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Three Models of Influence for the Legal Profession

February 1, 2012

I think I could say that rule of law, or the aspirations for rule of law, is something that is in common in both mainland China and Hong Kong. Rule of law is one of Hong Kong’s strengths, and there’s no doubt about that. I think that there are three ways, or three models, in which Hong Kong could influence legal development in the mainland.

The first model is passive demonstration. Visitors come to Hong Kong in different capacities and experience Hong Kong’s political freedom, law and order, and regularity in daily life. I think most visitors, when they are in Hong Kong, try their best to act as Hong Kongers. I think they try to be slightly different from who they are in their hometown. I think that’s very important. Here, they try very hard to cope with the lifestyle, the regularity, and the code of conduct of Hong Kong. This is a very subtle, but, I think, important influence.

But of course, once they cross the border back into the mainland, things, I think, go back to the old order, in the same way that when Hong Kong people cross the border and go to the mainland, they probably tend to behave as mainlanders. But I think the point is that there are millions of people who cross the border into Hong Kong, and they will bring back home different things in a very subtle manner, and maybe they don’t even know they have been changed. For example, they would start waiting in line in the shopping mall or the train station, rather than elbowing others. This is very important. We don’t give much attention to those very subtle ways of cultural influence. But I think that probably is the most important impact that the Hong Kong experience is having on mainlanders on a daily, routine basis.

The next level of influence comes from visits that the Hong Kong government, academic institutions, and NGOs plan for mainland visitors. Visitors are encouraged to visit the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)—normally the first stop for any delegation that comes to Hong Kong—law firms, judges’ chambers, court rooms, NGO offices, law schools. I think these different places do interest them, especially people from nonprofit sectors. When mainland visitors go to NGO offices, to look at what these organizations can do and see the respect that they can receive from the government and from the rest of society, these visitors are impressed.

A particular group of visitors, I should emphasize, are judges. From my observation, they would love to be judges in Hong Kong. When they see the way Hong Kong judges are treated, the way these judges treat others, and their ability to order things in their own chambers—all this is extremely impressive for the young mainland judges in particular.  I think the Law Society of Hong Kong has done a very good job in showcasing Hong Kong’s legal profession, its law firms, and what lawyers do. Of course, the visitors  have their own agenda, but regardless of what they try to achieve, the fact is that the experience has an impact, and they have the firsthand knowledge as to what rule of law is about. They see that Hong Kong has a decent legal profession, lawyers here have the freedom to choose their own areas of work, and lead a very decent political and social life. So, this is my first model.

The second model is more structured and organized. I’m thinking of my own law school—we offer training courses, give seminars, and organize conferences that may not be possible in the mainland. I think, again, participants from the mainland do appreciate these opportunities, and, I think, to a lesser degree, even the Chinese government appreciates the opportunity. Namely, we offer space to discuss issues which cannot be effectively discussed on the mainland.  One thing we do, for example, is invite people from Taiwan to Hong Kong to engage in conversation with their counterparts from the mainland. So, in that way, we bring up Hong Kong’ s experience, which [they] may not have paid much attention to. These experiences include Hong Kong’ s economic transition in the 1960s and 1970s, which I think is tremendously valuable to the Chinese [social and economic] transition, which is still ongoing.

So, that is the second model. I think this model probably is very useful, it is something that we could do—we could organize more events and we could invite more people to come over to share experiences. I think we haven’t done enough.

For the third model, which is really aspirational, I have Wu Tingfang (伍廷芳), the Hong Kong lawmaker, in mind. Wu was the chief law officer for the Qing Dynasty, and the first Chinese barrister in Hong Kong. He was the man who drafted law reform papers, negotiated treaties on behalf of the old Chinese government. Of course, after Wu, little really happened. What I am trying to say is that there is enough talent and expertise that can be offered to China, including the Chinese government, organizations, NGOs, universities, and the legal profession—if we could be a little bit more proactive. Our problem, it seems to me, is that we are very defensive; from day one we decided that our priority was to maintain a high fence to safeguard Hong Kong’ s autonomy. We really didn’t consider other ways. In sum, Hong Kong people are very good at some things, and we should be more confident about what we are good at.

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