On 29 and 30 of September, the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government held a conference on 'Constitutional Traditions in China and the West'. The event was organised together with the Great Britain China Centre, Renmin University and the University of Hong Kong. Participants included Lord Philips, the former President of the Supreme Court, Professor Han Dayuan, the President of the China Constitutional Law Association, Professor Lin Laifan, the Vice Chairman of the China Constitutional Law Association, Sir Philip Sales, Lord Justice of Appeal, and Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford College. Another fifty people attended, including a dozen graduate students from China, Hong Kong and Europe.
Constitutional law is of urgent importance both in Britain and in China. Lord Philips’ keynote address considered some of the constitutional challenges that the UK presently faces. In China, the role of the constitution remains a vexed question. The conference built on strong relations being formed between Oxford and China, developing legal thinking in a collaborative and cooperative environment. As far back as December 2012, Professor Zhang Qianfan from Peking University published “A Proposal for Consensus Reform”, an argument for constitutional supremacy cosigned by over 70 academics. Since then, the debate about constitutionalism in China has waxed and waned. The proceedings of the conference continued that debate, set against the context of Britain’s uncodified constitution. Participants asked what we mean by “Constitution” – does this refer to a written text, like the 1982 Constitution of the PRC, or does it refer to the political rules that structure and distribute power in the state? They considered the role of political institutions like constitutional conventions in either system, and asked whether these are desirable features of a political constitution, or unwelcome distortions of legal rules. They debated the meaning of the rule of law, and assessed the potential for constitutional development in Hong Kong.
This was the third in a series of conferences run through the Centre for Common Law at Renmin University. We look forward to continuing our discussions in China in 2017.