Chinese Clinical Education—Examinations and Expectations

Published date01 July 2015
Date01 July 2015
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17TYOCkXrpfTja/input Article
Chinese Clinical Education—
Asian Journal of Legal Education
2(2) 119–132
Examinations and Expectations
© 2015 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005815578510
Lining Zhang1
The article examines clinical education in Chinese law schools for the purpose of understanding
reasons for its under-development and proposing corresponding approaches for improvement. The
article starts with a historical look at the origin of Chinese law clinics when Ford Foundation brought
the concept of clinical education from American law schools, and asserts that this manner of beginning
is fundamentally deficient in that there was no local impetus or acknowledgement of its dual mission—
legal education reform and social justice. The article continues to compare the social, regulatory and
systemic background where clinical education operated in China and in countries of the first wave
of clinical movement, as well as differences in their source of funding, treatment of clinical faculty,
operational mode. The article concludes that there need to be a recognition on the part of Chinese
law schools and universities in general of the legitimacy and significance of clinical education, proper
academic placement of clinical faculty who are now not part of the regular faculty system, broader
source of funding, and a more interactive clinical network for exchange, collaboration and culture
building. The article also calls for a stronger leadership role from Chinese Clinical Committee of Legal
Educators, the only network of clinicians in China.
Chinese clinical education started about 40 years after the first wave of the commonly recognized or
defined clinical education which happened in the US, UK, Australia and Canada in the 1960s to 1970s.
The clinical movement in these countries present similarities and variations in terms of the impetus
behind the origin, the broader social, regulatory and academic environment they operated in, and the
operational modes they adopted. These are meaningful reference points for Chinese clinical develop-
ment. There is not one model that China could readily put on, but rather lessons from these countries
that could inform the Chinese clinical development. The article first takes a comparative approach to
examine how clinical education is and was conducted in China and these countries at each of the afore-
mentioned reference points. The article asserts that the fundamental flaw in the current Chinese clinical
education is its detachment from the dual mission illuminated by its counterparts, from which the rest
of its problems arise. The article raises such questions as: What is and should be role of clinics in the
1 Assistant Clinical Professor, Peking University School of Transnational Law.
Corresponding author:
Lining Zhang, Assistant Clinical Professor, Peking University School of Transnational Law.

Asian Journal of Legal Education 2(2)
law school? Who are and should be clinicians? How is and should clinics be funded? How to build
the right culture of clinical education? It proposes answers to each of these questions in its final chapter,
and calls for efforts to build quality clinical programmes rather than a sheer focus on the quantity, to
define clinical education as an integrated part of legal education, to develop clinicians from practitioner
professors, and to build a network of clinicians with a strong CCCLE leadership.
Overview of Chinese Clinical Education
Fast Growth in Number
Wuhan Center, the first legal service center in China, was founded in 1992 by Professor Wan E’xiang
who studied in Yale before returning to China to experiment the Western university-affiliated legal aid.2
Few records about the Center’s early years are available. The first big wave of clinics came almost a
decade later. In September 2000, with support from the Ford Foundation, seven universities instituted
law clinics as part of their curriculum, with the explicit goal of emulating American clinical programmes,
and four more universities followed their example two years later.3 In 2002, these 11 universities founded
the Committee of Chinese Clinical Legal Education (CCCLE) to promote the proliferation of clinics
in China, and to build a network of clinical educators as more law schools joined.4 Since then, each of
these 11 universities has appointed a clinical faculty in the Standing Committee of CCCLE which serves
as the decision-making body.5 The Ford Foundation then shifted its sponsorship and support from
individual schools to CCCLE.6 CCCLE has done a great job spreading the seed of clinics in law schools
all over China. By 2007, 64 law schools had joined CCCLE as members, and the number increased to
196 in April 2014.7
Considerable Gaps among Clinics on Quality
To get a sense of how these clinics are operating, there are several ways for gathering information and
insights. First, there is the two-day CCCLE annual conference8 in which best performing members
are invited to share information about their clinical programmes and exchange notes. Second, some of
the oldest clinics have mature websites that contain information about their programmes. Third, there are
2 See C. David Lee, Legal Reform in China: A Role for Nongovernmental Organizations, 25 Yale J. Int’l L. 363, 383–84 (2000).
3 Kara Abramson, Paradigms in the Cultivation of China’s Future Legal Elite: A Case Study of Legal Education in Western China,
7 Asian-Pac. L. & Pol’y J. 302, 325 (2006). For a more detailed history of the origins of law clinics in China, see Brian
K. Landsberg, Strategies to Increase the Availability of Skills Education in China, 22 Pac. Mc GeorGe Global bus. & Dev.
l.J. 45, 49 (2009) (describing partnership between University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and three Chinese law
schools as well as promotion of experiential education in China by other US law schools in various ways).
4 Id.
5 Information about CCCLE Standing Committee can be found at (last visited
24 April 2014).
6 Interview with Pan Wenjun, Board member in CCCLE, a clinician in Renmin University, one of the first seven universities
supported by Ford Foundation.
7 For a list of CCCLE members, please see (last visited 24 April 2014).
8 The author attended the 2014 annual conference on 20–21 December. The information about this conference can be found at: (last visited 24 January 2015).

Zhang 121
information about member clinics on the CCCLE website. Finally, there is much to learn by conversations
with clinicians. While these venues do not amount to a detailed picture, they provide a glimpse of
Chinese clinical programmes.
Some of the oldest clinics have developed themselves into well-grounded programmes.9 China
University of Politics and Law in Beijing has a rural law clinic serving a suburban population of migrant
workers and villagers. The legislation clinic at Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi’an
(‘Xibei’) works with ‘government agencies and civic organizations to propose and craft legislation that
affects socially disadvantaged groups’.10
Sun Yat-Sen University has two vibrant clinics, one that represents workers in disputes with employers, and
one that focuses on environmental protection issues. At Sichuan University, approximately 60 students a year
participate in criminal justice and labor law clinics, while additional students continue to participate in legal aid
cases outside of the formal clinical program.11
Unlike these few well-run ones, the majority of clinics in China have the distinct problem of not
having real clinical casework. While more than 75 of the clinics have established formal clinical pro-
grammes as part of their curricula,12 ‘most programs, however are still at a stage of figuring out what
place clinical education should be in their traditional curriculum. Some programs are made up of simu-
lation courses only, while others categorize any course with practical learning as “clinical”’.13 The most
common ‘clinical’ course would be a course that discusses court cases or teaches practical skills such as
research and writing or negotiations. The appendix to this article, which is a research result from both
interviews and desk research, shows that only 40 per cent of the best schools on clinical education have
real client clinical cases from local courts or legal aid offices while others have only practice courses.
Diversity and Originality in Practice Areas
The practice areas in these clinical or semi-clinical programmes cover a wide range, from ‘women’s
rights, labor rights, civil rights, rights of the disadvantaged, rural or farmer’s justice, environmental
protection, and criminal (including juvenile) justice’,14 to alternative dispute resolution, or legislative
advocacy. By estimation, there are about one hundred types of clinics already.
Some are unique, such as rural law clinics like the one mentioned earlier, Anti-smoking law clinic
and migrant workers law clinic.15...

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