Sunday, August 31, 2008

Szto on Gender and the Chinese Legal Profession

Mary Szto, Hofstra University Law Review, has posted the paper Gender and the Chinese Legal Profession in Historical Perspective: From Heaven and Earth to Rule of Woman? I borrow the illustration at left from her paper; here is the abstract:
This article first discusses the current phenomenon of women judges and male lawyers in China. Many women have joined the ranks of the Chinese judiciary because this is considered a stable job conducive to caring for one's family, as opposed to being a lawyer, which requires business travel and heavy client entertaining. I then trace this phenomenon to ancient views of Heaven, earth, gender and law in China. In this yin/yang framework, men had primary responsibility for providing sustenance for both this life and the life to come and women were relegated to the "inner chambers". Also, law was secondary to ritual, which mediated between Heaven and earth, and lawyers were deemed unnecessary.

After telling the stories of legal actors in China from imperial times to the present (including the fabled qingguan (model judges) and the first woman lawyer), I conclude that a revolutionary space for women has opened up. The inadvertent conflation of Confucian gender stratification, cultivation and mainland economics and politics has led to the redefinition of the inner chambers to judicial chambers. This inadvertence can be strategic. As China's political and legal system develops, these judicial positions may yield a powerful sphere of influence. Also, China's new judges are and should be inspired by their legal ancestors who harmonized Heaven and earth, virtue and talent. Part of the robust future of the rule of law in China lies in its past.