In This Review

China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance
China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance
By Eva Pils
Routledge, 2015, 298 pp

Pils, a legal scholar, interviewed nearly half of the 200 or so lawyers in China who try to use Chinese courts to protect citizens from abuse by local officials and police. They were typically drawn into this type of work by encounters with clients who had been tortured into false confessions or who had lost their houses to corrupt developers. As they were radicalized by the Kafkaesque obstacles they confronted in court, these “rights protection” lawyers (as they are known in China) developed a strategy of “taking the play for the real”: arguing their cases as if the legal system were independent and using the inevitable defeats to show that it is not. Pils provides extraordinary insight into how the government controls lawyers through a mix of bureaucratic procedures and extralegal coercion and how the legal system works against citizens when their claims challenge official prerogatives. Despite the regime’s recent emphasis on “building the rule of law,” the government recently detained virtually all of China’s rights-protection lawyers and indicated that it will try some of them for crimes such as “inciting subversion of state power.”