China’s judicial decisions database and what it means


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By the end of 2019, Chinese courts had uploaded some 80 million court cases to a massive, centralized database — a gold mine not only for people working in the legal professions in China, but also for researchers interested in what the court decisions can tell us about Chinese jurisprudence, criminal and civil procedures, and Chinese society more broadly. This week on Sinica, we present a show recorded back in December 2019 — prelapsarian days, before shelter-in-place orders, travel restrictions, and remote podcasting. Kaiser speaks with Rachel Stern, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law and in the UC Berkeley political science department, and with Ben Liebman, a professor of law and the director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies at Columbia University. Both scholars have worked extensively with the database, and share their insights into why the Chinese government has pushed courts to upload cases to the database, and how it might transform the way that courts work in China.

7:19: What’s in the database, and how it’s unique to China

28:00: Pushing back against the techno-dystopian narrative

34:12: Creating a marketplace for legal implications

41:21: The limitations of artificial intelligence  


Rachel: A collection of translated essays written by Chinese intellectuals, titled Voices from the Chinese Century: Public Intellectual Debate from Contemporary China; Under Red Skies: Three Generations of Life, Loss, and Hope in China, by Karoline Kan; and the NüVoices podcast.

Ben: The works of artist Stuart Robertson

Kaiser: The popular Chinese talk show Informal Talks (非正式会谈 fēi zhèng shì huì tán), available to watch on YouTube.