In Search of Activist Lawyers in China: A Time Machine Back to the Heyday of Political Activism in the Chinese Legal Profession
65 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2020 Last revised: 21 Sep 2020
Date Written: March 7, 2020
An analysis of a large corpus of online discussions—posted mostly in 2004—amongst members of the largest online community of lawyers that ever existed in China supports much of the existing literature about Chinese lawyers’ politically liberal values. At the same time, it reveals that Chinese lawyers’ political discourse was far from monolithic. By bringing into high relief the plurality of Chinese lawyers’ voices, this article contributes an unprecedented effort to disaggregate their worldviews. Previous research suggests that lawyers’ online discourse was an important catalyst of politically liberal activism in China. Findings reported in this article reveal for the first time that Chinese lawyers also called for mobilization in support of pro-regime, illiberal, and nationalistic causes. Finally, at precisely the moment of the alleged heyday of China’s so-called “weiquan movement,” there was scarcely a trace of political activism under the mantle of weiquan, or “rights defense,” in the Chinese legal profession.
Keywords: China, lawyers, legal profession, weiquan, activism, rights defense, political liberalism
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