Cover: Legal Lessons: Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1989, from Harvard University PressCover: Legal Lessons in PAPERBACK

Harvard East Asian Monographs 411

Legal Lessons

Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1989

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$32.95 • £26.95 • €29.50

ISBN 9780674251243

Publication Date: 05/04/2021


While the book is focused on China’s two most important urban centers, Altehenger’s careful work in the Beijing and Shanghai archives, complemented by local gazetteers and restricted internal documents, rewards readers with a multilayered depiction of cultural work in the PRC.—Brian DeMare, China Journal

This terrific book makes a significant contribution to the understanding of propaganda in China as well as to the fields of law, politics and history of the PRC… Altehenger’s analysis contributes mightily to our understanding of the period that she examines, but also is useful in appreciating the dilemmas of law in China today.—Pitman B. Potter, China Quarterly

A thorough and accessible account of a very complex and important topic, and it deserves wide readership. The book will prove especially helpful for researchers interested in the PRC legal system, Chinese legal history, China’s governance capacity, and its state–society relations.—Ji Li, China Review International

A pioneering account of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) endeavored to use legal propaganda to mold ideological consciousness and valorize the disparate phases of its revolution between 1949 and 1989… Altehenger has filled a key gap in the literature on the PRC legal system with an engaging, richly sourced study that bridges multiple fields of scholarship… Her book will appeal to historians of modern China, culture, and law, as well as to observers of the contemporary PRC, and that is an exceptional feat.—Glenn Tiffert, Law and History Review

Drawing upon abundant archival records, internal reports, newspapers, and posters, Altehenger offers a fresh look into the CCP’s campaigns of disseminating legal knowledge. Her vivid accounts not only demonstrate the significant role of mass legal education in China’s socialist governance, but also disclose the complex dynamics between party leaders, propaganda officials, state and private publishers, and cultural workers in various campaigns.—Weiting Guo, Pacific Affairs

Exhaustively researched and methodologically innovative, Legal Lessons is a must-read not only for PRC historians but also for legal historians of China and elsewhere. It redresses a glaring paucity of scholarship in an important field and provides a deeply textured narrative of the continued tussle between state and society over the varied meanings of law. By crossing important epochal divides, it also places China’s ongoing legal reforms in their proper historical context to demonstrate how they were not exclusively inventions of the post-Mao government seeking to rebuild its political legitimacy and rejoin the global economy.—Philip Thai, PRC History Review

An important work for scholars interested in the cultural dimensions of the law, Maoist-era mass political campaigns, and the comparative study of socialist states.—Joshua Hill, Twentieth-Century China

A major scholarly accomplishment, Legal Lessons masterfully details how the Chinese state over forty years spread knowledge about law. By providing an extraordinarily deft portrayal of the deep internal conceptual and practical tensions that the party-state encountered in endeavoring to use law as a governing instrument, and the intricate ways in which China’s populace received and understood those messages, Altehenger shows that creating law for a new China was far more complex an undertaking than had previously been presumed.—William Alford, Henry L. Stimson Professor, Harvard Law School

With its wide-ranging implications, Legal Lessons is worth learning! It presents a whole new way to comprehend radical attempts made by the Chinese state to inculcate legal knowledge among the people—and thereby transform society—at pivotal moments in China’s recent past.—Karl Gerth, Hsiu Endowed Chair in Chinese Studies and Professor of History, University of California, San Diego

This is a beautifully researched and illuminating study of how the Chinese communist state has struggled to popularize laws since the 1950s through campaigns around the Marriage Laws, various drafts of the constitution, and more general legal awareness. It demonstrates the importance of law to the communist state throughout its history and the crucial role of culture and the media in how law has been understood.—Henrietta Harrison, Professor of Modern Chinese Studies, University of Oxford China Centre

When it seized power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party abolished the modern legal codes of the Republican era and created ‘socialist law’ for the new People’s Republic. Altehenger places the Chinese experience firmly within the world of the ‘socialist brother countries.’ This is not a book about rule by law, but the story of rule by propaganda. Going far beyond legal history, it is a compelling study of the enduring political culture of a regime that still argues today that it need not abide by its own constitution.—William C. Kirby, T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies and Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration, Harvard University

Legal Lessons links the practice of legal education in the early PRC to the larger international project of socialist lawmaking, and raises new questions about the relationship between legal propaganda, legal ‘reform,’ and the quest for new kinds of legal polities in the late twentieth century and beyond. Altehenger’s masterful study provides a critical foundation for understanding the Chinese path to that contested condition we call rule of law.—Madeleine Zelin, Dean Lung Professor of Chinese Studies, Columbia University

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