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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 23, Issue 2, Fall 2009

David N. McArthur, Elaine E. Englehardt, Jill O. Jasperson
Pages 249-270

Progress toward the Rule of Law in China

A small sample of sitting Chinese judges was each asked to describe a difficult case, what ethical issues were involved in the case, and how ethics hampered the case, among other questions. The narratives of the cases from family settings suggest—rising from the stew of Chinese social, political, and legal history, the mix of socialist and Confucian ethics, and case facts—that future research on the influence of Confucian ethics may well show that Chinese judges moderate (“democratize”) the rigors of a rule-based legal system, or that they feel pressure to do so by their ethics (which, for disputes and crimes in a family setting their ethics, are Confucian ethics). We argue that “democratizing” the legal system by including society’s ethics is allowable but unless there is a regular discourse on the role of Confucian ethics in legal decisions judges will continue to feel ethical tension as they go about their work. We recommend that ethics discourse be included along with the Chinese government’s structural reforms such as increasing legal education, mandating codes of judicial ethics, and other measures calculated to align the legal system with the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct 2002.

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