|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at roundtable discussion at Pudong Legal Assistance Center, Pudong University
Shanghai, China, June 30, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
MIAO XIAOBAO, Director, Shanghai Judicial Bureau
ZHANG LING, President of the Shanghai Bar Association, Director of the Pudong Judicial Bureau, and Founder of the Pudong Legal Assistance Center
REN JINBAO, Director of the Center
LU YIJUN, Deputy Director of the Center
ZHANG JIAXING, Deputy Director of the Center
LI QI, Attorney and interpreter
CHEN SONGSHI, Client of Pudong Legal Assistance Center
FAN RUGEN, Client of Pudong Legal Assistance Center
MR. ZHANG LING: Secretary of State Albright, I'd like first of all to introduce all the Chinese sitting at the table. Mr. Miao Xiao, Director of Shanghai Justice Bureau; Mr. Ren Jinbao, Director of Pudong Legal Aid Center; Ms. Lu, a lawyer; Mr. Zhang Jiaxing, also a lawyer, Ms. Chen is a client who had legal service from the center, also a client, Mr. Fan. I am Director of Pudong Justice Bureau. Now I'd like to ask Mr. Miao to say a few words.
MR. MIAO: I'm very glad the Secretary of State could come to visit our legal center. You are the highest ranking of the officials who have come to visit the center since it was founded. The legal center is a kind of legal system that is sponsored by the government to augment the work of lawyers to provide service to the low income people and to also try to help them to get the legal service at a reduced rate. The legal center has no long history in China. The center in Pudong was only founded four years ago. However, the effects of this are quite obvious. The legal center serves the ordinary people and low income people. It is a legal system that protects the human rights of the ordinary people and the low income people and also a project that is sponsored by the government to serve the people. All of us would like to answer your questions and wish you could know more about us. Thank you for coming.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, thank you very much for welcoming me and for explaining the beginning of the center. I hope that we can spend some interesting time together discussing how the center works. I have been now to China many times as Secretary of State. I had been to Shanghai before but as an ordinary human being. In fact, I came to Pudong before you did. I was here in 1992 and was quite thrilled when I came over the amazing bridge and saw how Pudong was going to look. Shanghai has the reputation in the United States of being on the cutting edge of change and it clearly is now as one can see from driving around Shanghai and talking to the citizens here. I think one of the many things that are exciting is to have a legal assistance center such as this that is definitely on the cutting edge of change. I think that providing legal assistance and strengthening the rule of law is innovative and courageous and inspiring. And the programs that you have pioneered here benefit large numbers of people that you work with but I think also can serve as a great example throughout China.
I have really two reasons for being very pleased that you have time to receive me today. I am not a lawyer myself but I consider myself the mother of lawyers because I have two daughters who are lawyers who are married to two lawyers. And I think we have covered every aspect because one of my daughters has founded her own law firm. My other daughter works for the city of San Francisco where she works with the school district there as a lawyer. The first daughter is married to a professor of international law, and the second daughter is married to a lawyer who works in a big firm and does environmental law. So we have everything covered.
Now my other reason that I'm very glad to be here is that I was a former professor -- once a professor, always a professor -- and it's very good to see theory put into practice. I think whether one is a lawyer or a non-lawyer, we all know that the rule of law is a basic concept of society, but it is really wonderful to see it put into practice the way that you all are doing here. I think the kind of work that you are doing here -- that shows that no one is above the law -- is very important. You are helping women escape abusive spouses and allowing consumers to protect themselves against fraud and then insuring that older people get the kind of support within society that they need.
I think what's true in every society is that people with money can always get a lawyer. But I think that what you are doing by providing legal assistance to people who can't afford it is really showing the importance of the fact that no one is above the law and no one is without protection. I think that what is very impressive -- and I hope we can talk about this more -- is that you basically give confidence to the average Chinese citizen because he or she knows that they can have access to the law through the telephone, the hotline, or through, I understand you have legal fairs where you go into neighborhoods and people have access to what you are doing.
I think that people also need to understand that access to the law actually helps provide stability for a society, because if people know that they have a legal recourse, if they feel something wrong has been done to them, it actually provides a system that helps societies that are changing rapidly to have stability. And I think especially as a society is changing, it needs to have the rule of law system work.
Yesterday, I was watching CNN which is explaining a lot about Chinese society to the American people. They had a program that explained that with the housing reforms now that people are buying apartments. But there are problems with some of the apartments and the people go to lawyers to get them resolved. That is a way to have change and stability at the same time.
I think also there are those people, I'm sure, who tell you that Americans have answers to every question, and that many Americans think that our legal system is the best in the world. But we also, I think, need to understand that every legal system is a work in progress. And that what has to happen, as in the United States, we have to make sure that laws are not just pieces of paper but that they really apply to real situations and real people, and that lawyers themselves have to understand the situation to be able to apply the law properly.
Also, I think we all know that the best way to make sure that any country works well is that the citizens within the country know what their rights are, because it's only when they are unclear about their rights that there is a potential for instability. But when people know their rights and know that there are lawyers to help them, then the system evolves as every system must.
When I was in Beijing six weeks ago, I went to a law center there where work is going on in terms of retraining judges and following up on some of the advances that President Jiang has suggested in terms of making the rule of law work well. It's a project that President Jiang and President Clinton are very interested in and Professor Gewirtz is very involved in and something that the United States wants to be as helpful as possible on to all of you. And that's why I'm so interested in hearing how you work here.
What we want to do is to expand cooperation on legal education and help to train a new generation of lawyers. We will hold judicial training seminars and exchanges to increase professionalism among judges. And Americans and Chinese will cooperate in developing new legal teaching materials and to translate legal texts. And we're also going to be working closely together on reforming administrative law which governs how bureaucracies deal with citizens and businesses. We will support China's efforts to develop commercial law that is transparent, consistent, and fair, which, I think, in turn will help develop China, because that is how foreign investors come; when they know that the commercial system works well and that it's transparent, and Pudong will expand even more. And we're going to hold conferences in the next twelve months on several important areas of law including the protection of human rights and law and legal aid to the poor, which really is inspired by the work of centers such as yours.
One of America's great judges, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once said that "the life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience." So every person who comes through the door of this center -- all the people that were in the waiting room and in the consultation rooms and you lawyers here and staff and the people on the hotlines -- are helping to build the experience that will improve the laws and secure the rights of the Chinese people. So I am sure that the long hours that you keep and the hard work that you do should make you feel good because you are not only helping the individual people, but you are creating legal history in China.
Well, I thank you for listening to me so long -- actually, it's only half as long because the translation is half of it -- but I appreciate you listening to me and now I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
MR. MIAO: You have just mentioned you have a very thorough understanding of law and also the developments of the Chinese legal system go through in a zigzag way. Since this reform and opening, we have seen a great development of the Chinese law. Deng Xiaoping once said that democracy should be put on a legal basis and should also be institutionalized. And he also said that it is only the law that is reliable. That's why we have seen a rapid development of the Chinese legal system. That pace of development is unprecedented in Chinese history.
You just said that the law is a work in progress in America, but I would say that also, that the development of law here in China is all around a work in progress. Because of the implementation of the policies of reform and opening result in the change of society and also the improvement of people's livelihood, there is a great demand on the part of people for the service of law. So while building up the legal system in China, we, particularly in Shanghai, are considering the establishment of a legal system that can provide service to indigents and to special people in a society.
And also, I think that it is not perfect -- the Chinese legal system -- that's why we need the (inaudible) practices and experiences of other countries in order to improve the Chinese legal system. That's why there are great exchanges of people between the legal communities of Shanghai and the United States. Every year, we send a lot of lawyers to America for them to see for themselves and also to study the laws in America. We also send students to America to study at law schools in America. We also receive a lot of American lawyers to come to China to attend seminars and to give lectures. And these exchanges and cooperation are useful for representative offices of the legal firms from America.
We hope that we can strengthen the cooperation between us. You have just made very important remarks which makes me more confident in the future cooperation between us.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
MR. MIAO: Yes, thank you.
MR. ZHANG LING: Also present at the table are lawyers and the clients who received the service of the center. Do you think you want to talk to them?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes, I would like to very much. I'd be very interested in hearing about Ms. Chen's case.
MS. CHEN: I am honored to be received by the Secretary of State. I came to seek legal advice in 1995 because of a legal dispute within my family. As a low-income female worker, I depended on my husband for my living. In 1995, my husband died of cancer. He had been sick for three years before he died. When my husband knew he was dying, he thought about the amount of money he had with consideration of giving it to his brothers and sisters because it was the brother and sister who brought him up since their parents died when he was very young. He thought that he had an obligation to the brother and sister for bringing him up. He also consulted me about the amount of money. Since he was heavily sick at that time, I was respected his decisions, since he was a middle school teacher, because I thought that they would make an arrangement for me.
Once we finished all of the things about the funeral, I went to talk with his brother and sister. They didn't show willingness to share the amount of money with me. I talked several times and couldn't get anything worked out so I went to the work unit where they worked. The leaders of the work unit did not persuade them to share the money with me. Also, because of the fact that I had a ten year old son, I thought that it would be difficult for me to raise him. And I thought that I was wrongly treated and my neighbors get out to try to help me with their advice. (Inaudible) and the neighborhood community which sent a subsidized food cart to me later on.
I happened to have a former colleague who is now working in the legal center and he gave me advice. That's why I came here and I got a very warm welcome and very good advice from the center. They also assigned two very good lawyers to me. They worked very hard in things like getting evidence for me and once they finished the case, they didn't charge me anything. As an ordinary person, I am very grateful for the work they have done for me. And I won the case by going through the courts.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You won the case.
MS. CHEN: Yes, I won. I am very grateful.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That's great. How long did it take to get the whole case done?
MS. CHEN: Half a year.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That's pretty fast, I think. (laughter) We should do so well in the United States. Very good. And Mr. Fan, what is your story?
MR. FAN: Welcome to the center to see me. I'm very glad to see you.
I live on the top floor of a five-story building and a development company wanted to make some changes to the building by adding another floor on the top of the five-story building. And since they didn't do their work very well, I found out there was a leakage of water. I went to the housing maintenance company and tried to resolve that dispute but it didn't work. Later on, I came to the legal aid center to seek advice.
In the first place, I didn't know there was such a legal center, which could provide help to a person like me, but after knowing there is a legal center, I came here. So when I came here, I explained my case to the people here and a lawyer whose name is Hu was assigned by the center to help me.
The lawyers worked very hard to help me. They came to where I live to try to get evidence. All together they came to my home six or seven times. At that time it was very hot and they came to my house many times because it was only when the people on the upper floor used water that there was leakage. Otherwise, they could not see the evidence, and that's why they came to my house many times.
In the first place, the housing maintenance company denied there was any problem with the housing. After the talks by the lawyer on my behalf to the company, they accepted the fact that there was a problem with it. The housing maintenance company found out what the problem was and they found out it was leaking of water from room numbers 602 and 603 into my rooms. So after finding the facts, they came to repair the apartment three times, and when they repaired the apartment they found the problem was with the plumbing system and the toilet.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: So you were also successful?
MR. FAN: Yes, successful.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: This is good. My chief of staff, who is sitting behind you, has the same problem with a leaky roof she has to deal with when she gets back to Washington so you may need to give her some advice. That's very good to have two successful cases.
I wonder if I could ask the attorneys some questions. I understand that in Shanghai all lawyers are required to do pro bono work. How does this work exactly and is it a Shanghai rule or is it a rule all over the country?
MS. LU: The Chinese laws provide that lawyers have the obligation to provide free service to the general public. The Pudong Legal Aid Center is the first of its kind established in China. That's why the work started quite early. And all law firms registered in Pudong are members of the center. The center plays the role of coordination, making arrangements for the lawyers.
The work we do is as follows: First, we come here on a routine basis to provide counsel or consultations. Once the center finds out that a particular person is eligible for this service, they will make arrangements to try to get lawyers from the law firms to help the particular person. The third work is (end of tape). That's how the center works.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What are the most important changes that have occurred in China's legal system in recent years? What do you see as the biggest changes?
MR. ZHANG JIAXING: I can see strongly the change of the legal system in China as a lawyer. I can tell you from my experience as a lawyer. When I was a student in law school we discussed the situation of law in China and we said in the 1950s there were law firms set up by the state. It's a pity that all of the law firms disappeared in the Cultural Revolution. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government started the policy of reform and opening. At that time, the state wanted to build up the legal system.
I remember that I wanted to practice law in a law firm in 1982 when I graduated from Pudong University. I was working in Shanghai Number One firm. At that time I remember there was only a few law firms at the municipal level. There were the Number One and Number Two law firms and also some law firms at the county and district levels and the number of lawyers was very small.
Now, it is different and law firms are growing up like bamboo shoots sprouting up. They are growing in great numbers. I just recently read about the number of law firms in Shanghai. There are about 300 law firms in Shanghai with 4,535 lawyers. They have very good business for the lawyers. Now people have developed a habit of going to a law firm if they have any problem in their life. Because in the past, when problems arose, they just went to the leader of the work unit to try to find a solution. Even now, if someone goes to the leader of the work unit, the advice from the legal unit will say to go to a law firm to seek out a lawyer.
The booming business of law firms shows that there is a strong sense of law in the minds of the people and also shows that the legal system is developing in China. And also, I feel strongly about the fact that the making of laws is developing very fast since China started the policy of reform and opening up, and since we are now in the stage of a market economy which requires rule of law. That's why we've seen a lot of laws made by the state.
Some of the laws protect the civil rights of the people. Also, some of the laws serve as a kind of support to economic development. And there are all kinds of laws including laws that protect the rights of foreign investors who come to China to invest. In 1982, when I first started to practice law, lawyers were able to practice all kinds of cases- criminal, civil and economic. And now it is impossible for a lawyer to practice all kinds of cases because there are too many laws we have to be specialized. You mentioned your son-in-law specialized in environment protection law and also, there is this kind of lawyers within my law firm and also we have many lawyers within my law firm who specialize in property development and foreign investment and etc.
I just read a document which said that in the last twenty years, the number of laws made by the standing committee of the National People's Congress are about 310. These are only the laws made at the national level by the National People's Congress. There are other laws made at the local level and also regulations made by the government. So the laws made at the local level and the laws made by the various departments of the State Council is about 7,000.
The development of legal systems brings benefits to economic, political and cultural development in China. I believe, as you said, that the legal system is a kind of infrastructure in a society. We have a projection in China that by the year 2010, a complete legal system will be built in China. We are very happy about that projection since we will have business to do.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You're in a good business (laughter).
Could I ask I think one more question then? Obviously, I think that one of the things that we consider important is the protection of the individual under the rule of law. What in that line -- Mr. Ren perhaps -- are the obstacles that people face in bringing their cases to the court, and where do you think that there is additional work still needed in that field?
MR. REN: Generally speaking, if the client wants to settle their dispute in the court so that the lawyer will help the client make contact with the courts. I don't think there are any obstacles.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: And do you think that there are areas where there could be improvements in the law? Mr. Zhang was saying that there are lots of new laws being passed, but if you had to write new laws, what area would you concentrate on?
MR. REN: You mean the laws on the Legal Aid Center?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Just generally, do you think that there are some areas where there need to be new laws written that help individuals?
MR. REN: Yes, I think that the legal system should be improved since China is undergoing changes from a planning to a market economy. There are many things that should be adjusted. There are many laws that should be made to cope with that kind of situation.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I thank you very much. I think one point is that every society is different and we all have to go about our business in a somewhat different way. But basically, all societies are made up of individuals. The American system is that we believe that the people have all the rights and they give up certain of their rights to the state in order to make things function in a more orderly way. And the people start with the rights and the only rights that the government has are the ones that the people give it.
As I understand it, I think that your system is different which is that the government has the rights and it gives people the things that it believes they need. And in both cases, the laws are the connection between the government and the people. And in both cases it is essential that the people understand what the laws are and that they cannot just be arbitrary.
But I do think that whichever -- I obviously believe that our system is the one that works for our country and I think is one that gives respect to the individual, but I think it's very important also that no matter where you think the origin of your rights are, that at the base of it, the respect for the individual is the most important part. Because in the end, the individual is very small in comparison to the power of the government and the state, and so you here clearly have understood the importance in taking one case at a time and helping that particular person.
So, as I said initially, I congratulate you on your work because you not only have good business but are building a new China and I think one that will have the respect of the other countries in the world. And I have said that the theme of President Clinton's trip is a changing US-China relationship with a changing China. And since I think you don't have enough lawyers and we have too many, we will send them to you. (Laughter) Thank you very much.
MR. ZHANG LING: The Legal Aid Center is an exciting topic and the work of the Legal Aid Center is also an exciting topic. If we continue, we can continue for days, but since I know that you have a heavy itinerary and very important visits later on, we have to stop here.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I thank you very much for your hospitality and I congratulate you on having this center. I've been looking up here occasionally and you should be very proud of the number of cases and the areas in which you have been working. Very interesting. Thank you.
MR. MIAO: You are welcome to visit our center once again.
[End of Document]
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