Professors Richards and Zhao Publish Study of the Chinese Legal System

December 20, 2019

Professors Richards and Zhao Publish Study of the Chinese Legal System

Professors Mark Richards and Yi Zhao teamed up for a research project on how the legal concept of the “public figure,” central to libel cases in the U.S., has now spread to the Chinese legal system. Their findings were recently published in the journal, Law and Society (

Here’s the full abstract:

“This article considers how and why the legal concept of public figure, which holds public figures to a higher standard that makes it more difficult for them to recover damages when suing for libel, has been diffused in China. The public figure concept developed in the U.S. context as an extension of New York Times v. Sullivan from public officials to public figures, reflecting the deeply embedded value of freedom of expression. Despite authoritarianism in China, the concept was adapted in the rulings of some local courts to define the limits of the right to reputation. The diffusion was a response to a stream of litigation against media organizations. In the process of diffusion and adaptation, courts have acted strategically to reshape the public figure concept and refashion its justifications. Given the political constraints on courts in authoritarian China, they have been careful to avoid applying the concept to public officials, and instead have applied the concept to public figures such as celebrities. The diffusion of the concept in China sheds light on theories of legal diffusion more broadly, by illustrating how the process of diffusion can be bottomup and openended, and how it can occur even in a counterintuitive case in which there are significant political and ideational differences between the two countries.”

View More News

Page last modified December 20, 2019