Table of Contents
- Basics of the laws of the People抯 Republic of
China, the laws of the
Hong Kong SAR, and the laws of the Macao SAR
- Legal information access in China
- Major Online Chinese Legal
- Resources in English or bilingual
- Legal Online Services
- Electronic legal publications
- Legal research tools and law related websites
- Resources in Chinese
- Legal Online Services
- Electronic legal publications
- Legal research tools and law related websites
- CD-ROM products
- Features of the online Chinese legal resources
- The Myth of Eastlaw
A. Basics of the
Laws of the People's Republic of China, the laws of the Hong Kong SAR, and the laws of the
In a broad sense, "China law" should comprise four components: (1) the laws of the People's Republic of China
(PRC); (2) the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), a former British colony
handed back to PRC in 1997, but still employs
the common law system; (3)
the laws of the Macao Special Administrative Region (Macao SAR), a former Portugal colony which was
returned to China in 1999, but has kept the
legal system; and (4) the laws of Taiwan which, as the remaining part of the former Republic of China, has
developed a distinct legal system different from that
of the mainland after the Nationalists lost the civil war to the Communists in 1949. However,
"China law" is commonly referred to as
the laws of the PRC, which was constituted in
1949 when the new government was founded. This article will mainly review the legal resources of the
laws of the PRC and
the laws of HKSAR and Macao SAR in electronic formats, including databases, websites, CD-ROM products, and other
materials, but not traditional printing resources. The legal resources of the laws of
discussed in later articles.
and structure: When Rene
David was reviewing the Chinese codification of the
1930s in his Major
Legal System in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of
Law, he concluded that "Chinese law...can be ranked within the family of
laws deriving from the Romanist tradition". Today, the laws of the PRC at
large degree still share the
characteristics of the civil law system rather than those
of the common law. As David
pointed out, this can be partly attributed to the Europeanization of
the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In addition, this also owes
to the fact that the PRC has inherited the Chinese legal tradition: the statutes
or codes (written law) were highly valued even back to the Qin Dynasty in
Though the Chinese legal system is claimed to be
distinct from all other legal systems, jurists of the PRC follow rules of the
civil law family. The legislation
of the PRC reflects a structural similarity to countries in the Romano-Germanic family, German and France, for instance. Moreover, the Chinese jurists value legal doctrines and
hold written law in
high esteem; concrete judicial decisions are not officially considered as a
source of law.
Source of the laws of the PRC: In
retrospective review, the formation and progression of the modern legal system
in mainland China had been disturbed by a series of successive political
movements from 1949 to 1976. Before
the Criminal Code was enacted in
1979, the Constitution Law passed in
1954 was the only statute for 25 years. The
governmental operation largely relied on the policies and orders of the Party. The rule of law was not constructed until the massive legislation
enactment from the late 1980s, after the Party decided to adopt the
"opening-up policy" to develop the market economic system in
Since then, the skyrocketing
development of the economy has led to substantial legislative activities
that have laid the foundation of the modern legal system. Now, China has established a comprehensive scheme of legislation,
including national laws, administrative regulations, and local laws.
Among the sources of the laws of the PRC, the statutes enacted by the
National People's Congress (NPC, China's Congress), which
constitutional laws, civil codes, and criminal codes, have the highest
regulations by the State Council (China's cabinet) can
not be in conflict
with the statutes. The decided
cases by various levels of judicial institutions are not official sources of
law, though decisions of the Supreme People's Court are factually used as a
guideline in the practice of lower courts when the provision of law is in
obscurity. Local laws and regulations are enacted by provincial
legislatures and governments.
However, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the Macao Special Administrative Region
(Macao SAR) are the exceptions from the legal framework in the PRC. Those two special regions were set up directly under the theory of one country, two systems
? by Mr. Deng Xiaoping, the former President of the PRC and the giant of
the Party. Right before the PRC resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong
Kong and Macao, the NPC of the PRC enacted the Basic Law of the HKSAR (adopted on April
1990) and the Basic Law of Macao (adopted on March 1993), in order to keep the state
sovereignty but to remain the special economic position of those two
regions. From their position and
nature, those two laws are national laws, not local laws, therefore, no laws,
ordinances, administrative regulations and other normative documents of the HRSAR and the Macao SAR shall violate
the Basic Law. At the same time, the
Basic Law of the both regions states clearly that the existing capitalist system and the way of life in the
regions shall remain unchanged for 50 years, the laws
previously in force in these two regions shall be maintained. Hence, the legal system in the regions
became a combination of the traditions of both civil law and the common law, and the political scheme turned out to be
a mixture of the capitalist system and socialist system.
Legal Information Access in China
As a consequence of the underdevelopment of the
legal system, the legal research and legal information supporting systems were
primitive in China before the 1980s. Unlike Hong Kong and Macao, where the
legal information resources are sufficient and information structures are
sophiscated, and where the legal research and
practice are supported by a sound legal information
system, Chinese legal professionals in
the PRC were backed up by an exceptional insufficiency of legal resources.
Twenty years ago, there was no concept of a
legal information profession in China and few
experienced and competent legal information personnel were able to assist with
fundamental legal research. Moreover,
few legal publishers existed before the 1970s because no systematic
legislation and legal research existed. Though legal publishers were enlightened
effect of the rule of
law in the late 1980s, standardized and advanced techniques for organizing
legal information, such as codification, indexing, cataloging, and
superseding, had not yet been implemented by the legal publishers. Additionally, all legal institutions had only
a meager budget
for acquiring materials. Even law
schools had very scanty funds to
amass a legal collection. Back in the 1980s, law textbooks were the primary sources
(the sole source for some
subjects of law) for legal study. To
carry out research in thesis work, a graduate student had to allot a
significant amount of time to travel around the country to collect the data
and materials. Within the
agencies of law enforcement, the
scarcity of legal materials was much worse.
For a long period of time, the difficulty in
accessing legal information was the major obstruction to conducting legal
research in almost every legal institution.
construction of a modern legal system was
hindered and which directly undermined the
realization of the rule of law in China.
reforms in both the economy and law starting in the late 1970s have apparently impacted the advancement of the law. The demands for a modern legal information system arose hereafter. The exchange of legal
professionals between China and the rest of the world has enlarged the vision
of Chinese jurists. A large
number of Chinese legal researchers and practitioners have been offered
opportunities to study law in the U.S. and other developed countries. They have been trained to utilize legal information to
engage in thorough legal research.
the other hand, jurists out of China have also
keenly impelled the progression of
legal information access in China. The
U.S. Committee on Legal Educational Exchange with China (CLEEC), for instance,
was one of the first of a small number of organizations that not only provided
young Chinese law teachers opportunities to have legal training in the U.S.,
but also supported Chinese legal educational institutions with hardware,
facilities, and training. Westlaw
offers free access to both students and faculty at the Beijing University Law School.
Ebsco, Dialog, and the U.S. information agencies offer university
students free retrieval to their databases as well. Thus, the idea of constructing and developing
the legal information system
has begun to be embedded into the larger scheme of the modern Chinese legal
Furthermore, the rapid development of computer and Internet technology from
provides unprecedented opportunities to further build up
China's legal information system.
The Internet has very quickly become a unique vehicle for legal information storage and access in China.
Aggressive construction of telecommunication infrastructures by the government has hastened broader Internet
access, which results in a revolution of the entire
arena of the legal information system.
From Beijing to Shanghai, from the headquarters
of leading online services to law school computer laboratories, you can
a similar hectic scenario: young, energetic, and skillful graduates are busy
with data entering, scanning or typing, and programming for the production of
legal databases. Every founder or
organizer of online services or databases is confident in their
qualification to build the best databases. Their aim is to catch up to Westlaw and
services. In addition, more
and more law schools, legal institutions, and even law firms are proposing to
create databases and e-law services. Law
publishers have launched e-versions of their publications on the websites one
after another. Legal
professionals are constructing informal platforms for sturdy telecommunication. On the other hand, the legal databases on China law produced
by sophisticated western legal publishers, and the resources on Chinese legal
research provided by research groups out of China, supplement a significant
amount of information to the current framework.
by people in and out of China have led to the emergence of a virtual China law library in
cyberspace. The vast
availability of Chinese legal resources, including full text law databases (commercial and non-commercial), online
legal publications, websites with research
tools including library online catalogs,
legal services and the jurists networks, is certainly
exhilarating. However, these
uncoordinated efforts by different forces have unavoidably yielded some
negative results (which will be discussed later).
Armed with the technology of the digital age, will
China be able to leap over the predicament of legal information access, which was
promised on a printing-based information structure, to become a full partner on
legal information exchange with other parts of the world?
Major Online Chinese Legal Resources
Commonly, legal sources are classified into two
and secondary. Due
to the complexity and uniqueness of the Chinese online legal resources, I will
tentatively classify the online resources on the laws of the
PRC into four types and discuss them accordingly in this article. However, the
classification of the online Chinese legal resources, the
number of categories they should be divided into to, are subjective decisions. For
instance, a number of websites collect not only comprehensive links and
annotations to other web resources, but also contain databases of full-text
laws and/or publish online journals.
Legal Online Services are commercial services
that provide computer-assisted legal research (CALR) systems to legal
professionals. These services
usually consist of comprehensive databases with a
systematic updating process,
standardized data retrieval systems, and powerful technical support, all
of which are operated by professional information institutions. Electronic publications are
another type of database that cover specific subjects and topics. While
Online Legal Services focus on primary legal sources such as statutes,
regulations, case reports, and other core legal documents, e-journals supply
the most current briefing on changes in China law. The remaining online resources are grouped as
tools and law related sites." Though
some of these websites may also maintain databases covering a
of full-text law, the databases usually lack systematic updating and
standardization. Thus, they are regarded as mainly providers
of bibliographic and
directorial information. All
three types of resources above are accessed via the Internet. CD-ROM in vernacular
are listed as a separate category. Because of the immaturity of the Internet infrastructure in China,
CD-ROM is and will continue to be an important medium in Chinese legal
information access in the near future, although CD-ROMs have been losing their
the U.S. and other developed countries.
Resources in English or Bilingual
Legal Online Services
Online Legal Services on Chinese law in general have the features of modern
information storage and retrieval systems, although
a comprehensive CALR systems similar to WestLaw and
yet been developed.
- The China
Law Retrieving System is provided by Chinalawinfo Co., Ltd., which was
formally founded in the summer of 1999. The retrieval system has both English and Chinese versions
that can be accessed via its website. The access policy of the databases is
the same for both
versions. The full text of Laws
& Regulations is a fee-based service and the materials are updated
biweekly. The Free Law provides free access to some national statutes and regulations. The Cases offers free
access to a list of selected cases that are confirmed by the Supreme People's Courts. The system
also provides the capability of keyword search to the index of the "four
big gazettes", namely the Gazette of the Standing Committee of the
People's Congress, the Gazette of the State Council, the Gazette of Supreme
People's Court, and the Gazette of the Supreme People's Procuratorate. Through the index search the user can retrieve the titles of the
documents. The indices are
archived for three years. The Index of Law
Journals can be searched by title, author, and subject,
which covers 1992 to 1998. At this time, five key law journals are covered by this index.
CLRSonline is a recently launched online service on China law,
which is produced
by Asia Law & Practice. The
electronic version of its publications can be accessed via the web by paid
subscription, The China Law
Reference Service (loose-leaf service) -- a
major resource for newly
enacted laws of the PRC in English. The
databases are equipped with advanced searching capabilities.
- 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
recently merged with the Great China Web. Law-On-Line offers The
National Law and Regulations at both central and local government level
from 1949 to current and the Legal
News and Information in bilingual
also contains the full-text electronic version of the Asian
Commercial Law Review and full-text vernacular China Legal Daily. Another
acclaimed database, Civil Litigation
Court Case, collects the cases from all courts including Supreme Court,
District Court, and Bankruptcy, from 1989 to current. The databases can be accessed by various search approaches via its
- The Laws of Hong Kong SAR
- BLIS stands
for Bilingual Laws Information System, a database of the laws of Hong
Kong. This official legal online
service is located at the web site of the Department of Justice of the HKSAR.
It is open to the public without fee. BLIS contains the statutory Laws of Hong Kong and selected
constitutional documents in both English and Chinese. Some cases from Court of Final Appeal are reported at the same site, but the information is
not up to date. The section of the
Current Ordinances corresponds to the printing version of the Ordinances as
published in the Loose-leaf Edition of the Laws. In International Agreements
section, both bilateral agreements and multilateral treaties are listed. This database
provides the most up-to-date version of the Laws of Hong Kong SAR, and currently it is kept updated
to within an average of two weeks after the publication of the Gazette.
The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Gazette can be accessed in full text, but the database is not archived
, and only the latest issue of the Gazette is available from the database.
- The Laws of the Macao SAR
- The laws of the Macao SAR can be searched at http://www.imprensa.macau.gov.mo/main/index_cn.asp. This is a website of the Government Printing
Office (imprensa official) in Macao. The full-text database contains the complete laws of Macao and some national laws
of the PRC in Chinese and Portuguese, it is archived and up to date.
- Lexis-Nexis Online Service contains a database on China laws and
regulations of the PRC. The
content of the database consists of selected laws and regulations from the
PRC. The materials were
translated by the Chinalaw Assisted Legal Research Center, Beijing
University in the 1980s, and have not been updated since January 1994. The e-version of Hong Kong Law
Journal is also available at Lexis-Nexis. The searching process via
Lexis-Nexis's web interface is pleasant.
is the first commercial online legal service in China that provides
services in English. The
database model of Sinolaw has been taken as the template for other online
databases in English, such as Chinalawinfo.
This Internet-based database is run by a Chinese information
service agency in Beijing and consists of both Sinolaw Legal Online (SLO) and
China Government Guide (CGG). Though SLO emphasizes commercial and business laws, it
basic laws, major statutes, and regulations of the PRC as well. The service provides the English translation of each newly enacted
major law within ten days. CGG
contains biographic information about the central governmental agencies,
the Party, the National Congress, the Supreme People's Court, and the
Supreme People's Procuratorate. The
full-text database of both parts can be accessed via browsing the
tree or searching keywords of the titles of the laws.
- World News Connection
- This is an U.S.
official foreign news service that covers extensive reports on politics
and laws of the PRC. It
collects most of the important sources, including Daily Report China which
was published by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and was taken
over by WNC in 1996. Full-text
of some of the laws of the PRC are available in this database. The documents can be searched via various searching methods.
- This is the online
version of the Chinese official daily newspaper, China Daily, which covers
legal news among others. The
online database allows free access in full text and can be searched by
keywords. The contents are
archived for about three months.
- This is an electronic
journal on China law published by Legal Support Services Limited bi-weekly. The journal focuses on the discussion of current
Chinese law development. The service also
offers full text of the new laws, regulations, and
interpretations publicized by central and local government bodies in Chinese. The online services
have subscription fees.
- This electronic
publication acts as a bridge between the lawyers in China and the Great
Britain. It is associated with the
Beijing University Law School, the
Tsinghua University Law School, The College
of Law, and the SOAS Briefing Office in London. The section of Legal Articles publishes research articles on the laws
of mainland China and Hong Kong. The
Reference section collects major Chinese
laws in both English and Chinese but
the access is restricted to members.
- The Peoples Daily (mirrosite as http://www.peopledaily.net/english/)
- The Peoples Daily is an official paper of the Party and contains reports on legislation
and legal development. New law is usually first released in full text in this newspaper. The newspaper is archived and the database provides
- South China
- This is a Hong Kong
based newspaper which reports a considerable amount of news on the legal
practice of the laws of PRC and Hong Kong. The database has advanced search capabilities.
Research Tools and Law Related Websites
- The Access China website
contains a section called Laws & Regulations that lists some laws on
Chinese-Foreign Joint Venture, Intellectual Property, and other business
related laws and regulations. The
listing is not up-to-date, however.
- This highly praised listserv offers a forum for legal professionals to
discuss Chinese law and practice. The
archived discussion and other related information can be accessed via the
Today: Law, Justice and Legal Services
- This website is created and maintained by InfoPacific Development Co.,
Canada and Kompass International Information Service Co. Ltd., China. Available databases cover the laws and regulation of the PRC, and
directorial information on governmental agencies and judicial institutions. The contents are not up to date and can only be accessed via
browsing. No search functions are
- It is a free
accessible Internet resource which collects major Chinese laws in both
Chinese and English and some legal research literatures. The website also contains
extensive links to other China
law related websites and databases available in the Internet. The contents can be searched
using its search engine.
- ChinaOnline is
developed by ChinaOnline, LLC. The
Legal section covers the full text of the laws and regulations of the PRC in
both English and Chinese and is accessible free via the website. The databases are arranged according to subjects, including Business
& Corporate, Foreign Relations & Trade, Information Technology - Telecommunications, Financial & Tax Related, and other laws. The contents are up to date, but not searchable.
- This directory of
Internet sites covers some China law related websites.
- Chinese Contract
- This site is specifically on Chinese contract law and
offers a free access to full text of Contract law up to date. It also contains briefs and discussion on the subject.
- Directory of law firms
- The Hieros Gamos's website compiles a directory
of law firms which collect a list of some large law firms in China including
Hong Kong and Macao.
Guides on China Law
Chinese Legal Research Center is created and maintained by Wei Luo, a law
librarian at Washington University. This
website compiles a list of links and guides for doing legal research on China
laws. The content covers laws of
the PRC, the Hong Kong Special Administrative region, and Taiwan. Each link is annotated.
Legal Sources is part of the
New York University Law Library online
resources, which consists of a research guide on China law at NYU, a bibliography of Chinese legal classics, and
comprehensive links to other Chinese
law related websites.
Law at WashLaw Web is created and maintained by Washburn University School of Law Library. It links to various Internet sources on
Chinese law, including full text
of the Constitution Law of the PRC and some general introduction to the laws
of the PRC.
Through the Guide to Law Online (GLIN) by the Law Library of Congress, the major primarily resources and secondary resources for the PRC, the HKSAR, and the Macao SAR can be located.
and Other Organizations
The website of CIETAC
& CMAC & BCC contains official information on the China
International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, the Maritime Arbitration
Commission, and the Beijing Conciliation Center. It provides introductions and states arbitration rules for each agency.
The English version of
the website of the State
Intellectual Property Office of the People's Republic of China is still under
construction. The currently
available information includes an introduction about the agency and the full
text of the Patent Law of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese version of the website contains all
intellectual property related laws,
regulations, and other legal documents. It also provides useful statistic data about
the Chinese IP
process. No updating information
on the database is available and the databases are not searchable.
The website of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic
Cooperation has an bilingual introduction to the agency. The Laws
and Regulations section provides free access to a full text of laws related
to foreign trade and business.
The website of the United States-China Business Council covers information on US-Chinese business related agreements and
regulation. The resources are
grouped into several sections including trade, foreign investment, and the economy
of China. It also provides statistics and analysis on these topics.
The bilingual websites of the
governmental agencies of the HKSAR are fairly fine developed and the contents
are up to date. The Department of Justice hosts a well organized online
service, BLIS. The Legislative
Council provides general information about the Council and lists the
legislative proposals including bills, subsidiary legislation. The
webpage of the Judiciary contains the detailed information on the current judicial scheme in the HKSAR.
It also stores five years statistical records for all the level of Hong Kong
court system. The site of the Executive
branch supplies inclusive information for the governmental documents and
The site of the Government
of the Macao SAR offers full information on the governmental information
and activities in Chinese, English, and Portuguese.
Legal Publishers and
and Periodicals is a San Francisco based book jobber. It accepts subscriptions
for Chinese legal serials.
The webpage of Asia
Law & Practice provides significant bibliographic information on
China law which is a valuable resource for acquiring research materials on
The website of China
International Book Trading Corporation, the sole Chinese official
distributor for the publishers of the PRC, offers information on legal
publication in China. This
Chinese jobber handles standing orders for the laws of the PRC and accepts
subscriptions for all Chinese law reviews and journals. The website has both English and Chinese
to Doing Business in/with China has bibliographic information on a set of Guide
to Doing Business in/with China, but the contents of the set is not
retrievable from the site. The
set covers laws of the PRC from 1949 to current, in both paper and CD-ROM.
Resources in Chinese
Legal Online Services
- This online service is part of the China Economic Information (CEI) network which is
hosted by the State Information Center, a central government agency. Its legal online information system contains the most comprehensive
and authoritative Chinese legal resource. The databases are available online or in CD-ROM format.
The Internet-based databases have two parts, the free
accessible The National Laws, which includes the national laws, regulations of State Council, and the judicial
interpretation of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's
Procuratorate, from 1949 to present, and the fee-based The
New Laws & Regulations Online Searching which contains the most
recent statutes, regulations and rules from both central and local
government levels, and the judicial interpretation. The Legal Interpretation section collects legal explanations and commentaries from jurists and other
experts. The Lawyers
Directory section is a yellow page for law firms in China. It also contains abstracts for articles published in
Court Journal. All of the
databases on secondary resources are free of charge.
The searching capability of the service via the web
is primitive: the databases can only be searched by keywords of the title of
the law, the enactment date of the law, and the name of the legislative
body. The contents of the laws
are not indexed, therefore, are not searchable.
database was originally formed at the Law Department at Beijing University
in the 1980's. It was a pioneer
endeavor to utilize computer technology for doing legal research in China. At the beginning, the database covered only the laws of the PRC on
intellectual property and antitrust. After the Legal Information Center of Beijing University was established, the database
was greatly expanded and started to provide comprehensive legal
online services. In the summer of
1999, it was formally incorporated as Chinalawinfo Co., Ltd.
and released its English version.
The new Chinalawinfo on the Internet comprises
databases and links to legal resources world wide. With the same structure as CEI, CHINALAW
Retrieving System covers the national laws, regulations, judicial
interpretations and judicial proceedings, laws and regulations of local
congress and government, treaties and agreements, foreign laws, and
international treaties. Among
them, access to the New Laws which
contains the full text of the recently promulgated laws, administrative
regulations, and judicial interpretations at the national level, is a
fee-based service. Major National Laws is accessible without a fee. Other free
information includes Selected
Case Reports which provides the full text of major cases in different
jurisdictions, the online catalog of the Beijing University Law Library, and
the Index of Law Journals that covers more than 20 major legal journals and
Electronic Legal Publications
- The Legal
Daily Online is the online version of the Legal Daily which 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 and was taken over
by the Party at the middle of the 1980s when it became an influential
newspaper. The newspaper is
archived up to 6 months and searchable. The most valuable column is "Release of New
Laws" which publishes the full text of new laws, and contains legal
interpretation from legislature, judicial, and administrative agencies.
- The People抯 Court Paper
- The electronic version
of the newspaper is published by the Supreme People Court. It is a good
source for the Supreme People Court's new decisions, juridical
interpretation, and policies. The
content of the newspaper is searchable.
- This is the online version of the official
newspapers of the Party. It
includes the People's Daily, People's Daily Overseas Edition, People's Huadong
News, Market, and Global News Digest, etc. The databases archive the newspapers for about 6 months and are
Legal Research Tools and the Law Related Websites
- China Judge Web Site
resourceful webpage is maintained by a
young judge in China. The site compiles sources on China law study and practice including
judicial reports, a brief catalog of major law journals, and legal
research articles. But only
part of the content is searchable.
- This site is
developed by Zhonglv Legal
Information Automation Services which is affiliated with the
Ministry of Justice. The site
publishes legal news and legal trends, and collects new laws, current laws, laws on foreign relation,
and local laws.
- 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, introduction of governmental agencies, and current
laws and regulations. The
searching module for the databases will be provided in the future. On the Legal Aids section, it offers free legal counseling by
volunteer law experts; various samples of legal forms are also provided.
- Counsel of
of China Online was established by the Dalian Chen De Hui Law Firm in Liaoning Province. It offers free access to its law database via the web. The
database contains all newly released laws, regulations, and other legal documents for 6 months
and archives them afterwards. There are three sections in the archived Law Database: National Laws, Foreign Laws, and Treaties. The databases can be searched using keywords, subject, or the
enactment date of the laws. The service is available in English, French, Japanese, and
text of laws in Shanghai Window
- The Shanghai
Window is the website covering stories on the news and economics. Its law section contains
the full text of some statutes.
- Governmental Information and Government Online Project
- China Education and Research Network (CerNet) compiles comprehensive links to the websites of the administrative branch of the PRC. It has information on the State of Council and other ministries, and
the structure and the responsibilities of each institution.
Government Online Project is a platform for all governmental information. The site is searchable.
Enforcement on Intellectual Property Protection
site has a complete guide on the Custom enforcement of the PRC. The site provides statistics on customs and some samples of custom
forms, and also lists related laws, regulation, rules, and treaties in full text. The content is not searchable and no update information is available.
- Laws and
Regulations on security of networking of computer information systems
- Laws and Regulations on security of networking of
computer information systems at China Education and
Research Network (CerNet) compiles a list of the major laws and regulations
on networking and computer information, which are supplied by the Public
Security Bureau of Beijing. The
database is not up to date.
People抯 Procuratorate of the PRC
- Supreme People's Procuratorate of the PRC introduces the
Chinese Procuratorate system and the Supreme People's Procuratorate. It collects major national laws, case analysis, and the working
reports of the National People's Congress from 1987 to 2000. The databases are not searchable.
- This site contains comprehensive links to online library catalogs
nation-wide. In China, the
majority of law libraries have adopted library automation system. The card catalogs have been converted into electronic format using
integrated library system developed by either domestic or foreign
vendors. For instance, the Beijing
Library, the National Library of the PRC, has developed its own ILS that
has also been used by a number of law libraries, while the Shanghai
Public Library implements its
automation system via the Horizon system from the U.S. Both the national library of China and the Shanghai Public Library
have extensive law collections and their bibliographic information is
accessible world-wide. Both
systems have advanced search capabilities.
Though most law libraries have finished the
retrospective conversion of catalogs from cards to electronic version, only
a few of the OPACs are connected to the Internet. Beijing University Law Library online catalog is
the first online law library catalog in the Internet. The OPAC can be
searched using author, titles, and
other basic search approaches.
Directory of Law Firm and Legal Publishers
Law Firm 500 provides news on
business and law of China and also has a searchable directory of law firms.
Publishing Co. lists its publication on China law on this site. It is
coded in Big 5 format.
Legal Indexes and Abstracts
In China, there is yet no legal index service comparable to
the Indexes to Legal Periodicals or Current Index to Legal Periodical in the
U.S. Law-Online (in
Big 5 coding system) created a mini index for three major law reviews (China
Law by the Law Society of China, Journal of China University of Political
Science and Law, and Journal of Law by China Academy of Social Science). The
index can be searched using author, title, subject, and publication date,
however, the index is not up to date.
Legal researchers in China largely rely on the clips of law
journals and legal newspapers. The clips are cut and sorted by library staff.
Many libraries including the Law Institute of the China Social Science Academy (CASS)
and the East China Institute of Politics and Laws have initiated projects to
digitize these clips to produce online legal abstracts. However, the progress
is sluggish due to the constraints of financial and labor resources.
Chinalawinfo has indexed about five major law journals in
English. In its Chinese counterpart, about 20 major law journals are indexed
from 1992 to 1998. There is also a mini catalog of law journals that provides
detailed bibliographic information on each journal.
Because of the low cost but broad dissemination, CD-ROM has been a
well-recognized means for legal publishers to convert their publication from
print into electronic format. There are over a dozen institutions in both
official and private settings, at both central and local government bases,
that produce legal CD-ROM. Among them, only a few law databases became
Internet-based services; most of these databases are still only in CD-ROM
Some of these databases, such as the Information Retrieval System of
Law and Regulations of the Peoples Republic of China produced by
the Information Center of the State Council, the National Law and Regulation
& Government Agency Information Searching System developed by Shanghai
law & Society, and the Reprint of Newspaper and Journals including
index and full text articles published by People's University of China,
have been operating very successfully. Both CEI and Chinalawinfo make their
CD-ROMs more comprehensive and attractive to users than their online databases
via web access. For example, CEI's 1999 version CD-ROM consists of more
than 80 databases with over 60 thousand of legal documents, covering almost
all laws and regulations in both national and local level, cases reports, and
However, even among these acclaimed databases, only the databases created
by the State Council are not just well indexed for both the title and contents
of the documents, but offer cross-reference between the updated and the
obsolete provisions of the law in the retrieval system.
Due to the limitation of the Internet and concerns of being accessed by non-authorized users, the majority of CD-ROM producers have no
current plans to port
their databases onto the web. However, facing the magnitude of the potential market in cyberspace and under the pressure of competition, this
attitude might have to change soon.
In addition to the Chinese domestic CD-ROM production, some western publishers
also produce CD-ROMs for their Chinese legal publications, for instance, CCH
Australia Ltd. has a CD-ROM version of its China Laws for Foreign Business loose-leaf
Features of Online Chinese Legal Resources
Coverage of the Contents
The majority of the commercial databases in
Chinese vernacular languages described above are supposed to have complete
coverage on laws of the PRC from 1949 to present. However, the relative
completeness of the coverage of these databases might differ in some aspects. Though both CEI and Chinalaw Retrieving System (CRS or Chinalawinfo) have similar contents and structure, CEI collects more legal documents than
CRS. For example, when using the title to search Notary Law in the national law
database of both services, CEI gives five hits that include laws and judicial
and administrative interpretation, but CRS gives no result. Despite the many
efforts taken to make the online databases more complete in covering
the primary resources, the coverage of the existing online services are still
limited. Secondary resources such as references, directorial information,
legal literatures and treatises are not yet available in online databases.
Moreover, online services in English usually have much a smaller scope in
coverage than their Chinese counterpart.
According to the law of the PRC, legal compilation
and electronic publishing should be examined, approved, and then published by
a specific governmental agency assigned by legislature. The sole lawful
publisher for the national laws should be the Legal Affairs Committee of the
Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and the Bureau of
Legislative Affaires of the State Council. However, for the purpose of
research and study, the compilations of laws is also published by non-official
publishers, such as research institutions and commercial publishers. Due to the
lack of adequate quality control on legal publishing, the accuracy and
authority of the existing commercial online databases are sometimes doubtful.
Furthermore, law databases produced by volunteers or less qualified commercial
agency also undermine the reliability and authenticity of the online legal
The modern techniques and standards for
organizing information have been overlooked in the production of Chinese legal
databases. These online databases, even CEI which is one of the top online
legal resources, basically compile a cluster of documents together, instead of
organizing them into an integrated entity. There are no relationships
or cross-references between these documents. For example, no cross-reference
is given between a new enacted law and the existing laws or the previous law
that is superceded by a new one.
A similar problems can be found in online catalogs. The utilization of online
catalogs has freed people from the card catalog, and the
Internet has allowed online catalogs to be accessed without the constraints of
space and location. However, because of the lack of professional resources
on law librarianship, the immaturity of the domestic automation system, and the
financial constraints and staff shortages, most law libraries are unable to
follow cataloging standards during the retrospective conversion of card
catalogs into the electronic format. Though a number of law libraries utilize
the USMARC record, many materials are not fully cataloged according to the
standards. The problem will be more distinctive and severe when local
online catalogs are launched on the Internet. In addition, due to different
implementation algorithms of the web interface, some online catalog systems only
allow a limited number of results to be retrieved, so users with remote
access to the online catalog would not be able to access the results
exhaustively. Moreover, there are several subject classification schedules in
China, the major ones being set by the Beijing Library 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.
The disorganization is not just manifested in the substance of the online
databases, but also is reflected in the composition of the databases. A number
of online services strive to create a "one-stop shopping mall" for
Chinese legal information, however, the services have lost their simplicity of
layout and appear to be a poorly managed warehouses. Also because of the
access problem for the vernacular language, one popular approach is to display the
heading in the vernacular language as images in addition to other picture files.
This, however, makes the document extremely big and the retrieval process
As the other aspect of weakness of the
information organization, the primitiveness of searching capabilities
undermines database retrievals. The major online services in Chinese can
only be searched using the title of the laws, the date of promulgation, and
the legislature. The contents of the law are not indexed and therefore not
searchable. For example, both CEI and CRS online databases can only be
searched using a combination of the name of the documents and the date of
enactment. No keyword search of the contents is available, nor are advanced Boolean
search and nature language search algorithms implemented, despite the fact
services provide complete searching functions for their CD-ROM products.
All legal resources in Chinese on the web can
be searched via browsers such as Netscape and Explorer. Understanding the
coding systems of the Chinese characters is the key to configure the right
setting to access vernacular databases. There are several different systems
for coding Chinese characters, such as Big5, EACC, GB, HZ, and Unicode.
Generally, databases based in Taiwan and Hong Kong are coded in traditional
Chinese characters using the Big5 system and databases produced in mainland China,
Singapore, and elsewhere adopt the simplified Chinese characters using the GB
coding system. EACC is a coding system for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean
characters, which is mainly used by ILS, for instance, INNOPAC. The HZ code
system has the same standard as GB, and is widely used for web-based electronic
journals or newspaper. Unicode is not a commonly used code system.
Web browsers usually have plug-ins for reading Chinese characters. However,
since many documents are encoded using a non-standard code or a mixture of several
code systems, in order to have the input capability and to ensure the quality of
downloading the sturdy searching results, a Chinese reader interface is
usually needed, such as the simple reader Unionway or more advanced applications of the Chinese reader interface, such as Cstar, Twinbridge,
Output or Downloading
Although downloading from online databases can be
carried out with a Chinese reader application, the buggy characters due to
non-standard coding are sometimes unavoidable. Reload or refresh is needed
after changing the configuration for different Chinese coding systems. Downloading
directly to the printer demands a printer be equipped with a big buffer, and
that is usually time
B. The Myth of Eastlaw
The idea of establishing a Chinese CALR system was initiated in the 1980s by
the Law Department of Beijing University. The goal was to
create a Chinese version of a Westlaw-like database on Chinese law and to provide
comprehensive resources for legal research. The excellence of Westlaw and its
peers has influenced Chinese jurists so deeply that the Westlaw pattern has
been regarded as the model for Chinese online legal services.
Because of the deficiency in legal resources in the 1980s, this Eastlaw Myth was
beyond the imagination of most Chinese legal professionals. The swift
progress of the construction of the legal information systems in recent years
brings the hope of the realization of the myth. However, optimistic people
might overlook one fact: the new cyberspace medium can accelerate the
construction of the legal information system in China, but it cannot change
the nature and the substances of the databases. The online resources are
merely the reflection of the legal sources in print format. Therefore, the
central issue is really how to establish a legal information system rather
than how to establish an online legal system. The following
perspectives are crucial in the realization of a modern legal information
system in China.
First, the standardization in all aspects of the legal information process
should be stressed. Systematic codification will be the most important step in
consolidating the legislation (written law). For legal publishing, instead of purely compiling codes, statutes,
regulations, their focus should be on taking up more research tools for
primary resources, such as indexing and digesting. These research tools
commonly adopted by the western publishers have not been set up in Chinese
A current awareness services, another important part of the legal information
structure, should be accentuated. In addition to the initial efforts of Law-Online and Chinalawinfo
to create a legal periodicals index, the Reprint
of Newspaper and Journals published by the People's University of China has
also appended an index for legal articles. However, the service has limited
coverage. Furthermore, this publication has a major problem: the Reprint does not have the permission of the original publishers for reprinting. Some
leading law journals have been protesting this infringement of their copyright.
Thus, the future of this service might not be bright.
Additionally, as an outcome of the advent of the Internet, the globalization of
information exchange and sharing will result in more and more fusion of the
common law and the civil law system. Therefore, Chinese jurists should keep an
open mind to appreciate the virtues of other legal tradition, for instance,
considering formalizing case law as a legal source in China. At the least,
systematic case reporting and analysis should be emphasized for the moment in
the construction of a modern legal information system in China. The online
version of Taiwan statutes sets a good illustration: for the articles of the statute, the online database
provides not only the legislative history and the judicial and administrative
interpretation, but also the judicial decisions.
Last but not least, the government ought to maintain consistency in the
policy of legal information storage, dissemination, and sharing. The
government is the largest producer of legal information in China and provides
official resources on regulations, rules, interpretations, statistics, new
trends, and other information on various aspects.
To the government, the Internet is a knife with two blades: on one side, it is
medium for the government to effectively store and distribute
governmental information to the public and to improve the efficiency of
governmental operation; on the other side, virtual access means an increase in the
difficulties for the government to control and censor information
dissemination. Facing such a dilemma, the Chinese government has to weigh the gains and losses.
A recent regulation of the PRC on the Internet, Administration of the
Maintenance of Secrets in the International Networking of Computer Information
Systems Provisions, that was promulgated by the State Secrecy Bureau on
January 25, 2000, reflected the desire of the government to control Internet access. Thus, whether the construction of the legal information in
China is able to move beyond the border is an uncertain issue. If the
progress of building a modern legal information system in China is hampered by
governmental control, it will be a great pity for the Chinese legal
The original version of this article is published by International Journal of Legal Information,