China intends to formulate a socialist law system with Chinese characteristics by 2010

October 31, 2008

This statement is attributed to NPC Standing Committee vice-chairman Li Jianguo in a recent news story, linked below. The article says, “The laws to be reviewed, and to be incorporated into the social law system within the next five years include ones on mental health, social rescue and relief, and charity.” This article made me think of the questions and concerns I hear at local business events on another aspect of Chinese law that will continue to be formulated: protecting intellectual property for their foreign investors.

I’ve attended several business events in St. Louis this year where China is a primary trade partner for those in attendance or is of primary interest to many others not yet trading with them. The subject of business law in China comes up first, always, and with great passion. People here are very interested and excited about doing business with Chinese companies, and particularly for those who already do, the issue of protecting ownership and profits from intellectual property (IP) is a primary concern.

One of the Chinese government’s speakers at a local business event here introduced one of his replies to a question about the laws with the point that the Chinese invented gunpowder and moveable type, which they have generously shared with the world. Good point, and he made it so charmingly.



A colleague of mine, who was born in Shanghai and immigrated to the US at about age 8, talked to me recently about how intellectual property ownership is a relatively new concept in China’s international business development, and he suggests that it may go against many Chinese cultural beliefs. He points out that in Confucian values the concept of common good (gong) is a core concept and can be somewhat at odds with our concept of individual ownership of ideas. Even in modern China’s “post-Confucian” culture, these values endure. In addition to the writings of Confucius (550 BCE) I have found other citations for this value from influentials in Chinese history and philosophy, including neo-Confucianist Meng Ke/Mencius (372-289 BCE), Eastern Han Dynasty military leader Cai Zun (24 CE), Lao Tzu (5th C BCE), and Mao Zedong.

I’m not saying either is right or wrong; I’m just pointing out that we’re all coming at this from different perspectives, and my cultural anthropology teacher from back in the late 1970s at Cal State Fullerton would be pleased to know her lessons on ethnocentrism took sure and strong root in my heart and mind. It informs my thoughts on this dilemma of intellectual property and pirating in trade with China.

Bottom line for me is that I have confidence in the Chinese leaders to find new definitions for economic property and establish (and enforce) laws that find the right solution.

 What do YOU think?


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