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Do the “Haves” Come Out Ahead in Shanghai Courts?


  • Xin He,

  • Yang Su

  • The authors acknowledge a GRF grant from the Hong Kong government and the research assistance by Jing Feng. The article was presented by Xin He at the University of Illinois College of Law, the Faculty of Law, Hong Kong University, and at the 2010 Law and Society Annual Meeting at Chicago, and by Yang Su at the Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine. The article benefited from the discussions in these forums. We are also grateful for the comments from Dawn M. Chutkow, the journal's executive editor, its three anonymous reviewers, and Hilary K. Josephs.

Direct correspondence to Xin He, email:


Drawing on 2,724 documents of adjudication decisions from Shanghai courts, this article tests the Galanter thesis that the stronger party tends to prevail over the weaker party in litigation. We find that the stronger parties not only win more often, but also do so by a large margin. Overall, institutional litigants fare better than individual litigants. When the litigants are classified by their organizational and social status, government agencies or government-related companies are the biggest winners, enjoying an enormous advantage, and farmers are the most disadvantaged underdogs, with other individuals and companies in between. When controlling for legal representation, these winning gaps remain significant and sizable. The edge of the stronger parties recurs across categories of cases in different issue areas of the law. Echoing previous comparative studies, we cast doubt on the party capability theory. We speculate that the causes of judicial inequality in China lie not only in resource gaps but also in the roots of the law and the nature of the court.