Social Science Seminar - Managing Transparency in China’s Courts
11:00am - 12:30pm
Room 3401 (Lift 2 or Lifts 17-18), 3/F Academic Building

Despite a burgeoning conversation about the centrality of information management to governments, scholars are only just beginning to address the role of legal information in sustaining authoritarian rule. This lack of attention to legal information stems in part from two common beliefs: that liberal legal systems are inherently transparent and that authoritarian legal systems closely guard information. In this talk we present a case study showing how legal information can be managed: through the deletion of previously published cases from China’s online public database of court decisions. Using our own dataset of all 42 million cases made public in China between January 1, 2014 and September 2, 2018, we examine the recent deletion of criminal cases from the China Judgments Online website. Our data suggest that the decision to remove cases is often reactive and ad hoc. But, taken together, the decision(s) to remove hundreds of thousands of unconnected cases shape a narrative about the Chinese courts, Chinese society, and the Chinese state. We find that the deletion of cases likely results from a range of overlapping concerns. These include the international and domestic images of Chinese courts, institutional relationships within the Chinese Party-state, worries about revealing negative social phenomena, and concerns about copycat crimes. We identify a trend of “sensitivity contagion,” in which a small number of potentially sensitive cases leads to the removal of entire categories of crimes, despite most cases being routine. Our findings also provide insight into the interrelated mechanisms of censorship and transparency in an era in which data governance is increasingly central. We highlight how courts seek to curate a narrative that aims to protect the courts from criticism and boosts their standing with the public and within the Party-state.

Room 3401 (Lift 2 or Lifts 17-18), 3/F Academic Building
Recommended For
SOSC Faculty, RPG students
More Information

Speaker: Prof. Benjamin L. LIEBMAN
Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law and Director, Hong Yen Chang Center for Chinese Legal Studies
Director, Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law
Columbia Law School


Benjamin L. Liebman leads Columbia Law School’s Hong Yen Chang Center for Chinese Legal Studies, the first institution of its kind at a U.S. law school. The center prepares students to take on leadership roles in Chinese law and provides them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in China’s rapidly changing legal environment.

Widely known as a preeminent scholar of contemporary Chinese law, Liebman studies Chinese court judgments, the roles of artificial intelligence and big data in the Chinese legal system, Chinese tort law, Chinese criminal procedure, and the evolution of China’s courts. His research has covered diverse topics in Chinese law over the years, ranging from leniency in criminal law to medical dispute resolution and securities markets.

In 2015, Liebman published Regulating the Visible Hand: The Institutional Implications of Chinese State Capitalism (Oxford University Press, with Curtis J. Milhaupt), which explores how extensive state intervention and participation drives China’s evolving economy—a critical contribution to the discourse surrounding China’s recent economic transformations.

Liebman’s expertise is highly sought after in academic and political spheres alike. He has consulted with both the U.S and Chinese governments on legal developments in China. 

Professor Liebman also serves as the director of the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law.

Prior to joining the Law School’s faculty in 2002, Liebman was an associate in the London and Beijing offices of Sullivan & Cromwell. He also previously served as a law clerk to Justice David Souter and Judge Sandra Lynch of the 1st Circuit.


Host: Prof Kellee TSAI
Dean and Chair Professor 
School of Humanities and Social Science

Speakers / Performers:
Prof. Benjamin L. LIEBMAN
Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law and Director, Hong Yen Chang Center for Chinese Legal Studies; Director, Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law, Columbia Law School
Division of Social Science