Contributing to Legal Reform in China

Ford Foundation



Case Study Sector


For more than forty years, the Ford Foundation has supported groups that use the law to secure human rights and improve the lives of people in vastly different settings around the world. Funding for law-related projects began in the 1950s in the United States and by the 1970s had been extended to parts of Latin America and South Africa. As we enter the year 2000, the Foundation is involved in sustained grantmaking for public interest law groups in over twenty-five countries through its New York headquarters and eleven of its overseas offices around the globe. Many Roads to Justice: The Law Related Work of Ford Foundation Grantees Around the World includes seven case studies, of which this is one.
When Ford launched its law grantmaking program in China in 1979, the country was just starting to emerge from an extended period of political upheaval that had effectively disabled the legal system for most of the 1960s and 1970s. In this environment, the Foundation helped to build a community of legal educators and scholars that could train future generations of lawyers and enable them to acquire new ideas and perspectives for their own thinking on institutional and legal change. It sponsored bilateral academic exchanges and supported over two hundred Chinese scholars from major law faculties to study or conduct research abroad. As Chinese legal reform has continued, that community of scholars has made important contributions. Subsequent Foundation-supported research has addressed concepts of human rights and specific reforms in criminal justice and administrative law that have been significant for Chinese citizens. In addition, grantees have contributed to judicial reforms and to the training of judges, which emphasizes judicial skills and values and the appropriate functions of the courts. Carefully targeted Foundation funding has also supported some of the earliest efforts to develop legal services, pursue test case litigation, monitor and improve the implementation of laws, and launch university legal aid organizations and practical legal education efforts.



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