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A Trojan Horse Behind Chinese Walls?: Problems and Prospects of US-Sponsored "Rule of Law" Reform Projects in the People’s Republic of China


  • Matthew C. Stephenson


The US government has announced an initiative to promote the "rule of law" in the People’s Republic of China. However, though China has also endorsed building the "rule of law" as a goal, the American and Chinese views of what "rule of law" entails differ substantially. In the US government, rule of law reform is seen as a way to promote human rights and political reform, whereas the Chinese government wants to restrict law reform to those areas closely related to developing a market economy. To deal with this divergence in goals, the US has adopted a "Trojan Horse" strategy: the belief is that the Chinese will allow US-sponsored law reform programs for economic reasons, but once established, these programs will lead to broader political reform. However, this view is not well-supported by theory or empirical evidence. Thus, while law reform programs in China may be worthwhile, we should be skeptical of their ability to trigger more fundamental political reform.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthew C. Stephenson, 2000. "A Trojan Horse Behind Chinese Walls?: Problems and Prospects of US-Sponsored "Rule of Law" Reform Projects in the People’s Republic of China," CID Working Papers 47, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:cidhav:47

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    rule of law; China; legal reform; political reform;

    JEL classification:

    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)
    • K20 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - General
    • K30 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - General
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General

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