Best China Law Books

Clients (particularly those involved with Human Resources) and law students are always asking our China lawyers what English language books we recommend for learning about Chinese law. Many years ago, we would tell them there were none. Now we usually respond with the following four:

1.  The Legal System of the People’s Republic of China in a Nutshell. Yes, this is part of West’s Nutshell series, but before you law students and lawyers start keeling over in laughter, let me explain. I am always telling law students they should read “the nutshell” of their course before they go to their first class in any given subject. I suggest they read the nutshell book from cover to cover as though they are reading a novel. In other words, they should not stress over whatever they do not understand and they should not worry about retaining anything.

I advocate reading nutshell books because they are a fast and relatively painless way to get a big picture view of a topic. Getting the big picture view allows you to put the pieces you learn later into their proper place.

The China nutshell (I read a previous edition a long long time ago) gives its readers a feel for Chinese law and a quick read of it will help you in thinking like a Chinese lawyer. Will it tell you what you need to do to get from point A to point E in forming a China WFOE or in terminating a Chinese employee or in registering your brand for a China trademark? No, but that should not be why you read it. You should read it because it is a good first introduction to Chinese law.

2.   Chinese Commercial Law: A Practical Guide. This book was written by Maarten Roos, a Holland trained lawyer who practices in Shanghai. This book makes for a good first source on Chinese legal issues. It touches on the major legal issues foreign investors typically face in China. Its Amazon page accurately describes it as follows:

It clearly describes the opportunities and pitfalls exposed as a foreign investor engages with such elements of business in China as the following:

  • Negotiating a detailed written contract.
  • Performing a legal and commercial due diligence on a prospective partner.
  • Resolving disputes through negotiation, arbitration or litigation.
  • Establishing and enforcing trademarks, patents and other intellectual property rights.
  • Investing in China.
  • Considering the joint venture structure.
  • Expanding through a merger or acquisition.
  • Restructuring or liquidating an operation.
  • Designing and implementing effective corporate governance.
  • Retaining, managing and terminating employees.
  • Arranging funds into and out of China.
  • Ensuring both tax efficiency and tax compliance.
  • Avoiding criminal liabilities in the course of doing business.

I agree and I think this book is a good nuts bolts introduction to the various topics it covers and it makes for a good initial legal reference on Chinese laws.

3.  Understanding Labor and Employment Law in China. I gave a favorable review of this book when it first came out and my appreciation for it has only grown. This is what i said then:

I am three-quarters of the way through the book, Understanding Labor and Employment Law in China, by Ronald C. Brown. Brown is a Professor of Law and the Chair of the Pacific-Asian Legal Studies Committee at University of Hawaii Law School and can confidently state that it is a great book.

But it is not for those seeking merely a light dusting on Chinese labor and employment law. Not at all.

It is 332 page exposition on the current state of China’s labor laws. It was just published so it is quite current. Its appendix consists of translations of the key Chinese laws relating to labor and employment.

Who should read this book?

— Academics interested in China labor laws? Check.

— Private practice lawyers seeking a deeper understanding of China’s labor laws? Check.

— In-house lawyers wanting to better understand China’s labor laws? Check.

— HR personnel with businesses operating in China? Probably check.

— Lawyers who actually practice labor law in China? Maybe check.

— The general businessperson doing business in China? Maybe check.

Let me explain my maybes.

Any lawyer actually doing employment law in China must be able to speak and read Mandarin fluently and so that lawyer probably does not have much need for a book like this, written in English. If you are going to be writing employee manuals and employment contracts in China or giving advice regarding China’s labor laws, you absolutely must know how to read and write Mandarin. You have to know how to read it because so many of the employment laws are local, rather than national, and because there is no substitute for reading a law in its original language. You have to know how to write in Mandarin because your employee manuals and your employment contracts pretty much have to be in Chinese if you have any Chinese employees.

This book is probably too intense, too thorough, too long, too deep, and too complicated for the typical businessperson seeking a general background on Chinese employment law and I do not think it was ever intended for that purpose.

If you are looking for an English language book that really details China’s labor and employment laws, this is the book.

I am now of the view that HR personnel should buy this book, so long as they realize it is just a first step towards deciding what to do in each individual instance. I have come to this view after having recommended it to a number of HR people with whom my firm works and seeing how they use the book. This book is a great resource for HR people who use it to help determine whether they might have a legal issue if they fire a pregnant employee, reduce someone’s vacation time, ask someone to work a weekend out of town, etc., rather than using it for the definitive answer to their very specific situation.

4. China Law Deskbook, A Legal Guide for Foreign-invested Enterprises. I do not own and I have not read this book. I nonetheless list it here because many lawyers and clients tell me how much they like it and how helpful they have found it to be and many consider this to be the definitive practical guidebook for Chinese law.

What do you think?