The China Quarterly

Special Section on Law and Enforcement in China

Debt Collection in the Less Developed Regions of China: An Empirical Study from a Basic-Level Court in Shaanxi Province*

Xin Hea1

a1 City University of Hong Kong. Email:


Contrary to the prevailing view in the literature that Chinese courts have been notoriously incompetent in enforcement, this article contends that the situation may not be so bad. Based on in-depth fieldwork investigations of 60 debt collection cases at a basic-level court in the less developed hinterland region of China, this study finds that the majority of plaintiffs recover most of their debts through the court. Local protectionism persists, but seems to be contained within legal rules. Nevertheless, the underdeveloped economy of the region has limited the effectiveness of several core judicial reform measures. Unlike the situation in more developed regions, the forces of economic development outside the court have not been significant enough to reshape the power structure inside the court. The overall situation suggests, however, that China's efforts in the field of legal reform, including the promulgation of substantive laws as well as strengthened institution-building have, in general, been conducive to the effective processing of routine debt collection cases.

(Online publication June 20 2011)

Xin He is associate professor at the School of Law, City University of Hong Kong and has been visiting professor at NYU School of Law and University of Illinois College of Law. His research interests focus on empirical studies on Chinese legal systems. His recent articles include "Street as Courtroom: State Accommodation of Labor Protest in South China," in Law & Society Review, 2010 (with Yang Su) and "Enforcing Commercial Judgments in the Pearl River Delta of China," in American Journal of Comparative Law, 2009.

* The author acknowledges the Financial support of a GRF grant from the Hong Kong government (no. 9041402 (CityU142708)). Professor Wei Ding, School of Law, Xi’an University of Communications, provided indispensable support for the fieldwork.