A New Silk Road for the Sociology of Law

[News From]:Ji Weidong [Edited by]:Xiao Mengli [Published]:2013-3-25 10:53:35

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Upon the conclusion of a year-long preparation, the Third East Asia Law and Society Conference now welcomes this fine Spring moment of opening. From this time onwards, the themes of this Conference shall no longer be confined to East Asia, but extend to Asia as an entirety. We the organisers are more willing than ever to welcome scholars, practitioners, early-career social scientists and students from all over the world to discuss the reconstruction of an Asian order in the 21st-century, as well as to deliberate and examine issues, of both theoretical and practical origins, facing law and society today. Here, on behalf of the KoGuan Law School, Shanghai Jiaotong University and its Law and Society Centre, I would like to extend my warmest welcome to the more than two hundred guests from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and other continents such as Oceania, Europe and America. Furthermore, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Steering & Advisory Committee of CRN-EALS led by Professor Setsuo Miyazawa, as well as to all the guests and scholars who have kindly helped, supported and participated in this Conference. I do wish, above all, that each and every one of you will have a good and fruitful time in China.


Asia is first of all a geographical concept. Phoenicia as standing upon the edge of the Mediterranean looks up to sunrise, with Europe on its rear and Asia on its front. In the landscape of geopolitics, Asia is equally a political concept. It comprises of an international order with overlapping circles of civilisation, including that of China, India, Russia and Islam. Nevertheless, there exists also a dichotomy of two opposing historical views, one based on the continent while the other on the ocean. Through this perspective, societies and practices in the East Sea, the South Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean were cut off from and brought into certain tensions with ancient civilisations. Finally, Asia is a concept loaded with ideological force. The rise and decline of cultural soft power, together with its social impact, can be seen from such theses as chi[n?]oiserie by Voltaire, a stagnant Asia by Hegel, and a reinterpretation of Asian values by Lee Kwang-Yew. In the recent three decades, what becomes more noteworthy has been the tremendous development and integration of Asian economies. This was particularly the case after the 1997-8 Asian Financial Crisis, where the issue of how to construct an “East Asian commonwealth” was brought to political agenda. Through China’s such efforts as promoting an “ASEAN +3” FTA, a win-win scheme or cooperative mechanism for Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia came into being.


To a certain extent, arguably the integration of today’s East Asia or Asia as a whole rests upon economic interdependency and common interests that arise out of free trade. Nevertheless, should we aim to build upon such integration and aim for a certain type of fate-sharing commonwealth with stability and long-term perspectives, or to borrow Benedict Anderson, a supra-national, larger-scale “imagined community”, then economic interests are not sufficient as a binding force. We will have to seek a mutual understanding and empathy in terms of social values, as well as overlapping consensus in fundamental judgments. Without such core values, free markets will be devoid of non-market essentials; a normative order is less likely to emerge, and no safeguards can be offered to democratic politics. For this very reason, in discussing the future of Asia, we should consider not only economic interests but also political ideas, and include in our perspective such elements as institutions and cultures.


It is against this general background that we can appraise the significance of our Conference today. Apart from free trade in economy, we need to promote a free trade in academics. In particular, we need to a pan-Asia “law and society” movement. The aim of our Conference is to travel a new silk road for exploring the sociology of law, communicating a continental Asia with its oceanic counterpart, and connect the developed nations in Europe and America with emerging market economies. In ways of inclusiveness with a recognition of difference, equality and reciprocity, and friendship-based cooperation, we hope to establish an inclusive and difference-respecting community to circulate information, thoughts and cultures in China, India, Russia as part of the Greenland Asia, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and all Asian countries.


The first two East Asia Law and Society conferences were held in Hong Kong and Seoul with tremendous success, a legacy our Conference this time aims to inherit and also with innovation. We have specifically arranged three thematic forums, namely the Soft Law Forum, the Financial Law Forum and the Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia Law and Society Forum. These forums deserve a bit more explanation here.


Asia’s cultural diversity and variability in social structure have resulted in the existence of a plethora of non-formal or formal rules with weak binding force or lack of enforcement, which we have called a “soft law” phenomenon – meaning that the law is as soft and colourful as silk. As demonstrated in European experiences, during economic integration and order reconstruction, the soft law will penetrate domestic laws from the international circle and have an important role to play. Whether it be public or private affairs, the soft law is capable of providing opportunities for institutional transformations. For this very reason, to effectuate reform and order reconstruction through the soft law acquires a significance, both in theory and practice, for the Asian “Law and Society” Movement. Advocated and promoted by Professor Luo Haocai, Peking University Law School has conducted a soft-law research on the administrative law and produced a series of important publications. KoGuan Law School of Shanghai Jiaotong University attempts to carry out a soft-law research in the civil and commercial law, crafting a space for institutional choice between the hard law and soft law. The Soft Law Forum is thereby an effort of cooperation between our two Law Schools. We hope that through this opportunity, we can advance a long-term, institutionalised form of cooperation, so as to carry out an in-depth exploration of the soft law phenomenon in the dichotomous perspectives of Public-Private Law. We welcome all of you to join us in this initiative.


The breakout of global financial crisis in 2008 has led different walks of every society to reflect upon the global system of financial capitalism, which has moved Asian countries and regions towards closer cooperation in finance. More importantly, it has been widely acknowledged that significant financial risks and external financial crisis can shed a detrimental impact upon domestic economy. This is why greater attention has been paid to the means and efficacy of financial regulation. Shanghai as the hub of the Chinese market of industrial capital is also an international financial centre-to-be. This time, our Conference sets up a Financial Law Forum, with an aim to discuss the institutional arrangements for Asian financial cooperation, the legal environment necessary for building a financial centre, as well as the institutional design of a financial judiciary. It is safe to suggest that this is a right thing to do, at a right time and a right place. KoGuan Law School, Shanghai Jiaotong University established a Financial Law and Policy Centre in 2010, with substantial academic exchange with Duke Law School and other partners. We hope that through this opportunity, we can carry out collaborative research projects with our guests and friends in London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Bombay, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei. Despite the fact that it is quite unusual to include financial issues in the agenda of a sociology of law conference, from the perspective of the serious impact upon social development by finance, as well as by adopting a trichotomous analytical framework of power, money and love as advanced by Niklas Luhmann, the sociology of law circle surely will need to pay attention to the financial order as a complex system.


In its broader sense, East Asia should include Southeast Asia. In order to advance cross-regional dialogues, in the summer of 2012, I had a discussion with Professor Lynette J. Chua in Singapore, to set up a Southeast Asia-Northeast Asia Law and Society Forum. Our original intent was to enable scholars from different regions to share a common prospect into the reconstruction of an Asian order in the 21st century, as well as the fundamental paradigms and issues in the Asian law and society scholarship. Nevertheless upon deliberation, this Forum focuses its attention on Southeast Asia and we invite scholars from all regions to discuss the analytical framework of law and society in Southeast Asia, as well as how to construct a knowledge community in the context of economic cooperation between China, South Korea, Japan and ASEAN. To a degree it is safe to suggest that the dialogues between Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia have laid a solid foundation for building a larger-scale, wider-scope Asian Law and Society research platform. I would like to take this opportunity to express my most sincere gratitude to the kind support and assistance of Professor David Engle, Andrew J. Harding, Lynette, He Xin and Chulwoo Lee.


There is also an innovation of our Conference today, which is to establish a Postgraduate Workshop, for the first time, in the network activities of East Asia Law and Social Cooperation. Early-career scholars and students from Asian countries can join together in mutual communication of research findings and feelings, and for suggestions and critical comments by internationally-renowned scholars. It can play an important role in flourishing academic research and forming fundamental consensus. We hope that this undertaking will be continued in the future, to be routinised and institutionalised. We sincerely hope that it will be an incubator of academic excellence, peer recognition and virtuosity.


Finally, I would also like to tell you a good news. Cambridge University Press has decided to publish a new international journal, namely the Asian Journal of Law and Society, with KoGuan Law School, Shanghai Jiaotong University. The editors-in-chief will be Professor Setsuo Miyazawa, David Engel, Tom Ginsburg, Jan Michel Otto and myself, and the first issue will come out in 2014. The initiation of this Journal is an event of significance for both the scholarly circle of sociology of law and the scholarship on Asian law. From now on, legal scholars in Asia in particular, as well as scholars interested in Asia in general, will have a communicative platform and forum on their own and a public space that belongs to all. Through this Journal, Asian experts, scholars and intellectuals can voice their concerns on the restructuring and order reconstruction of the world, as well as to heed opinions of diversity from different regions and circles of civilisation.


The publication of this Journal can be interpreted as another cultural silk road for Asia to communicate with the world in the 21st century. This journey starts from Shanghai, but also Seoul, Tokyo, Sydney, New Delhi, and Tehran; runs across deserts, grasslands, high mountains, islands and oceans, and back and forth among different knowledge portals in Asia; communicates with partners interested in Asian law and social development in Europe, America, Africa and Oceania; and eventually arrives at a universal ideal of global good governance. It is construed in this sense that we can safely regard our Conference today as travelling a new silk road for the sociology of law.


Thank you!