The China Quarterly

Research Article

China's Courts: Restricted Reform

Benjamin L. Liebman


China's courts have in recent years engaged in significant reforms designed to raise the quality of their work. Yet such top-down reforms have been largely technical and are not designed to alter courts' power. Courts have also encountered new challenges, including rising populist pressures, which may undermine their authority. The most important changes in China's courts have come from the ground up: local courts have engaged in significant innovation, and horizontal interaction among judges is facilitating the development of professional identity. Recent developments have largely avoided two central questions facing China's courts: why have courts been permitted to develop even limited new roles, and what additional roles, if any, may they play within the Chinese political system?