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Public Interest Litigation and Political Activism in China
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What is Public Interest Litigation?

Public interest litigation (PIL) involves the use of a country’s legal system
to instigate change that affects the public. Internationally, PIL has been
described as “seeking to precipitate social change through court-ordered
decrees”, “litigation designed to reach beyond the individual case and the
immediate client”, “court-driven approaches in producing significant social
reform,” “espousing causes through litigation,” “to help produce systemic
policy change in society on behalf of individuals who are members of
groups that are underrepresented or disadvantaged,” and so forth (Goldston,
2006). Chinese legal scholars have also advanced various definitions
of PIL. So far no consensus has been reached, but it is generally agreed that
PIL stands in contrast to private interest litigation. A PIL lawsuit must have
wider implications beyond the individual case and affects more than the
immediate litigant.

Chinese legal scholars have also used the phrase “public interest law practice”
to describe both PIL and related practices, such as “public interest petitioning”
(PIP) and “public interest lobbying.” PIP involves sending formal
requests to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the highest legislative body
of the country, to review the constitutionality or legality of existing laws and
government regulations, to investigate the implementation of certain laws/
regulations, or to revise existing laws/make new laws (Huang 2006). Public
interest lobbying includes PIP but may also take other forms than direct
petitions (Zhu, 2006). In addition to PIL, PIP and public interest lobbying,
“public interest law practice” also includes such non-litigious legal activities
as arbitration and administrative review (Huang, 2006).

This report will describe some lawsuits in recent years that have been viewed
in light of PIL. There is disagreement as to whether some of these cases can
be called PIL, but at least they have been considered by some legal scholars
10 Public Interest Litigation and Political Activism in China
as PIL lawsuits. In these lawsuits, the plaintiffs appeared to be motivated
essentially by the desire to protect their private interests instead of a concern
for public interest, but their lawsuits benefited other people as well, and
therefore had “public interest” effects.

Table of contents

PIL Lawsuits 11
- Defending constitutional rights and principles, including equality,
anti-discrimination, and the right to education 11
- Environmental protection 11
- Defending consumer rights 12
- Protecting public assets 12
- Challenging administrative inaction which harms public interest 12
- Defending the right to information 12
- Defending the rights of vulnerable or marginalized groups, such as rural
women and migrant workers 13
- The Impact of PIL Lawsuits 15
- PIL Activists and their Strategies 19
- Motivations of people who file PIL lawsuits 19
- Who are PIL activists? 20
- Strategies of PIL activists 21
-The “Legalization of Political Issues” and the “Politicization of Legal Issues” 25
- Conclusion 29
References 31

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