At the School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, Chinese nationals can graduate with an American law degree after four years. The staff are all from renowned schools in the US and the courses are all taught in English.
The US Capitol building where laws are debated and passed
Zhang Zhenduo always sits in the third row – not too far from the lecturer. He doesn't want to miss anything, he says. He wants to take part, analyze and discuss cases. The 26-year-old says the lectures at the School of Transnational Law (STL) differ from those on offer in a normal Chinese university.
"The teacher is more like your friend and does not require you to show respect and to ask you to present yourself formally in every class. I think the atmosphere here is more friendly."
Zhang Zhenduo likes the relaxed atmosphere at the School of Transnational Law
The material is also very different, says one of the lecturers, Paul DePascuale. "The goal as I see it is to sort of bridge the gap between Chinese professionals and those from common law countries. There are gaps in thinking and analysis.
"Some would like to be part of the process of developing the Chinese legal system, others would like to work for international, transnational law firms and there are other students that want to get analytical skills that they feel they would not be able to pick up in another program."
New ideas about justice
They want to pick up analytical skills and new ideas about justice, explains 23-year-old Li Jiangfeng who hopes one day to be able to apply certain aspects of US law to China.
"In China's legal system, the decisions made by judges are not published but in the US system decisions are available for everybody. If China also learns from the US system to publish decisions, judges will have to make more reasonable decisions because they will want to avoid criticism from the public," she explains.
Students at the STL are taught how independent judicial systems function, how the public can keep the authorities in check and the value of human rights. For a country that censors all online content, it seems paradoxical that universities are allowed to cover such controversial material.
Balance between indoctrination and freedom
Bjoern Ahl, who taught law as part of a Sino-German community project run by the University of Nanjing, says it would be wrong to believe establishments such as the STL are breeding grounds for a more liberal, democratic China.
"During their master's, the students also receive political training," he points out. "The balance is thus maintained – on the one hand, the students are free and on the other they continue to be indoctrinated. Elements about freedom in an event about basic rights and human rights are simply integrated – this is not seen to be at all contradictory."
23-year-old student Li Jiangfeng wants to work for the Chinese government
In other words, a student can and should know how freedom of opinion works in order to understand other countries, especially Western states but this does not mean that they believe such freedom is necessarily a good thing for China.
Li Jiangfeng fundamentally supports her government and wants to work for it, despite thinking certain changes in the judiciary are necessary.
"China has already been involved in a lot of international legal mitigations but in China there are not so many lawyers who can handle this sort of transaction. In WTO cases, for example, China has to hire international law firms. China needs a lot of domestic lawyers who know Chinese law and international law very well." She will strive towards that goal, she adds.
Author: Markus Rimmele / act
Editor: Disha Uppal