The best way to understand justice and the legal system in China today is to begin with the understanding that traditional Chinese thought never intimately connected the two. If by ‘justice’ we mean simply a state of affairs where people get what they deserve — and what they deserve is defined ultimately by cultural norms — then this is not to say that Chinese culture cared less about justice than other cultures; it is simply that the Chinese by and large did not look to a system of laws to get it. Nor is it to say that the two have no connection in Chinese culture today; the ‘culture’ of over one billion people is neither monolithic nor static. But to connect justice and legality today is to do something relatively new in the history of Chinese thought. Understanding why this is so will tell us much about where China has been and where it is heading.
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