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The China, Law, and Society initiative will facilitate networking, communication, and scholarly exchange among scholars who work on the intersection of law and Chinese society, i.e. those who use China as a method or major subject area. The initiative will support the professional growth of scholars within the network and contribute to better understanding of China, law, and society backed up by solid research and expertise. Participants will include but are not limited to Chinese legal scholars and social scientists who are part of the Max Planck Law network in the past, present, and future.

Third Workshop

Date and Time: 25 June 2021, 10.00 – 13.00 CEST

Place: Online (Zoom)

Title: Constitutional Theories of International Organizations

Speaker: Professor Dr Dr hc Anne Peters, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law

Register (all welcome):



The lecture proposes revisions to the constitutional theory of international organizations in order to address the “imbalances in the global governance system” mentioned in the 2021 Russian-Chinese Declaration on Global Governance and for inspiring legal building blocks for the desired “fairer, more democratic and rational multipolar world order” mentioned therein.

The lecture identifies three waves of constitutional theories that pursued different goals. The first generation constitutional vocabulary flourishing in the 1960s and 1970s worked to empower international organizations. But multilateral saturation and occasional organizational overreach which culminated in the 1990s and early millennium triggered the quest for the containment and accountability of international organizations.

This phenomenon, in line with the political climate of the time, motivated a second wave constitutional theory which sought to apply the values of liberal constitutionalism (rule of law, human rights, and democracy) to international organisations. Meanwhile, that second wave has turned out to be selective and one-sided. Shortcomings are a lopsided political- human-rightism, the neglect of social hardship and of stark material inequality of living conditions for individuals across the globe, the de facto or de jure exclusion of actors from the global south in the work of international organizations, and the weakness of institutionalized forums for contestation and dissent.

The lecture will sketch out a third variant of constitutional theory for international organisations in order to upscale and politicise the proto-democratic practices in their bodies, rectify to the north south imbalance that is inter alia rooted in the colonial heritage, and tackle the global social question upfront.

Following Prof. Peters’ lecture on the topic (30-40 mins), we propose to conduct our discussion in two parts:

Part 1: Contextualization in Philosophy, Politics and History 

Professor Massimo La Torre  to start off our discussion by consolidating the philosophical ground, followed by Professor Tarik Kochioffering his perspectives from political theory, and Professor CHEN Yifeng diving in the topic from the history of international law and international organizations.

Part 2: Comparativism in Global Discourse

Professor Cheryl Saunders to offer her comments from comparative constitutional law and methods; Professor Lauri Mälksoo to enlighten on Russian approach and its implications on international organizations; and Professor CAI Congyan (Fudan University, official website currently under maintenance, but please see here to reflect on the Chinese approach).

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Previous Events

10 February 2021, Inaugural Workshop

Place: Online

Title: Intermediaries, platforms, and the contractualization of the law

Speaker: Professor Dr. Biao Xiang, Director at the MPI for Social Anthropology and Head of the Department ‘Anthropology of Economic Experimentation’


Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, which constitute the backbone of the platform economy, are arguably redefining some foundational notions in economics and in law. AI challenges our conventional understandings about currency, ownership, value, labour and job. At the same time, AI threatens to replace general laws with individual contracts that are specific to each transaction and that are automatically administrated by algorithm (thus “contractualization”). What are possible implications of these changes? This talk contributes to the debates about this question by drawing on my ethnographic study on a migrant community in Beijing in the 1990s, and my ongoing learning about the platform economy in China and beyond. The talk suggests three points. (1) The AI-enabled platform model may not be unique; the migrant community was based on cybernetically networked transactions without clear definition of property rights and was largely independent from legal interventions. (2) This model of informal economy broke down when marketplaces, the central infrastructure that intermediates transactions, were assigned property rights and became a financial asset. (3) The current platform economy seems to introduce a virtual “feudalism” by centralizing its intermediary power, and is less democratic than the informal economy. Within its “manor”, the platform replaces laws with its own rules and contracts, subjugates participants as “subjects” rather than “citizens”, and extracts rents based on its monopoly of the intermediary position. My thought is preliminary, and I am particularly keen to learn from legal and economic experts how we should theorize intermediary.

14 May 2021, Second Workshop

Place: Online (Zoom)

Title: Owning Tanning in PR China: Khubilai Khan Legacy and Its Role for Modern Knowledge Property Regime

Speaker: Professor Dr Dagmar Schäfer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science


Patents, trademarks, public goods, or IP are all modern concepts that emerged from Early Modern Western European traditions. In this lecture I will use the example of tanning — a task conspicuously absent in historical documents — to illustrate China’s historical approaches to knowledge ownership. My case in point is a thirteenth century legal clerk under the rule of the Mongolian Khubilai Khan who established the scholarly practice of “rectifying names” to secure the states access to expert labour. Tax policies further contributed to a growing historical invisibility of craft work and related material knowledge. I will also show how scholarly and elite historical sources further contributed to a historiographic segregation whereby researchers view crafts and property in Premodern China as either unrelated or as a resolved case of disinherited craftsmen set in opposition to an imperial state and literati elite who owned it all.

Max Planck Law Projects and Max Planck Law Initiatives are grassroots  networking and cooperation formats. You are encouraged to submit a  proposal for one of these formats by completing the relevant on-line form. Further information on these and other forms of engaging the network can be found here.