Finding Chinese Law on the Internet

By Joan Lijun Liu

Joan Lijun Liu is currently a curator at Fudan University Library. In addition to teaching for the Library and Information Studies program and supervising the LIS graduate students in the Literature and Information Center of the Library, she also lectures in the Law School at the Fudan University. Previously, she served as a tenured associate curator at the New York University Law Library.

NOTE: The original version of this article was an excerpt written by Joan Lijun Liu from Roaming the Virtual Law Library: A Guide to Online Sources for Legal Researchers, co-edited by Joan Lijun Liu and Liying Yu, Law Press China (2004), with minor revisions.

Published September/October 2021

(Previously updated by Anna Guo in September/October 2017)

See the Archive Version!

The Chinese legal information scheme has developed substantially since this guide was first released. Online sources from the legislature, court system, and the government of the PRC are largely available nowadays, including full texts of laws and regulations at both national and local levels, case materials from all levels of courts, documents and information from the ministries, and statistical data on legal development. However, the advancement on the effective dissemination and the organization of the legal information still have a long way to go. The issues regarding the mechanism of legal document updating and archival, the discovery tools for quick and accurate contents access, the available online tutorial assistance, and the education for law librarians and professional legal information specialists are just some examples.

A great deal of research has been done in recent years on the portrayal and evaluation of the Chinese legal system.[1] The legal scheme of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) seems to be a combination of traditional Chinese culture and the Soviet model, mixed with characteristics of the civil law family.

The current legal order in China is completely new from an ideological point of view, having come into existence after the Kuomingtang (KMT) government was abolished and its leader defeated by the Communist Party in 1949. However, certain traditional influences, for instance, the ethical nature of the law reflecting the teachings of Confucianism, a school of thought dating back over two thousand years in Chinese history, remain distinct features of the law of the PRC. The present legal framework, which was officially established in 1949, was based on Marxism and Leninism. Before the Chinese government adopted the Open-Door Policy in 1978 to promote economic development within the country, a series of successive political disruptions had disturbed the formation and progression of the modern legal order.

Massive legislation from the late 1980s, which emulated the legislative experiences and techniques of Western countries, was beyond the structure of the Soviet model.[2] Socialism, however, remained the foundation of the law, as did its ultimate goal of becoming an instrument of social order and control.

As shown by its legal structure and form, the laws of the PRC share characteristics with the civil law system rather than with common law. As concluded by Rene David, “Chinese law can be ranked within the family of the laws deriving from the Romanist tradition”.[3] As David stated, this can be partly attributed to Europeanization (which more specifically refers to the legal systems of Germany and Japan, not Britain and the United States), the movement which took place during the first wave of legal reform that started at the end of the Qing Dynasty.[4] However, China’s own rich history of over two thousand years’ worth of written law traditions, ranging from the Qin Code during the Qin Dynasty in 220 BC, to the most complete and mature Tang Code (Tanglue Shuyi) of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century, to the Great Qing Code of the Qing Dynasty (the last monarchy of China during the 7th-20th century), to the Six Codes of the Republic of China (before 1949), also contributed heavily to modern day Chinese law.

The two legal systems of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the Macao Special Administrative Region (Macao SAR), however, are the exceptions from the legal framework of the PRC. The two are responsible for adding many unconventional and unprecedented traits to the Chinese socialist system.

The HKSAR and the Macao SAR were set up directly under former PRC president and party giant Deng Xiaoping’s theory of “one country, two systems.” The National People’s Congress (NPC) enacted both the Basic Law of the HKSAR (adopted on April 1990) and the Basic Law of the Macao SAR (adopted on March 1993) before the PRC resumed its exercise of sovereignty over both areas. This was done for the purpose of maintaining state dominion over the special economic positions of these two regions.

The two Basic Laws of the HKSAR and Macao SAR are national laws, not local laws. As such, no other laws, ordinances, administrative regulations, or normative documents of the HKSAR and Macao SAR shall violate their Basic Laws. Furthermore, it is stated clearly in the Basic Laws of both regions that the existing capitalist system and the people’s current way of life shall remain unchanged for the next 50 years. Laws previously in force are also kept and maintained. Hence, the legal systems in both regions have combined the characteristics of both civil and common laws, creating a political scheme that is a mixture of both capitalism and socialism.

1.2. Sources of Law of the PRC, HKSAR, and Macao SAR

As mentioned above, though the Chinese legal system claims to be distinct from all other legal systems, jurists of the PRC follow the rules of the civil law family. The legislation of the PRC reflects a structural similarity to countries of the Romano-Germanic family. Moreover, Chinese jurists value legal doctrines and hold written law in high esteem; concrete judicial decisions are not officially considered a source of law. According to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Legislation (2001, amended in 2015), the NPC and its Standing Committee pass the national statutes, including the Constitution Law, criminal substantial and procedural laws, civil principles, and procedural laws. The NPC and the Standing Committee are the highest authority in the land.

In China, legal interpretations are commonly grouped into three categories: legislative, administrative, and judicial. The State Council is empowered to enact administrative regulations in accordance with national laws. Government agencies, ministries, and commissions, which are under the State Council, are vested with the power to issue orders, measures, and directives in conformity with the State Council’s regulations. Local congressional and government bodies enact local laws and administrative measures. The People’s Congress of National Autonomous Regions is empowered to enact autonomous regulations. However, they cannot conflict with national statutes.[5]

Judicial decisions are not considered official sources of law. The judgments of the Supreme People’s Court are, however, factually respected by the lower courts and used as guidelines when the provision of law is in obscurity. The main sources of the laws in the HKSAR are: (1) Basic Law; (2) laws stipulated in the Basic Law, Article 8 (that is, the common law, rules of equity, ordinances, subordinate legislation, and customary law previously in force in Hong Kong); (3) laws enacted by the SAR; (4) laws enacted by the NPC or its Standing Committee (which are defense and foreign affairs related, and as stated in the Basic Law, Article 18).[6]

As a colonial region, Macao’s legal order was based upon the Portuguese legal system, which belongs to the civil law family. The Macao Basic Law by the NPC became its constitutional law after she was returned to mainland China. However, Portuguese laws that were formerly applied to Macao, but not in conflict with the Macao Basic Law, remain in force. Also, the laws enacted by the Macao SAR legislature and other administrative regulations passed by the government are still laws in Macao.[7]

See Raquel Ferreira Alves, UPDATE: Macau Special Administrative Region of People’s Republic of China Jurisdiction, GlobaLex (May/June 2021) for an introduction to the region, its legal system, and legal research.

Although a tremendous number of legal materials on Chinese law can be found on the Internet nowadays, an adequate information structure—a systematized information unit consisting of laws and regulations, court decisions, law treatises, law reviews, and search tools (such as an index and digest)—is still in development. Some components of the legal information system, such as search tools, updating services, and citation standards, took years before they were forged into Western systems. Without a comprehensive legal information system, which is the foundation of legal study and practice, legal research cannot be conducted accurately and efficiently.

In China, the major predicaments or challenges people used to face, such as the scarcity of legal information, the high difficulty of information access, the quality of legal publishing, the lack of a uniform system of subject classification, underdeveloped library facilities and services, and the shortage of information specialists, have had a remarkable improvement.

For historical descriptions and analyses on Chinese legal information system, legal education, law libraries, and legal research, please consult the previous versions of this publication:

2. Chapter 2: Major Chinese or Bilingual Online Resources

Categorizing online resources is an almost impossible and futile task. The resources have been subjectively grouped into four sections in Part I as legal online services with full text databases, governmental websites, electronic journals, and legal research tools and directorial websites. The online resources discussed here are accessed via the World Wide Web and have been further divided into two portions by language: bilingual (English and Chinese) or Chinese only. Each group of resources is then further subdivided into sequential order based on the criteria of comprehension, reliability, search capacities, and the subjective experience of the author.

Most of the available online full text Chinese law databases are commercial services, which provide systems that are similar to the comprehensive Computer-Assisted Legal Research (CALR) tools, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. Like the CALR databases, these Chinese law databases are also comprehensive and come with features that include a systematic updating process, standardized data retrieval systems, and powerful technical support. Furthermore, all these features are operated by professional information institutions.

Official government websites are grouped separately since they are supposedly the most reliable sources for official policies and legal information. Systems such GPO Access are not readily available in China, but the sophistication of the Hong Kong government website makes it an appropriate model for the future construction of an online governmental information system. When looking at government websites, please keep in mind that the rules for identifying domain names are not strictly followed in China. Most of the government websites now use, but some government sites could use .org, .edu, or even .com; therefore, one has to read the description carefully in order to make a decision on the authority of the source.

Electronic journals cover specific subjects and topics. While online legal services focus on primary legal resources such as statutes, regulations, case reports, and other core legal documents, electronic journals supply research articles as well as the most current legal issues and discussions. The remaining online resources are grouped as legal research tools and directorial websites. Though some of these websites may also maintain databases that cover a significant amount of the legal documents, they are usually rudimentary in nature and lack systematic updating and standardization. Consequently, they are mainly regarded as resources of bibliographic and directorial information. The major sites for research guides, legal publishers, and law vendors are also listed and annotated in this part.

2.1. Sources in English or Bilingual with Chinese

2.1.1. Online Services with Full Text Databases

Among the databases with full text, the following bilingual databases contain both primary and secondary legal sources.

Chinalawinfo 北大法宝 (English version): Chinalawinfo was developed in the 1985 by the Legal Information Center of Peking University Law School, and it contains the most comprehensive coverage in full text for Chinese legal materials starting from 1949. Chinalawinfo’s fee-based service allows the user to obtain the full text of new laws and regulations, local laws of all provinces and autonomous regions, case materials, treaties and foreign laws, etc. The free service provides access to some national statutes and regulations. This database has considerably increased the number of English translation of documents. The texts of laws and regulations are annotated or linked with relevant primary or secondary sources. The Chinese version of the database has broader contents than its English counterpart.

Westlaw China 万律 (Formerly iSinolaw): Westlaw contains all the Hong Kong SAR judgments from all its court levels that were originally published by Sweet & Maxwell Asia on paper. The earliest reports date as far back as 1905. Several law journals on the laws of the PRC and Hong Kong that were published by Sweet & Maxwell Asia, and popular newspapers such as the South China Morning Post are also included in the database. Many researchers prefer Westlaw China over Lexis China since Westlaw China acquired iSinolaw, an online legal database that contained Mainland China laws and regulations. Despite its usefulness, Westlaw China lacks scholarly articles and secondary resources.[8]

Lexis China 律商联讯: Lexis China is part of LexisNexis online services and covers the laws of the PRC and Hong Kong SAR, as well as the updating service for the same. For Hong Kong case law, important decisions from all court levels in Hong Kong since 1946 are included in its database. Reports are updated regularly; new case reports are usually available on LexisNexis one or two weeks after the decisions are released. It also comprises the laws of the PRC, including statutes, administrative regulations, important judicial interpretations, and local laws and regulations, covering over 60 subjects of law in total. Practitioners in China often use Westlaw China alongside with Lexis China and find that Lexis China offers a more accurate translation of Chinese laws.

Wolters Kluwer 威科先行: Wolters Kluwer has developed a comprehensive bilingual research system and tools on Chinese law. The China Law & Reference module contains the laws and regulations issued at both national and provincial level. The other modules contain the laws in the fields of taxation, banking, and insurance. For cases, the database includes selected court decisions from all levels of court, complete collection on the Guiding Cases by the Supreme People’s Court. It also contains legal commentary, mostly by practitioner experts. Similar as Chinalawinfo, Wolters Kluwer has a broader contents coverage in the Chinese version than the English one. The database provides unique visual tools on cases analysis. The database retrieval functions are well developed.

China Academic Journals CNKI 中国知网: This full-text journal database houses a comprehensive range of research articles, including legal scholarship, mainly published in China. The commercial database has an English index with abstracts and Chinese full text. The articles archived here date back to 1915. It is one of the most comprehensive databases for finding legal articles in the Chinese vernacular with advanced search methods. CNKI has accelerated its retrieval possibilities by adding more search functions. In the new version of the database, it provides citation form and visualization display on search result analysis.

Mondaq: Mondaq is an article database that houses online resources of professional’s expertise and knowledge on legal, accounting, regulatory, compliance, and commercial issues. The database is free of charge and includes insights and regular alerts about law and policy change in China.

2.1.2. Official Government Resources

Legislative Information
The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China 中国人大网
is the official website of the NPC. The English version contains an introduction to the Chinese legislative system and structure as well as some official reports from past annual sessions of the Congress. It also stores the text of the Constitution and amendment. The section of “Laws of the PRC” publishes the English translation of newly released legal documents. In addition, there is an embedded “Database of Laws and Regulations” containing major national laws and regulations, but the documents are not searchable and not kept to update. The contents in the English version of the site overall are sketchy, and the searching capacities are limited.

Executive Information
The State Council 国务院
official website has a brief English version with directorial information on the agency and the structure. The documents include the English text of some national laws enacted since 2007 in the section of Laws & Regulations, the contents of the last 20 years of the Gazette of the State Council, and economic statistical reports since 2014. The website has a basic search, and some of the contents are not up to date.

The Chinese version has a broader coverage: the documents issued by the State Council since 1969 under the Open Government Information Regulation (2019 Revision) as well as the Database of Laws and Regulations, covering national laws, regulations, rules by the ministries, local law and regulations, and judicial interpretations. All of the above are equipped with advanced search functions. The full text of the Gazette of the State Council from 1954-1999 in PDF format is available from this website.

Judicial Information
The Supreme People’s Court of the PRC 中国最高人民法院

The official website of the Supreme Court covers information similar to that of China Court, but the provisions do not have hyperlinks and the search functions are not as adequate as the latter. This site contains directory information about the court. The section of on legal knowledge contains some texts of legislations and commentaries, Gazettes, and reports. The site offers a limited search capacity. The Chinese version provides a complete collection for the SPC’s Guiding Cases with full text which is not searchable. It offers more complete coverage for the Gazettes which offers an advanced search for the publications back to 1985-2019

China Court: This website is sponsored by the Supreme People’s Court of the PRC and focuses on judicial news and legal information; some texts of laws and regulations are available in English. However, court judgments are not particularly available on this site. The database can only be searched by using keywords.

The Chinese version of China Court serves as a portal for the national court system. It provides a platform for the China Open Court Trials 中国庭审公开网 which offers live video broadcasting for the trials held in the SPC or the local courts. Some of the videos are archived for up to 30 days. The website also contains Law Library 法律文库查询 for national and local law and regulations, treaties, policies, and the Cases in Chinese Courts 中国审判案例库 that is grouped for the Guiding Cases, model cases, and others, both offering full text documents. The laws and regulations are searchable via title or contents, while the case collection can be browsed.

On both websites above, some of the content coverages and linkages are overlapped or cross-linked.

Ministry Websites
China Securities Regulator Commission 中国证监会:
The China Securities Regulatory Commission website contains an informative introduction about the Ministry and capital markets in China. It also provides the full text of the Security Law of the PRC and statistical data, but the databases are neither searchable nor up to date.

CIETAC & CMAC & BCC: These websites contain official information on the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, the Maritime Arbitration Commission, and the Beijing Conciliation Center. They also provide introductions and states arbitration rules for each agency.

Ministry of Education 教育部: The Ministry of Education (MOE) site contains the full text of its official publication, the Official Journal of the Ministry of Education (Jiaoyubu zhengbao), and also legislation related to educational matters. The Official Journal can be searched by keywords and publication date, but the compilation of laws itself is not searchable, and not up to date.

Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China 商务部: The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) is an executive agency of the State Council of China. It is responsible for formulating policy on foreign trade, export and import regulations, foreign direct investments, consumer protection, market competition and negotiating bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. The website contains recent policies dated back to 2015 and policy interpretations, as well as news and electronic versions of the China Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Gazette dated back to 2005.

National Bureau of Statistics of the PRC 国家统计局: This is the website for obtaining the detailed official statistics on China. It offers the full text of the China Statistical Yearbook from 1999-2019 compiled by the Bureau and published by China Statistics Press. It also listed statistics related laws and regulations, but not searchable, nor updated.

The People’s Bank of China 中国人民银行: The People’s Bank of China (PBC) is the central bank of the People’s Republic of China with the power to control monetary policy and regulate financial institutions in mainland China. The webpage contains monetary policies and regulations dating back to 2005, and it also has an advanced search option. This bilingual website also contains laws and regulations on education and networking technology, and extensive statistical information on the Chinese education system. The compilation of the linkages to the Libraries offers a gateway to the sites of public libraries and colleges/university libraries in China.

State Administration of Foreign Exchange 国家外汇总局: The State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) is an administrative agency that is responsible for drafting rules and regulations governing foreign exchange market activities and managing the state foreign exchange reserves. Its parent agency is the People’s Bank of China. The website contains a limited number of rules and regulations that date back to 2008.

State Administration of Taxation of The People’s Republic of China 国家税务总局: The State Administration of Taxation (SAT) was established at the central government level as an organization directly under the State Council in charge of the taxation work. This website provides national tax laws and tax treaties dating back to 1985, as well as tax related news.

State Intellectual Property Office 国家知识产权局: This English website for the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO) covers currently available information, including an introduction about the agency and the full text of the Patent Law of the People’s Republic of China.

Xinhua News Agency 新华社: This official Chinese governmental news agency releases reports on the latest legal developments and governmental policies. The databases are searchable.

For the laws of the Hong Kang Special Administrative Region, the website of the Department of Justice of the HKSAR offers official sources and is open to the public. It contains the Laws of Hong Kong, including the Basic Law, Hong Kong e-Legislation, Treaties and International Agreements, and Glossaries of Legal Terms. The Current Ordinances section corresponds to the printing version as published in the loose-leaf edition.

For the laws of the Macao Special Administrative Region, Laws of the Macao SAR, the website of the Government Printing Office in Macao, contains the complete laws of Macao and some national laws of the PRC in Chinese and Portuguese, with some documents provided in English. It is archived and kept up to date.

2.1.3. Electronic Journals and Newspapers

China Daily: This is the online version of the Chinese official daily newspaper, China Daily, which covers legal news. The online database allows free access for full text. Keyword searching is available. Contents are archived for about three months.

China Internet Information Center: This website is an “authorized government portal site to China” and highly resembles an encyclopedia. It is published under the China International Publishing Group and the State Council Information Office; however, it does not use the .gov domain. This site covers topics such as politics, culture, science and technology, and various economics aspects of China, which is available in both English and Chinese.

China Law and Practice: This is the electronic version of the journal under the same title by Asian Law and Practice. The commercial journal offers the most current reports, translations, and commentaries on the new laws and legal development in China and has multiple search functions.

China and WTO Review (English Only): China and WTO Review (CWR) is an internationally referred scholarly journal which is semi-annually published by YIJUN Institute of International Law. CWR is dedicated to discussing critical legal and political issues arising out of China and the WTO. The Review takes on a very proactive view on China’s involvement in the WTO and how it impacts areas including dispute settlement proceedings, international and comparative law, legal economics, and policy. Further, to the extent relevant to WTO covered agreements (or other trade accords for that matter), the Review deals with foreign investment, copyrights, and other trade-related issues.

People’s Daily (mirror site): This is the official paper of the Party and contains reports on legislation and legal developments. New laws are usually first released in full text in this newspaper. The paper is archived, and the database provides multiple search options.

General directorial sites

  • China Today (English) – This website belongs to and is maintained by InfoPacific Development Co., Canada and Kompass International Information Service Co. Ltd., China. It covers general information about China. A section on the “Laws and Regulation of the PRC” is also included, as well as directorial information on governmental agencies and judicial institutions. However, the information is not current, and no search functions are available.
  • (English) – This directory has links to some Chinese law related websites; however, the site suffers heavily from link rot.
  • Directory of Law Firms (English) – The website provides Lawyers Global Directory including law firms in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao.
  • Guide to Law Online (GLIN) (English) – The gateway service by the Law Library of Congress contains major primary and secondary sources for the PRC, the HKSAR, and the Macao SAR.
  • World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) offers a comprehensive coverage on the laws of P. R. China and the research. The contents and targeted search capacity for China as a particular jurisdiction is limited.

Research guides and annotated online bibliographies

Translation tools:

  • Youdao Human Translation is another service that Youdao provides to users for a fee. Users can select the “fast translate” option and label certain requirements for the translation, and after inputting the text, there is an automatically generated price and time frame of when the final product will be ready. Customers can also choose from the “document translation” tab and upload the documents they need to translate, and select the options provided for Youdao to provide a better translation.

2.2. Sources in Chinese

2.2.1. Online Services with Full Text Databases

On secondary sources, the section of Law Journals covers the most complete law journal titles. The search functions are well facilitated. The recent developments of Chinalawinfo include the visualization of database research results display and the provision of system generated reports on the retrials of similar cases.

Lawyee 法意: This Chinese major law database includes full text of laws, regulations. The cases materials include that from Hong Kong and Macao as well as from Mainland China are organized by comprehensive index system. The database also provides templates for various legal documents. It also has an online law dictionary and some law treatises in full text. The judicial statistics are available back from 1950, but not up to date.

2.2.2. Government Official Resources or Government Affiliated Resources

The Laws and Regulation Database (国家法律法规数据库) by the NPC: This official law database in full text was newly launched in the spring of 2021 by the National People’s Congress. It contains five sections: the Constitution, national laws, regulations, local law, and judicial interpretation. The coverage on each section varies. The search capacities are well developed; the text download options include an official gazette version. It also offers online assistance on database contents and search.

China Judgements Online (中国裁判文书网) by the SPC: This judicial database has collected close to 120 million court documents from all levels of court in China, from basic courts to the Supreme People’s Court. The court documents are mainly divided into civil, criminal, administrative, enforcement, and compensation, etc. In addition to the official language, mandarin, the language of the document texts also includes Tibetan, Mongolian, Uyghur, etc. The database has a comprehensive structure on search functions, which may help to find relevant cases quickly through a case citation but rather difficult to search through keywords due to vast size of database. The database is updated daily and requires registration for full access.

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the PRC 最高人民检察院: The website of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the PRC introduces the Chinese procuratorate system and the structure of the Procuratorate. It contains information in areas of anti-bribery, investigative supervision, and crime investigation. It maintains a vast collection of the major national laws, case analyses, and the working reports of the National People’s Congress, a feat rarely accomplished in other databases. The databases, however, are not searchable.

Ceilaw: This website is closely affiliated with the State Council and launched in 1997. It is mostly available only to Chinese government agencies as an important source for Chinese rules and regulations dated back to 1949. This online service is part of the China Economic Information (CEI) network, which is hosted by the State Information Center, a government agency. Its legal online information system contains the most comprehensive and authoritative Chinese law databases, which include both national and local laws and regulations, case reports, and treaties.

2.2.3. Electronic Journals and Newspapers

The Legal Daily: This is the online version of the Legal Daily in paper that is published by the Political and Legal Commission of the Central Committee of the Party. It was originally the official paper of the Ministry of Justice before it was taken over by the Party in the mid-1980’s and became an influential newspaper. The newspaper is archived up to six months online and is searchable. Its most valuable column is the “Release of New Laws”, which publishes new laws in full text and gives legal interpretation from the legislature, judicial, and administrative agencies.

The People’s Court Paper: The electronic version of this newspaper is published by the Supreme People’s Court. This newspaper is a good resource for finding the new decisions of the Supreme People’s Court, as well as its judicial interpretations and policies. The contents of the newspaper can be searched.

The People’s Procuratorate Daily: The e-version of the daily paper of the People’s Procuratorate only archives the news for the last three years.

2.2.4. Directorial Websites

Chinese Lawyer Association: The Chinese Lawyer Association was founded in 1985 under the guidance of the judiciary department. Its official website includes information on Chinese laws, Chinese law firms, and industry standards for the legal profession in China.

The websites of professional legal publishers that are owned by the state offer exhaustive bibliographic information on the law books they publish. They also provide a gateway service by linking law and legal publishing related Internet resources.

2.2.5. Free Online Sources on China Law

Law-lib: This website is maintained by the Xihu Bookstore and provides extensive coverage on Chinese legal information on both primary and secondary sources. It also offers an e-mail service, which delivers all new enacted national laws, administrative regulations, judicial interpretation, and decisions by the ministries for no charge. The databases are archived and searchable. The section on “Articles and Treatises” is available in full text and represents the most recent legal research.

China Judge: This webpage contains both laws and research articles and books. It can be accessed freely and is updated regularly. This site compiles resources on Chinese legal study and practice, including judicial reports, a brief catalog of the major law journals, and legal research articles. The most valuable part of the database is its collection of full-text legal anthologies written by prominent jurists in China.

Itslaw (无讼): Chinese legal case database website that collects large number of case documents with daily updating. Search functions are limited.

OpenLaw (裁判文书检索): Another free resource via registration dedicated on Chinese court documents. The massive case documents are well organized though search capacity is limited.

2.2.6. Wechat Subscriptions and Articles (微信)

Wechat has gradually become the most important smartphone application in China. It is known as the “super app” because people not only use it to communicate and to pay their bills, but also to conduct legal research. Legal institutions, law firms, and law schools utilize Wechat to publish law-related activities and scholarships. It has grown to be one of the main secondary resources for one to obtain background information about a legal subject area at the start of legal research.

Wechat users can use keyword search to subscribe to different channels that focus on different legal practice areas. Subsequently, periodic articles and updates will be sent to the subscriber’s Wechat. In addition, legal scholars and practitioners join Wechat groups with a specific legal focus that answer and discuss specific legal questions the members have. It is worth mentioning that the Wechat channels and articles can now be searched on a PC via the Sogou search engine. Thus, one is no longer limited to access to subscription articles on a legal topic on a phone.

3. Chapter 3: Features of Online Sources and Search Strategies

This chapter discusses helpful strategies to finding information on Chinese online legal resources. Before doing so, we will first summarize and evaluate the resources described in Chapter 1. This chapter also illustrates a pathfinder for a hypothetical research topic by utilizing a combination of information and resources.

3.1.1. Content Coverage

There are two sides to the meaning of the word “completeness” as we use it. The first meaning deals with reviewing the contents of the database or Internet resource to determine whether they are exhaustive and systematically structured. For instance, does the commercial online service include both primary and secondary sources or does it contain only one component? Are the contents of the database complete or rudimentary? The second meaning pertains to the format of the information contained in the database or Internet resource. For example, does the database contain only digests and abstracts or does it contain information in full text?

As described in Part One, Chapter 1, the majority of Chinese commercial databases contain a fairly comprehensive coverage of the statutory laws of the PRC from 1949 to the present in full text and are also updated regularly. Some databases also contain local laws and regulations. However, the level of completeness of each online service might vary.

The official versions of legal materials are provided by the government, which is also considered to be the most reliable source. However, a government information mechanism, like the Government Printing Office in the United States, has not yet been established in China. Furthermore, government websites are not well developed in English.

In recent years, Chinese government has made efforts to enhance the open access to legal knowledge and information, The Laws and Regulation Database (国家法律法规数据库) by the NPC and China Judgements Online (中国裁判文书网) by the SPC only are a few of many examples.

3.1.2. Authority and Access

According to the laws of the PRC, legal compilation and electronic publishing should be examined and approved before they can be published by a specific government agency as assigned by the legislature. The sole lawful publisher for national laws should be the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the NPC and the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council. However, for research and study purposes, non-official publishers (such as research institutions and commercial publishers) are also allowed to publish law compilations. Due to the lack of adequate quality control on legal publishing, the accuracy and authority of the commercial online databases is sometimes questioned. Furthermore, law databases produced by volunteers or less qualified commercial agencies also undermine the reliability and authenticity of online legal resources. The search function for online legal resources, especially for the governmental sites, has general enhanced. More Chinese online services offer PDF format, even the official gazette version.

First, we must keep in mind that a corresponding electronic format is not available for all Chinese legal materials, especially judicial information and secondary sources. Although an increasing number of judgements are published regularly, to locate juridical materials, your first choice should still be the printed resources. Also, secondary and tertiary sources are not among the focus of Chinese legal publishers; therefore, it is harder to locate their electronic versions. But as countries share civil law systems characteristics, the legal treatises by Chinese jurists are proliferating, and even full text access is freely available. See the legal anthology sections of Chinalawinfo and China Judge.

Second, one must be very careful in selecting which databases to use from the numerous accessible free databases. Some of them are not up to date. When searching for databases, we need to know the following information:

  • the authority and reliability of the authors or producers of the resource
  • the contents, scope, and structure of the resource to draw the pathfinder
  • updating frequency to ensure whether the resource is current
  • search capabilities (Boolean search or other more sophisticated search functions to ensure maximum search results)
  • the stability of the resource and the archiving method used

For Chinese legal online resources, the producers or providers of the databases are the most important components in determining their authority and reliability. For primary materials, you should first go to commercial or government resources. For secondary materials, some free database sites could also be reliable and valuable.

Third, when determining a starting point, unless you are looking for factual data or information (which can be found directly or via single search), we should generally start from secondary sources-treatises and journal articles-and work our way to primary sources. West’s pyramid theory is very true for Chinese online research. We also ought to use direct and indirect search simultaneously, for instance, finding clues from citations and footnotes.

3.3. Researching Strategies for Chinese Law

Start with Secondary Sources: For the scholarship on Chinese law research in English language, HeinOnline, Westlaw, LexisNexis, etc., offer good start to locate the most significant research in the fields in English language. If with Chinese language ability, the China Academic Journal is a productive beginning, the database offers author-supplied abstract in English.

One can also search the section of Legal Journals (法学期刊) from, which includes complete core legal journals and also a preliminary index. An increasing number of journals offer the abstracts in English. Researchers may also search library catalogs to find books on this topic.

After gaining a general background understanding from articles and journals, one must obtain the reliable interpretation of different legal terms mentioned in the resources, for example how “insider trading” is defined in China. The NPC and Judiciary provide the most authoritative interpretations of the law and legal terms and are widely cited and followed.

Furthermore, it would also be very helpful to search for the laws and regulations obtained in the searches above on Google, Bing, and Baidu. Many articles written by both domestic and foreign law firms and NGOs analyzing a rule or regulation may not be in the legal databases but are still very useful for understanding the legal environment in China.

Locate Primary Materials: While searching the secondary sources, you found some important facts, such as the titles of the laws, regulations, judicial interpretation, and the date of the promulgation. You can now locate the original law documents from different resources. A relatively simple and straightforward way is to search or Westlaw China. The former cross-references relevant laws from the provision of the law to regulations, judicial interpretations, or case reports. Official websites that store primary sources, the NPC and the State Council, are the place to obtain the authoritative gazette version of the laws and regulations.

Finding Cases: As described before, judicial information, previously a weakest area in the Chinese legal information system, has largely been available online with free access. Though case locators, such as the index or digest, are not equipped, most online sources on judicial documents are well structured.

In July 2020, SPC issued Guiding Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Unifying the Application of Laws to Strengthen the Retrieval of Similar Cases (for Trial Implementation), that requires verifications, when dealing with certain type of trials, to the previous decisions in order to ensure the consistency in the judicial application of laws and rules. Thus, case information and research are expected to be advanced in near future.

Record the Research Process: If you are working for a judge or lawyer on a Chinese law research assignment, it is always a good idea to keep a record of your research process that includes the resources that you have tapped, the search terms you used, and the worth-mentioning results from using different terms to show your work and ensure that the search is comprehensive.

[1] Unlike the dry and “eight-part-essay-ish” (stereotypical) style used by Chinese legal scholars in the advent of legal reform in the 1980s, recent research offers a more trustworthy analysis from a neutral, reasonable, and objective perspective on the history and status quo of the Chinese legal system. Some examples are: Xin, Chunying, Chinese Legal System & Current Legal Reform. Beijing: Law Press (1999); Hsu, C. Stephen, Understanding China’s Legal System, New York University Press (2003); Chen, J. Chinese Law: Towards an Understanding of Chinese Law, Its Nature and Development, Kluwer Law International (1999).

[2] In the legislative process, relevant foreign laws are studied and researched, and foreign legal experts invited for consultation. Professor Jerry Cohen of New York University Law School, a prominent Chinese law expert, had assisted the Ministry of Finance in its work on international taxation law in 1979 when he was a professor at Harvard Law School. See Hsu’s Understanding China’s Legal System, supra note 1. His colleague at NYU, Professor Richard Steward, was also invited by the Environmental Protection Committee of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress as a foreign expert. Unlike the legal reform of the Qing Dynasty during the late 19th century, which used Germany and Japan, members of the civil law family, as models of modernization to Chinese law, current legislation emphasizes more on legislative ideal and techniques. It is, however, not restricted to any particular law family

[3] David, Rene, Major Legal System in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law.

[4] See Chen, J., Chinese Law: Towards an Understanding of Chinese Law, Its Nature and Development. Kluwer law International, 1999. The author makes concise remarks on the legal reforms between the end of the Qing dynasty to the beginning of the Republic of China.

[5] See The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Legislation (July 1, 2000), article 7, 56, 63 through 66

[6] See Dobinson, Ian and Derk Roebuck, Introduction to Law in the Hong Kong SAR. 2nd ed. Sweet & Maxwell Asia, 2001.

[7] See the Basic Law of Macao SAR at WIPO.

[8] Kossof Paul, Chinese Legal Research. Carolina Academic Press (2014).