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Suing the Leviathan—An Empirical Analysis of the Changing Rate of Administrative Litigation in China


  • Ji Li

  • I am grateful to Deborah Rhode, Barry Weingast, Wei Zhang, Yun-chien Chang, Su Li, and other participants at the Seventh Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Parts of the article are from my dissertation on a related topic, so thanks go to the committee members, Karen Alter, Susan Rose-Ackerman, and Victor Shih, for their advice and support. I also thank the journal editor and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


This article analyzes the changing rate of administrative litigation in China. Using a set of provincial-level data over seven years (2003–2009), the article evaluates a number of hypotheses derived from extant theories of social litigiousness, state-society relations in authoritarian regimes, Chinese elite politics, and Chinese administrative law. It finds evidence that the rate of administrative litigation varies according to different levels of lawyer density and urbanization. It also finds preliminary evidence that casts doubt on the effects of top-down legal and policy changes in China. The article is the first longitudinal study of the Chinese administrative litigation system, and it answers questions that have long been underexplored. In addition, the research contributes to our understanding of state-society relations in authoritarian regimes. This article also evaluates the role of elite politics in the development of the administrative law regime and adds new evidence to the debate about lawyers' role in China's legal reforms. Finally, the article contributes to empirical and comparative studies of litigation rates, especially the less researched area of administrative litigation.

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