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The “Production” of Corruption in China's Courts: Judicial Politics and Decision Making in a One-Party State


Ling Li is a senior research fellow at the US–Asia Law Institute of New York University Law School. She is also an Associate Professor at the Northwest University of Political Science and Law in Xi'an, P.R. China. She can be reached at Her most recent publication on corruption is “ ‘Performing’ Bribery in China—Guanxi-Practice: Corruption with a Human Face” in the Journal of Contemporary China (2011). The author wishes to thank Jerome A. Cohen, Otto Malmgren, Jan Michiel Otto, Benjamin van Rooij, Frank Upham, Friedl Weiss, and all the anonymous reviewers who read various versions of the article and provided valuable comments.


Despite its rampant presence, judicial corruption in China has often been regarded as the idiosyncratically deviant behavior of a few black sheep eluding prescribed judicial conduct. This entrenched assumption has both discouraged in-depth investigation of the phenomenon of judicial corruption and inhibited proper understanding of the functioning of China's courts. This article, based on an empirically grounded examination of the processing of court rulings tainted by corruption, showed that judicial corruption in China is an institutionalized activity systemically inherent in the particular decision-making mechanism guided by the Chinese Communist Party's instrumental rule-by-law ideal. In investigating what has contributed to the institutionalization of judicial corruption, the interplay between law and party politics in China's courts was also examined. The findings, therefore, also shed light on behind-the-courtroom judicial activities and on the enduring perplexity of the gap between the law in the book and the law in action.