Explicating Law: A Comparative Perspective of Chinese and Western Legal Culture

How to Cite

Zhiping, L. (1989). Explicating Law: A Comparative Perspective of Chinese and Western Legal Culture. Columbia Journal of Asian Law, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.7916/cjal.v3i1.3080


Nineteenth century legal historians believed that just as language and customs were the product of a nation’s past history and cultural mentality, so were their laws. This proposition is correct in the following sense: as essential elements of a culture, law and language both in their own way reflect the distinguishing features of the overall culture.

Anytime one language is translated into another language, one often encounters the problem of the translation failing to accurately express the original meaning. This problem arises from neither the level of the translator’s proficiency in grasping and using a language nor the inherent expressiveness of a language, but rather it is simply that it is impossible to find an appropriate word that corresponds to the meaning of the other word. These difficulties in translation are a reflection of historical and cultural differences. Perhaps the subtle lin- guistic barriers created by these differences can never be eliminated.

Taking the proposition that language will always be the product of a specific history and culture as a starting point, we can proceed to a more meaningful examination: through the creation, evolution and definition of their form and meaning, words have come to encompass specific social phenomena. Furthermore, a new understanding of these words is provided through their connotation as reflected in the historical and cultural characteristics expressed in these social phenomena. Through this process, a few words with which we are familiar will take on a fresh new significance, and our knowledge of interrelated social phenomena can also be further deepened. This process is expanded upon below, and a word with which everyone is very familiar (at least people believe so) has been taken as the starting point for this process: “law.”