The Western world has traditionally held the perception that law building facilitates economic growth. This seemed to be the reverse in China as economic growth spurred legislation, said College senior and political science major Alice Xie at a presentation of her research findings last night.

In her presentation, titled “Becoming an Economic Superpower: the China Paradox,” Xie argued that from 1979 to 1989, the Chinese economy grew significantly with the absence of a sufficient legal system, even though the government emphasized the importance of law. That a lack of law enforcement due to the huge, spread-out population became an obstacle to the building of an effective legal system. In the late 20th century, people also witnessed their peers making money by breaking the law without repercussions and decided to do the same. This forced the government to take law enforcement more seriously, she said.

In the future, economic growth may further impact legislation as the transformation of the economy from a manufacturing-heavy one to a high-tech, service-centered one approaches, she said.

Xie also noted while “rule of law” aims to protect citizens in Western societies, the law in China is used to serve the interests of the state. The law varies greatly for different groups and different regions, making it extremely difficult to conform to a single standard. This inconformity, however, might have allowed versatility that helped facilitate growth.

China’s model of development with its interaction between the economy and the law has a profound implication to the entire world. For the Western world, it challenges the assumption that a democratic social system is most effective. For the rest of the world, especially the developing countries, China’s model could inspire them to explore another path of development. “The United States may need to prove that democracy has not only moral integrity but practical advantage,” Xie said.

College and Wharton sophomore Yanru Chen, who was born and raised in China attended the event, which was part of the Emerging Scholar Talk series coordinated by the Communication Within the Curriculum program. Chen expressed her appreciation for Xie’s presentation. “It’s really inspiring to hear her talk about the distinction between China’s ‘rule by law’ and the Western ‘rule of law,’ as that’s not something I learned about from my Chinese high school textbooks,” she said.

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