China Projects

This document describes one of ICCSL's current China projects, which is funded through a grant from the US-China Legal Cooperation Fund.

Comparative Civil Society Law Course

Cooperation between

The Catholic University of America

Center for International Social Development

The International Center for Civil Society Law


Peking University Law School

NPO Law Center

Comparative Civil Society Law Course. Working with the NPO Law Center at Peking University as well as various other educational institution partners, law professors affiliated with the Center for International Social Development (CISD) and the International Center for Civil Society Law (ICCSL) and the professionals of the NPO Law Center have developed course materials for use in a Comparative Civil Society Law (CSL) course at Peking University Law School (which can later be used in other Chinese law faculties as soon as they are available). The course was taught on a pilot basis at the Law School of Peking University in fall 2005. It will now be introduced and PKU again in fall 2006 and expanded to other universities in China and the rest of Asia. Associate Prof. Ge Yunsong and Assistant Professor of the Peking University. As well as Prof. Leon Irish, of Central European University, and President of ICCSL will also participate.

In addition to law students at the university, various legal and non-legal academics, scholars, and practitioners are expected to attend the course (including officials working for the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the legal bureau of the State Council, and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.) Lawyers from other countries in Asia have also been invited to attend - there was one student from Viet Nam in the fall 2005 semester.

Expected outcomes

Chinese language materials for teaching comparative CS law; course taught (at Peking University) and outreach to other law faculties in China and East Asia; development of plans to offer the course at other universities; a growing number of lawyers trained and educated about laws affecting civil society.

Why are these outcomes important?

Having access to comparative information in easily accessible formats is crucial to being able to develop adequate legislation that reflects the modern realities in China. In areas that are less sensitive than the laws affecting civil society, the Chinese government has been open and welcoming to foreign expertise, and has relied heavily on comparative law studies. Although there has been increasing acceptance of such ideas with respect to civil society laws, meaningful discussion at a theoretical level with officials who are highly placed has been difficult. One impediment is lack of access to information and comparative source materials because so few of these are available in Chinese. For example, the most widely read general guide to civil society law - the Open Society Institute's GUIDELINES FOR LAW AFFECTING CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS - has only recently been translated into Chinese, and it is not expected to be published until summer 2006. This means that non-English fluent bureaucrats have been unable to read it and learn from it. Similarly, relevant laws that might be reviewed for ideas are also not available in Chinese, nor are other articles and treatises written in French and German on relevant issues. One of the crucial goals of the other parts of this project is to begin to remedy these deficiencies by funding the development of better physical assets for the NPO Law Center over the longer term. The Beijing-based NPO Law Center is the most appropriate partner for the pilot effort in training lawyers and law students in CS Law, as it is the only such center in all of China at the present time.

A principal goal of the project described here - lawyer and law teacher training - is also highly important for the long-term sustainability of a legal environment that will encourage and support civil society. In recent years the number of lawyers and law students who are interested in studying this area of the law has grown, but as yet there are no courses designed to teach the subject specifically (issues about CSOs may come up, for example, in civil law courses, but only as a minor matter in the general curriculum). An increasing number of students and faculty are doing research in the area (for example, there have been several recent PhD theses dealing with various aspects of civil society law), and they have begun to come together in study groups to discuss current problems. The leader in bringing lawyers and law students as well as professionals working in CS law-related fields has been the NPO Law Center at Peking University Law School. The Law School has also graciously agreed to host a special conference on comparative civil society law to be held in October 2006 to bring together legal professionals, academics, government officials, and practitioners to discuss "Issues of NPO Accountability - A Neglected Topic in Today's China." Planning for the conference is already underway.

Now that the materials for the course are almost fully developed, they can be translated into Chinese and used in other law schools throughout China. In addition, by teaching the course at Peking University, a number of interested younger law professors or law lecturers and government officials in the Beijing area will be able to participate, which will increase the richness of the materials developed as well as the learning experience. This training of young law teachers is expected to have a multiplier effect, because it will create a body of work they can use to develop courses of their own. The training of government officials is expected to influence their work on law reform.

Thirty years ago civil society or "nonprofit" law was a relatively new field in American legal education - there were probably only three courses offered at that time (at Duke, NYU, and Yale law schools) and there were no published teaching books. Now there are over three dozen courses offered at law schools throughout the United States and there are five different teaching books from which professors can choose. The growth in law graduates who practice in the area has been quite significant, and that has greatly enriched the development of legal theory with respect to civil society law issues. Our goal is to help to develop specialized expertise in civil society law in China, so that similar growth in the numbers of knowledgeable lawyers and government officials can occur there.

Project Partners:

The Center for International Social Development at the Catholic University of America: The mission of the Center for International Social Development at the Catholic University of America is to promote international development in the interests of peace and justice, with respect for the totality of the human person, through a collaborative, cross-disciplinary program of education, research, technical assistance, and service.

The NPO Law Center at Peking University is the first and currently the only academic institution focusing on the laws concerning NPOs in China. Its goals include conducting academic research on NPO related legal issues, promoting the awareness of the general public and the government about the significance of an enabling legal environment for NPOs, and providing detailed proposals of related legal reform. For all its purposes, the Center has been and is cooperating with foreign institutions and scholars closely.

The International Center for Civil Society Law seeks to protect human freedoms, by improving the laws that affect the freedoms of belief, expression, association, assembly, information, and participation. ICCSL pursues its mission through four separate but inter-related programs: THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CIVIL SOCIETY LAW; research and publications; technical assistance; and education and professional development.

Project personnel:

Prof. Karla W. Simon is Professor of Law at CUA, Co-Director of CISD, and co-founder of the International Center for Civil Society Law (ICCSL). She is a long-time law professor and scholar, specializing in the development of laws related to CSOs in China and other countries in East Asia (e.g., Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). She has testified before the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on the issue of a legal enabling environment for CSOs in China and has presented papers at numerous fora in China. She is working with Chinese legal scholars on a compendium of published articles on these issues in Chinese and English. She is also writing a book on the legal environment for civil society in China.

Prof Ge Yunsong is an Associate Professor at Peking University Law School, and deputy director of the NPO Law Center. An established young scholar in civil and commercial law, he is also a pioneering researcher of NPO law in China. He co-authored the first treatise of NPO law in 1999, and has become one of the most influential scholars in the studies of NPO law in China. He is currently updating the treatise and will substantially increase its length and improve its depth.

Prof. Jin Jinping has recently joined the law faculty at PKU, and her area of specialty is family and trust law. She completed a Ph.D. at PKU and has been engaged in post-graduate studies on charitable trust law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Yale University, and the University of Michigan. She will assist Professor Simon in developing the program for the October conference.

Course Materials:

  • Leon Irish, Robert Kushen & Karla Simon, GUIDELINES FOR LAWS AFFECTING CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS (Open Society Institute, 2004) (in English and Chinese)
  • Course Outline
  • PKU Reader (2005)

Linked Documents:

Linked Documents:
Capacity Development of Civil Society Organizations: Towards Inclusive Social Management in China
China's Accounting System of NPOs
China Civil Society, Charity and Giving Update
Report suggests China to open up for policy-advocating NGOs