The Pragmatic Court: Reinterpreting the Supreme People’s Court of China

61 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2011 Last revised: 30 Dec 2014

See all articles by Taisu Zhang

Taisu Zhang

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: July 20, 2011


This paper examines the institutional motivations that underlie several major developments in the Supreme People’s Court of China’s recent policy-making. Since 2007, the Court has sent off a collection of policy signals that escapes sweeping ideological labeling: It has publicly embraced a populist view of legal reform, encouraging the use of mediation in dispute resolution and popular participation in judicial policy-making, but continues to advocate legal professionalization as a long-term policy objective. It has also eagerly attempted to enhance its own institutional competence by promoting judicial efficiency, simplifying key areas of civil law, and expanding its control over lower court adjudication. This paper argues that the strongest institutional motivation underlying this complex pattern of activity is, contrary to some common assumptions, neither simple obedience to the Party leadership nor internalized belief in some legal reform ideology, whether legal professionalism or populism. Instead, it is the pragmatic strengthening of the Court’s own financial security and sociopolitical status – the Court is, in many ways, a “rational actor” that pursues its institutional self-interest. This theory of “institutional pragmatism” brings unique analytical cohesion to the Court’s recent behavior, giving us a clearer sense of its current priorities and, perhaps, its future outlook.

Keywords: Supreme People's Court of China, Chinese Judiciary, Institutional Motivations, Rational Actor, Populism, Professionalism, Judicial Efficiency

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Taisu, The Pragmatic Court: Reinterpreting the Supreme People’s Court of China (July 20, 2011). Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Volume 25, pp. 1-61, Available at SSRN:

Taisu Zhang (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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