, Chinalawinfo started putting hyperlinks to relevant resources for the provisions of laws, regulations, and other documents in the databases. An interesting fact is that Chinalawinfo adopted this hyperlink Internet technology only two to three years later after Westlaw and other superior online services implemented it; conversely, it had been almost twenty years after Chinese formally celebrated the Chinese version of CARL! It makes people believe that Eastlaw, a Chinese version corresponding to Westlaw (the quintessential online legal research system) is not very far from reality because of the advanced modern technology.

Chinalawinfo is not all alone. There were other similar online legal services in the 1990s. For instance, CEI (a subsidiary of the State Information Center of the PRC), LawOnline (a Hong Kong based production), and (the first mainland based bilingual law database) are a few examples. CEI’s coverage once surpassed that of Chinalawinfo, but its search functions were too primitive, which subsequently caused it to lose its competitiveness. At the same time, a couple of comprehensive CD-ROM products have entered the market. The Law and Regulations of the PRC by the Information Center of the State Council was one of the best during that time, providing its users with an updating mechanism for the law database and also offered cross referencing to obsolete or amended provisions.[xxiv][xxiv]

In addition to these commercial products, legal education institutions, law enforcement agencies, and law firms have also established law databases and online services. Foreign publishers have also started including Chinese law in their databases.

This recent development 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, 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.[xxv][xxv] 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.


Chen, J., Chinese Law: Towards an Understanding of Chinese Law, Its Nature and Development. Kluwer Law International, 1999.

Dobinson, Ian, Introduction to Law in the Hong Kong SAR. 2nd edition. Sweet & Maxwell Asia, 2001 (with Derek Roebuck).

Hsu, C. Stephen, Understanding China’s Legal System. New York University Press, 2003.

Lee, Tahirih V., Chinese Law: Social, Political, Historical, and Economic Perspectives. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997.

Xin, Chunying, Chinese Legal System & Current Legal Reform. Beijing: Law Press, 1999.

Wesley-Smith, Peter, An Introduction to the Hong Kong Legal System. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Chapter Two: 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. Due to the amount of time and labor spent on local maintenance, the CD-ROM has been losing its appeal in Western countries. However, it is and will continue to be a major medium for legal information in China due to its low production costs and easy dissemination. CD-ROM products will be introduced here with their web version counterparts, not grouped separately.

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 like GPO Access or Thomas are not yet 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. A government site could use .gov, .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.

Sources in English or Bilingual with Chinese

Online services with full text databases

Chinalawinfo (Chinese only)

Chinalawinfo was developed in the 1980s by the Legal Information Center of Peking University Law School. 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, and materials are updated biweekly. The 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.

A new feature was added to the service in the summer of 2002, which provides hyperlinks between laws and regulations to their related legislation or case reports. E-mail notices such as “ Database New Updates” are also periodically distributed to the subscribers.

At present, Chinolawinfo is the most complete online database with reliable search functions available for Chinese law. However, the flaws inherent in the database structure and its advanced search capacities could be discouraging for end users.


This Hong Kong based bilingual commercial database provides expansive coverage on the laws and regulations of the PRC and Hong Kong. Moreover, it is probably also the best place to find English versions of newly enacted laws or regulations for the PRC and Hong Kong at present.

isinolaw’s Bilingual Split Screen is a unique tool. The downloading process is also user-friendly. Database retrieval, however, is still volatile and has room for improvement in comparison with online services such as Westlaw. This online service has recently started notifying its subscribers of current updates via e-mail.


Sinolaw is the first commercial English online legal service found in mainland China. This Internet-based database is run by a Chinese information service agency in Beijing. Though SLO emphasizes commercial and business laws, it also includes basic laws, major statutes, and regulations of the PRC. The coverage of the latter, however, is not as extensive as the former topics. Sinolaw’s model and database layout is likely used as templates for other bilingual online databases.


CLRSonline, published by Asia Law & Practice Ltd., was sold to CCH Asia in early 2003. The electronic version of its publications, China Law Reference Service, which is a loose-leaf service, can be accessed via the web as a paid subscription. It is a major resource for newly enacted laws of the PRC in English and its database coverage reaches as far back as 1979. Moreover, database retrieval is equipped with advanced searching capabilities. However, not all of the documents found here are in full text, and the information provided herein is not as comprehensive as either Chinalawinfo or isinolaw.

China Laws and Regulations Information

This online database is produced by a Fujian province-based information agency, and offers comprehensive coverage of both primary and secondary sources on Chinese law. For the time being, users can access the database for free. The English section comprises the major national laws and complete relevant administrative regulations, decisions, and supplemental provisions. However, its retrieval function is primitive, because the only search method available is a keyword search for both title and content. Moreover, an updating mechanism has not yet been clearly developed.


Westlaw now 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, a full text version of the 2002 edition of the Hong Kong Civil Procedure (The White Book Service) is also available. 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.


The Lexis/Nexis Online Service has resumed its coverage of 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.

World News Connection

This is an official U.S. foreign news service that provides extensive coverage on the politics and laws of the PRC. The World News Connection collection is mostly made up what are considered the important resources. This includes the Daily Report China, which was published by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and taken over by WNC in 1996. Some of the laws of the PRC are also available in this database. Documents can be searched via various search methods.

China Academic Journals

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 1994. As of now, it is the most comprehensive and powerful database for finding legal articles in the Chinese vernacular with advanced search methods.

Official government resources

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, law, science and technology, and various economics aspects of China. Its “Law and Enforcement” section introduces Chinese law and its latest developments. The site can be searched by using keywords.

China Court

This website is sponsored by the Supreme People’s Court of the PRC and focuses on judicial news and legal information. Access 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.


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. Some cases from the Court of Final Appeal are reported at this site, but the database is not updated. 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. It is archived and kept up-to-date.


This bilingual website by Zhonglv Legal Information is very closely associated with the Ministry of Justice and other agencies, even though it has claimed itself to be an independent information institution since 1999. Free access to comprehensive law databases with search capacities is provided. The English version contains close to 800 documents, and also includes an index. The most valuable component of this site is its extensive information about Chinese attorneys.


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

This English website 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.

Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation

A bilingual introduction to the agency is given on this site. The “Regulations and Policies” section provides free access to the full texts of laws related to foreign trade and business.

Ministry of Education

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 China Securities Regulatory Commission website contains an informative introduction about the Ministry and security market 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

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

This site releases reports on the latest legal developments and governmental policies. The databases are searchable.

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 used. 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.

China Legal Change

This is an electronic journal on Chinese law published biweekly by Legal Support Services Limited from 2000-2002. The journal focuses on the discussion of current Chinese law development. This service also offers the full text of the new laws, regulations, and interpretations that are publicized by the central and local government bodies in Chinese.

Legal Forum

This electronic publication, which is associated with Beijing University Law School, Tsinghua University Law School, the College of Law, and the SOAS Briefing Office in London, serves as a bridge between the lawyers of China and Great Britain. Its “Legal Articles” section publishes research articles that deal with the laws of mainland China and Hong Kong. The “Reference” section collects major Chinese laws in both English and Chinese, but access is restricted to members only.

China Civil Law Forum

This web service, sponsored by Babelcom, covers Chinese property law, contract law, company law, partnership law, and sole proprietorship law. All information is provided in English. Access to the full texts of the laws is free. It also contains briefs and discussions on the subject.

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.


This electronic journal focuses on legal reference resources. It contains mainly the research guides for different jurisdictions, including China. The journal is updated periodically.

Legal research tools and directorial websites

General directorial sites


This can be used as a comprehensive directory for the Chinese law and legal system. A list of accessible Internet resources for major Chinese laws in both Chinese and English are provided.

China Law Net

This highly praised listserv offers a forum for legal professionals around the world to discuss Chinese law related issues. The archived discussions and other pertinent information can be accessed via the website.

China Today

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.


The legal section of this site covers the full text of the laws and regulations of the PRC in both English and Chinese. It is accessible for free via the website. Contents of the site are up to date, but not searchable.

This directory has links to some Chinese law related websites.

Chinese Law at WashLaw Web

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)

The gateway service by the Library of Congress contains major primary and secondary sources for the PRC, the HKSAR, and the Macao SAR.

Directory of Law Firms

The Hieros Gamos’s website compiles a directory of law firms in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao.

Research guides and annotated online bibliographies

Internet Chinese Legal Research Center

This site was created and is maintained by Wei Luo, a law librarian at the Washington University Law Library. It compiles the links and guides on Chinese legal research. The contents of the site cover the laws of the PRC, the Hong Kong SAR, and Taiwan. Each link is annotated.

Research guide on Chinese law

Wei Luo and Joan Liu, with information based on their former published guides and recent updates, composed this article, “A Complete Research Guide on the Laws of the PRC.”

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.

Legal publishers and vendors

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 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.

Sources in Chinese

Online services with full text databases

China Economic Information

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. The databases are available either online or in CD-ROM format. The search capabilities of this service via the web are not as well developed as; its databases can only be searched by keywords, the enactment date of the law, and the name of the legislative body. Also, the contents of the laws are not indexed; therefore, they are not searchable.


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.


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.

Law Online

This commercial online legal service is formerly known as the Law-On-Line/Asia-Pacific On-Line database system, which was originally created by the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, and then later merged with the Great China Web. Law-On-Line provides national laws and regulations at both the central and local government levels from 1949 to present. It also offers “Legal News and Information” in a bilingual format. The electronic versions of the Asian Commercial Law Review and the vernacular China Legal Daily are both available.

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 Court

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 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.

Government official resources

The Supreme People’s Court of the PRC

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.

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 maintains a vast collection of the major national laws, case analyses, and the working reports of the National People’s Congress from 1987 to 2000, a feat rarely accomplished in other databases. The databases, however, are not searchable.

Government Online Project

This site serves as a platform to all governmental information. The site is searchable.

Government Agencies

This site contains a brief directory of government agencies, including the State Council and the ministries, and describes the structure and responsibilities of each agency. The directory, however, is not searchable, and also not up-to-date.

The State Intellectual Property Office

This website contains all intellectual property related laws, regulations, and other legal documents. It also provides useful statistics on the Chinese IP process. However, the information provided in the database is neither current nor searchable.

Ministry of Education

This 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.

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 1980s 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 of 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.

People’s Daily

The Chinese version of the official paper of the Party is archived and searchable.


The “Law Article” section covers the major law publications by Beijing University Law School. The journals can be searched, and some full text articles can also be downloaded.

China Lawyer

This site has the e-version of the China Lawyer Magazine, by the same publisher. This service is free.

Legal research tools and directorial websites

General directorial sites and gateways

Chinese Legal System

This legal Internet service is developed and run by the Law Society of Fujian Province and Fujian Bamin Telecom IT Co., Ltd. It provides legal news and introductions of governmental agencies, as well as current laws and regulations. The “Legal Aids” section offers free legal counseling by volunteers who are experienced on the topics. Moreover, various samples of legal forms are also provided.

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:

Indices and library catalogs

Law Article” at Chinalawinfo

The Index of Legal Periodicals of China by the Southern West Institute of Politics and Law[xxvi][xxvi] is the first available index for legal periodicals and articles. However, an electronic version has yet to come into existence. Chinalawinfo’s Law Article section has a primary index with basic search functions.

China Academic Journal

This comprehensive full text database provides an index. It also offers advanced searching capacities for free.

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.

Beijing Library

The Beijing Library, the national library of the PRC, has developed its own ILS, which has also been used by a number of other law libraries. The Beijing Library owns a rich collection of materials on laws and politics. Its webpac can be accessed with multiple search methods.

Shanghai Public Library

The Shanghai Public Library is a research library with a comprehensive rare book collection, including legal history materials. It implements its automation system via the Horizon system from the U.S. and offers advanced search capabilities.

Beijing University Law Library

This was the first online law library catalog on the Internet, but the catalogs are neither standardized nor complete.

Ministry of Education

The entry for “library” probably contains the most complete linkage to the other online catalogs from both public and academic libraries.

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.


Dai, Shouyi, Searching Legal Information. China University of Politics and Law Press, 2001

Dong, Xiaochun, Legal Information Resource and Research. Law Press, 2001

Luo, Wei, Joan Liu, “A Compete Research Guide to the Laws of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” (

Chapter Three: Features of Online Sources and Search Strategies

This chapter will discuss strategies that are helpful 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.

Evaluating Chinese Online Legal Resources

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. Although these sites do provide some official information, the information found therein is often scattered, sporadic, and mostly 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.

Figure 1-3-1 from

Figure 1-3-2 from

In an effort to expand their present scope of coverage, developers of online resources are now providing hyperlinks to all related Internet resources to build gateways. This is undoubtedly convenient for the web users; however, the proliferation of the magnitude of the database does not necessarily enhance its quality. This is especially true for certain commercial online services. For instance, and are both steadily growing and reliable online services for legal research. offers numerous links to other resources in its homepage, but its full text databases are hidden behind one or two layers of its homepage. In contrast,, which has a direct and terse homepage, is much easier to browse. See Figure 1-3-1 and Figure1-3-2.


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 Affaires 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.[xxvii][xxvii] 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 Beijing University Law School, Tsinghua University Law School, the Nanjing University, and the Beijing Library.

Information management

Although the uses of the computer and the Internet, along with the standards of information organization, have been largely adopted and utilized in the production of Chinese legal databases, problems that obstruct online access capabilities still prevail. This can be seen in the law databases where its law compilation documents are not organized appropriately, but piled up together with very preliminary search capacities. The lack of a unified citation system also contributes to the disorganization found in law databases.

Another weakness in information management is shown by the online catalogs of law libraries. Due to the lack of professional resources to the field of law librarianship, the immaturity of the domestic automation system, and financial constraints, most law libraries are unable to adhere to cataloging standards when converting bibliographic data online retroactively from the card system. Though a number of law libraries utilize the USMARC format, many materials are either not fully cataloged or are not standard abiding. The extent of these problems becomes more visible when local online catalogs are launched onto the Internet.

Additionally, the different implementation algorithms of the web interface have created a problem where some online catalog systems only allow a limited number of results to be retrieved. Users with remote access, therefore, would be unable to practice exhaustive searching. Moreover, there are several subject classification schedules in China, with the major ones being set by the Beijing Library, the national library of China, and the Chinese Academia of Science. The unification of the various classification systems will be essential in the future for standardized information access and sharing.

This disorganization is not just manifested in the contents of the online databases, but also reflected in their composition. A number of online services have attempted to create a “one-stop shopping mall” for Chinese legal research. However, in doing so, these services have lost the simplicity of their layouts, giving them the appearance of poorly managed warehouses. Furthermore, due to the access problem inherent to the Chinese language, one popular approach has been to display the Chinese headings as images. This, in addition to the other picture files used in the sites, has resulted in huge files that lead to an extremely slow retrieval process.

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,, 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.

Search tools

All Chinese legal resources on the web can be searched via browsers such as Netscape and Internet Explorer. Understanding the coding systems of Chinese characters is the key to configuring the right setting to accessing vernacular databases. There are several different systems for coding Chinese characters, namely, Big5, EACC, GB, HZ, and Unicode. Generally, databases based in Taiwan and Hong Kong are coded in traditional Chinese characters with the Big5 system. Databases from mainland China, Singapore, and elsewhere adopt the simplified Chinese character system, using GB coding. EACC, a coding system for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters, is used mainly by the Integrated Library System (such as INNOPAC). The HZ code system, which shares the same standards as the GB system, is widely used for web-based electronic journals and newspapers. Unicode is not a commonly used code system.

Web browsers usually have plug-ins which allow the user to read Chinese characters. However, many documents are encoded with non-standardized codes or a mixture of several code systems. In order to obtain input capability and ensure the downloading quality, you need to select the right encoding from your web browser or use a Chinese reader interface. The simple reader Unionway, or more advanced applications such as Cstar, Twinbridge, or NJStar are a few examples. If you use MS Internet Explorer, click on “View”, then “Encoding”, and then select “Chinese Simplified (GB2312)” for websites from mainland China or select “Chinese Traditional (Big5)” for websites from Hong Kong and Taiwan. If you are using Netscape Navigator, click on “View”, then “Character Set”, and then choose “Simplified Chinese” if the databases are from mainland Chinese producers.

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.

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 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:

  • the authority and reliability of the authors or producers of the resource;
  • the contents, scope, and structure of the resource in order to draw the pathfinder;
  • updating frequency to ensure whether the resource is current;
  • search capabilities (Boolean search or other more sophisticated search functions to ensure maximum search results);
  • the stability of the resource and the archiving method used.

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.

Some Misconceptions of Online Resources

In the Chapter 1 of this Part, we have discussed the efficiency of online sources and their impact on Chinese legal research and practices. However, like any other new technology or invention in history, the Internet is not the ultimate or only means of Chinese law research. 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. For Chinese law, however, a big part of the legal materials (for instance, administrative regulations, detailed rules or regulations by government agencies, judicial decisions by different levels of jurisdictional institutions, and local or provincial legislation) have not yet been computerized. Therefore, researchers have to rely on printed sources.

Because of the power of search engines such as Google, Yahoo or other online services like Westlaw, people believe in the fantasy of an exclusive and universal “navigator” or tool that can locate everything. However, for Chinese legal materials, Google is not the most efficient search engine and certainly not suitable as a starting point. Even commercial databases, such as Chinalawinfo, are 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.

And finally, because of the seeming 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 needy. 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.

Researching Chinese Law on the Internet: A Sample Problem


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 – 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).

Search strategies

Start with secondary sources

The China Academic Journal is a productive beginning. Input query “security and inside and trade”, and select the relevant database “Economics, Politics, and Law” from the general list (which also includes Engineering, Science, etc., other sub-databases, see Figure 1-3-3) in the left. Your initial search only brings you four articles. This result is evidently not satisfying. You need more background information. As a result, you have to expand your search scope. This time, you should put “inside and trade” only into search query box and omit “security”. The second search gives you forty-seven 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

You can also search the section of “Legal Literature” from, which includes about two dozen journals and also a preliminary index. Be aware that the database contains some weaknesses in the indexing techniques, and the scope of the journals is limited to the publications mostly by Beijing University Law School. You may also search library catalogs to find books on this topic. However, you should realize that this is a relatively new research topic; therefore, there might not be any treatises published yet. Journal articles are more appropriate to find the desirable materials for your research.

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.

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 or 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 “the Context of Law”, input “inside and trade”. Leave other search query boxes, such as title of law, the legislatures, the date of promulgation and ratification, as “arbitrary”. This will help you to obtain the maximum number of results. Click the “Search” key. You have close to sixty documents. See Figure 1-3-4.

Figure 1-3-4 from

Review your preliminary results

In Chinalawinfo, you can limit your search results by entering “security” into search query box for “Context of Law”, but not for “Title of the Laws and Regulations”. First, keep in mind this database is different from Westlaw, you cannot revise your query without going back to search because this online service does not have query revision function. Second, you cannot limit your search via “Title of the Laws and Regulations” with the query, but only through “Context of Law”, because other laws, such as Corporate Law and Criminal Law, also regulate “inside trade”. Re-searching gives you 40 documents. These documents are listed chronologically. In each document, the keyword “inside trade” is marked in red and linked to the relevant cross-references.

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, you have read a notice by the Supreme People’s Court, Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Not Accepting Civil Cases of Compensation Concerning Securities Temporarily, on September 21, 2001. Evidently, you will not be able to find the case report and trial records. The zero results you receive from both and prove that the Announcement remains the latest judicial interpretation on the law.

Moreover, from searching these two databases, you will find the difference in their structures. To get reliable English translation of this Announcement from, you assume that this document, which you found under “Judicial Interpretation” in Chinalawinfo, should be listed under similar sub-databases of However, categorizes 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.

Surf the Internet.

If you need more supplemental information on this issue, you can search on the Internet by using Google. 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 being drowned.

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 and inside and trade and china” as keywords, which will give you about 60 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. Though not exactly about “inside trade”, it can still contain very vital information to your research topic.

Read also more guides on this topic:
-Chinese Legal Research Guides

-Compilation of Chinese Legal Research Guides

-A Guide to Chinese Legal Research and Global Legal Collection Highlights: Official Publication of Chinese Law

A Guide to Chinese Legal Research: Administrative Regulations and Departmental Rules

A Guide to Chinese Legal Research: Who Makes What?

The Rule of Law in China: New Titles in Our Collection

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Author

Supreme Court of China, 99 Years Ago



Berring, Robert, “Chaos, cyberspace and tradition: legal information transmogrified.” 12 Berkeley Technology Law Journal 189, 1997.

Geist, Michael, “Where can you go today?: the computerization of legal education from workbooks to the web.” 11 Harvard Journal of Law and Technology 141, 1997.

Senzel, Howard, “Looseleafing the flow: an anecdotal history of one technology for updating.” 44 American Journal of Legal History 115, 2000.


Katz, William, Introduction to Reference Work. 6th edition. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992.

Smith, Susan Sharpless, Web-Based Instruction: A Guide for Libraries. American Library Association, 2001.

Zivanovic, Aleksandra, Guide to Electronic Legal Research. 2nd edition. Butterowrths, 2002.

[i][i] 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).

[ii][ii] See Amendment to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (March 15, 1999), in the Preamble of the Constitution, Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Thought are established as the guidance for all political and legal activities. (See isinolaw at

[iii][iii] 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. See 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.

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

[v][v] See Chen, J., Chinese Law: 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.

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

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

[viii][viii] See the Basic Law of Macao SAR at

[ix][ix] According to Zhongguo Chu 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.

[x][x] See id.

[xi][xi] 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.

[xii][xii] See supra note 9.

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

[xiv][xiv] 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- .

[xv][xv] 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.

[xvi][xvi] 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.

[xvii][xvii] 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.

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

[xix][xix] See supra note 10.

[xx][xx] The Starr Summer program, which emphasizes legal research methodology, and the conference held in conjunction with the workshop, together with the publishing of this book, are all positive signals.

[xxi][xxi] 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.

[xxii][xxii] 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 and, 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.

[xxiii][xxiii] See Jian, Daoqi, translated by Wang, Zhenmin, “Introduction to the Development of Legal Information in the People’s Republic of China“, Law-On-Line Review Special, 1995.

[xxiv][xxiv] Mr. Daoqi Jian headed the Information Center of State Council and is also one of the pioneers who introduced the CARL methods to China.

[xxv][xxv] See isinolaw (

[xxvi][xxvi] Index of Legal Periodical of China edited by Zou, Yuli and Wang Guangming, 2001-, Law Press, 2002

[xxvii][xxvii] See the Regulations on management of compiling, editing, and publishing laws and regulations by the State Council in 1990. (isinolaw at