"How I Did My Research on Shuanggui" - Notes Prepared for the Workshop "Methodological Approaches to Assess the Legal Development in China's One Party State"

On August 23, I will have the honor to take part to a workshop organized by the ECLS Young Scholars, to be held in Leiden, and entitled “Methodological Approaches to Assess the Legal Development in China’s One Party State”. 

While the workshop will take place next week, some colleagues have already asked me to explain the methodological approach I took in researching shuanggui and how – in their words “I could pinpoint those documents”. Given more than ten years have passed from the time when my research started, the time has perhaps come to explain the reason why I researched that topic, and how I did it.

I hope that this account, which is as accurate as my memory allows and expands upon the methodology section of my article, can pave the way to a productive workshop discussion.

Why I Decided to Do Research on Shuanggui

My work on shuanggui was born out of serendipity. 

The biggest academic aspiration I ever had was producing the first Italian translation of a little-known Warrying States treatise on cosmology and rhetoric - the Guiguzi ("The Classic of the Master of the Valley of the Spirits"). In fact, during a trip to China in the winter of 1997, I discussed the feasibility of this work with an older colleague, began scouring bookstores looking for each and every possible edition of the book, and started studying classical Chinese. 

But then, I was made to work on contemporary China instead. So I thought I would research legislation on economic and financial crime in the PRC. After all, I graduated on the eve of China's accession to the WTO, and I thought the internationalization of China's banking system, and Western banking operations in China made this research worthwile. 

But, one afternoon in October 2000 shortly after I had started my PhD, I received a valuable suggestion by a professor at the University of Rome:
China is a Communist state, and all important matters are regulated by Party documents. State documents are secondary. As it was the case in the Soviet Union, Party members are investigated by the Party first. Internal Party legislation is not accessible to non-Party members – if you will bring me those Party documents you might get your PhD. Show me the documents if you can find them! Go away!

My readers should not misread those words: back in those days, this was an entirely normal way for professors to encourage and motivate PhD candidates to do their very best in their research.

This is how my research on shuanggui began.

The first thing I did was googling the characters for ‘shuanggui’ - I obtained hundreds of search results from Chinese official websites. I reasoned that if shuanggui were truly secret, Chinese newspapers would not write about it, and I came to the conclusion that shuanggui must have been just very, very hard to research instead.

I decided to travel to China so I could archival research. I was told I would be wasting my time in China, and that I had to travel to Hong Kong instead.

I travelled to Beijing.

The University of Rome didn’t sponsor PhD candidates’ research trips, so we had to pay our own money to produce our research. We found it very hard to obtain grants from any third party institution. We had to compete against persons who already had an impressive record of international publications by the time they started their PhD, and who came from institutions ranking much, much higher than Italian universities. Life in Hong Kong on a PhD candidate’s budget was not sustainable.

Nonetheless, I visited Hong Kong, where I spent 19 days. Once I arrived there, I found out there was nothing much I could do. My credit and debit card did not work in Hong Kong, and I had to find a way to make the 1,500 HK$ I had in cash last for almost three weeks. Only later would I discover the shuanggui documents had never been in Hong Kong.

How Research on Shuanggui Took Place

Once back to Beijing, I spent a few days going through the usual meeting-and-interview routines of Western researchers in China. I soon realized that the interview meetings at high end cafés and Western restaurants with other Western researchers were not sustainable either. Also, even though conversation with Western or Chinese academics is very useful, without the shuanggui documents in hand there was very little I could talk about.

I reasoned that, if ‘shuanggui’ was public knowledge, the system must have been based on at least one document. If the document existed, and it was public, there was only one place where it could have been. That place must have necessarily been the Beijing National Library.

I started spending my days at the National Library.

The technique I used was indeed primitive: I would walk through the open shelves, look at the title of each and every book, and browse through each and every book I was allowed to read. This work took place in the public sections of the National Library. The library had a section accessible only to government officials and to members of the Party. I was obviously not allowed access to that section. Neither did I ask anyone to access that section for me, and report on what they had read. The mere act of making such a request would have been both unethical and illegal.

Besides, I wanted to see the documents with my own eyes. I wasn’t interested in second-hand accounts: the professor had told me I should have relied on written documents, and that he would have rejected any work based on secondary sources and/or hearsay.

At that time, I noticed how everyone knew something about shuanggui. But, everyone would give a different account of what shuanggui was, and why it existed. And everyone seemed to have a different opinion on the importance of shuanggui. To some shuanggui was a topic worth researching, others were highly sceptical about my research, yet others thought shuanggui was neither relevant nor important.

While I greatly benefitted from exposure to such a broad range of opinions, I did not have the goal to compile a survey of scholars’ opinions on shuanggui. I felt that, without the documents in hand, there would have been very little substance to such a discussion. And in the end, shuanggui was not about opinions but about facts: either you were being investigated, or you were not.

My work at the library continued for months. Given regulations on shuanggui were in volumes held by the National Library, and given I browsed each one of those volumes page after page, I eventually found each one of the documents.

An article based on those documents, however, was published only in 2008 due to delays, and untimely occurrences of various kinds. Those who are interested, and who have paid access to Sage Journals, can download it from there.


A Question from Donald Clarke

In this post, I answer a question I received from  Donald Clarke (George Washington University) on a translation of a Chinese article I published on the website of FLIA and the CPE research project on Social Credit in China. 

For the convenience of my two readers, I am posting Professor Clarke's question below.

Flora, you haven’t included a link to the paper that explains your view that official policy interpretations should prevail over any others. Not sure what you mean by “prevail.” If you mean, “should be considered more truthful as an account of the real reasons behind a policy,” I don’t see why we should automatically believe everything a government says. For example, Trump just announced a policy of barring transgender people from the military. His official explanation: it hurts military readiness. But an administration official revealed a more plausible reason: it will force the Democrats to oppose the policy in the next election, thus helping him with cultural conservatives. Why should we always believe the official explanation, no matter how dubious? We know that governments lie all the time.

Dear Don,

there is really no need to bother reading that 20-pages article, here's an explanation of what I meant in the introductory note to my translation

What do I mean when I use the word ‘prevail’? 

I may have used that word inappropriately, perhaps. Coming from a lower working class family, and from one of the poorest regions of Italy, I had to work my way through college by working as a seller of fireworks, librarian, bartender, shelf stacker, and secretary. I never had as much time to devote to study as some of my classmates did. So I chose to focus my energies on Chinese and China Studies, and to skip my English classes. As a result, my English is entirely self-taught, and because of this reason I might not be fully aware of the full universe of meanings the verb ‘prevail’ has.

I will try to explain what I mean by an example. But, I will have to talk about Cuba.

I know of many Italian academics, intellectuals,  and professionals, who somehow ended up believing the Chinese government always lies, so they never took Chinese policy and/or legal documents at face value. I have seen them miss innumerable opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth, and there are so many stories I could tell but...hey! The Damoclean sword of a potential defamation lawsuit hangs on my head…so let’s talk about Cuba instead. 

The Cuban government recently enacted a “Conceptualization of the Cuban socio-economic socialist development model” (Conceptualización del modelo económico y social Cubano de desarrollo socialista), [see here]. This document states the Cuban government’s intention to gradually move towards a form of market economy.

Based on the content of this document, and on commonsense (please see the picture above) I think that, when it states it intention to allow for a greater role of a form of market economy, the Cuban government makes a plausible statement. Therefore, if a Cuban commentator publishes an article on the official organ of the PCC, in which he says the Cuban government wants to promote economic growth, the words of that individual commentator are plausible too.

The “Conceptualization” means what the Cuban government says it means. Likewise, an individual commentator’s words mean what the commentator says they mean.

I might have my own individual opinion about the respective effectiveness of various mechanisms of economic coordination. However, I believe that my individual opinion should not color the way in which I explain the significance of those documents to my students and to my readers.

I hope this answers your question.


A Short Response to a Reader

Liu Shaoqi
This post provides a short and simple response to a question I received about my short essay "民法的一般原则、党组以及“一带一路”  (available here for those who may like to read it in Chinese, and here for those who may like to read it in English). The question was received on the "法律与国际事务学会" Wechat group, following the circulation of this short essay on Chinese-language internet groups and websites. 

I am publishing my short and simple reply here because the question may be of interest to persons other than the reader who asked it (and whom shall remain anonymous). Also, my essay was written for the sole purpose of academic research and communication therefore, there is no reason why I should provide my answer within the 'four walls' of a social media group.

Question: In your commentary, you wrote “in 1957, Liu Shaoqi suggested to use the words ‘militant bastions’ in article 19 of the Constitution of the CPC to refer to the function of primary organizations, rather than to their identity or legal nature” 

Do you have a source to explain why it is Liu Shaoqi that made the suggestion? Thanks for your time.

Answer: Thanks for your question! Unfortunately, I must admit that no, I don't have an answer to the question of whether I have a source to explain why Liu Shaoqi chose those specific words in order to describe the function of primary organizations of the Communist Party of China in 1957. 

Or, I should rather say, my answer to the question is in the negative: I do not have a source explaining why Liu Shaoqi decided to make that suggestion.

In my essay, I explained how Liu Shaoqi used an allegorical language to describe the function of primary organizations.  I also explained the reason why those words should not be interpreted in their literal sense. According to the article I cited, it is a proven fact that the suggestion to use the words 'militant bastions' was made by Liu Shaoqi. 

The question of why Liu Shaoqi chose those specific words rather than any other words, or why Liu Shaoqi, rather than any other official of the Communist Party of China made that suggestion is extremely interesting. But, finding an answer to this question can take some time. 

I don't have the relevant primary sources handy but, a possible way to answer this question may involve:

1. Compiling a list of the names of all the high ranking officials who, in 1957, gave their input to the amendment of the Constitution of the CPC.
2. Locate the biographies, public speeches, and perhaps most importantly the 年谱 (for English speakers: their diaries), private letters, as well as other archival materials if accessible, for each one of these historical figures.
3. Acquire, if available in bookstores, libraries, or archives, the memoirs of their relatives, their secretaries and, generally speaking, persons who were close to them. 
4. Reading these materials character after character,  with the goal to find out any information that may relate to the point of why Liu Shaoqi chose the words 'militant bastions'.

This is not the only possible way to answer the question. There are other ways - the only limit being the competence, acumen and creativity of individual scholars. 

I might offer my hypothesis, but an hypothesis is not a factHere's what I personally thought as I was writing the commentary. 

As many of those who, in the first half of the 20th Century, were concerned about the future of China, Liu Shaoqi chose to take the road of revolution. He joined the Long March and - among others - in the early 1940s, he was a political commissar of the New Fourth Army. Even though his work took place in 'white areas' he had a direct experience of life in the army. 

Perhaps, he chose the words 'militant bastions' to remind future generations of the contribution of those who lost their lives in the 1930s and 1940s, to allow us all to live in peace.


Short Essay: 民法的一般原则、党组以及“一带一路”

The following short essay was produced as part of a series of commentaries on the General Provisions of Civil Law authored for the Chinese and Western public. It examines how the General Provisions of Civil Law can contribute to the construction of a transnational rule of law framework for the Belt and Road Initiative. In the essay, I discuss the General Provisions of Civil Law in relation to the legal status of Party groups in SOEs, private enterprises, and social organizations (including NGOs and Foundations) operating in China and in Western countries. My most heartfelt thanks go to Luo Qiyue and Huang Linlin, for their outstanding translation of my essay. 

The Belt and Road Economies.
Public Domain Image

作者:Flora Sapio1



为了使得党组在上述及其他领域发挥根本性作用,党的十八届中央委员会创建了一个法律框架来规范党组构成及其活动。该框架包括以下文件:《关于深化国有企业改革指导意见》、 《关于深化国有企业改革中坚持党的领导加强党的建设的若干意见》、以及其他的有关营利性与非营利性经济实体的规定。总之,该法律框架代表了对早期监管努力的重大改进。










为了充分发挥其效力,党组的内部权力以及表达该权力的定义必须同其外部权力的来源相一致。研究中国法的西方学者还未对党的外部权力进行过系统的研究。最先提出此问题的是Robert Heuser教授2,他在1987年指出:“虽然具有高度争议,但依据中国法律,中国共产党及其相关机构的本质可以被视为法人。然而,它们并不需要在政府部门进行登记注册。” Robert Heuser教授引用《民事诉讼法》来解释党及其组织的诉讼权利能力,根据第48条,事业单位、权力机关及组织机构能够成为民事诉讼的当事人,由其主要负责人来作为法定代表人。







1987年《民法通则》通过之时,基层经济合作与治理主要涉及中国的实体,并且它们的活动范围仅限于特定的村、县或省。然而今天,此种情况已经改变。全国政协社会和法制委员会驻会副主任吕忠梅: “在我国,政府机关、村委会、居委会对外签合同的情况很多,如果不赋予它们法人地位,对它们参与民事活动是十分不利的,对交易秩序和安全也带来很大不确定性”虽然党组并没有对外签订合同,但其承担着监督所有国内法律实体契约性行为的责任。当下,中国的法律实体在海内外(超越一带一路的地理范围)运作,与国内外各种公共、私人、及非营利性组织签订合约。在更加广阔的跨国治理与法律的范围内,党组变得越来越活跃。他们扮演着政治领导、监督、民事、行政等关系的当事人以及具有公共管理职能的实体的多重角色。




1 Flora Sapio: 澳洲国立大学中华全球研究中心副教授。
2 Professor Robert Heuser:何意志教授,德国科隆大学现代中国研究所中国法律文化教授。主要著作有:《法治的东方经验—中国法律文化导论》(1999年)、《中国环境保护法》(2001年)、《社会主义法治国家与中国行政法》(2003年)、《入WTO后中国外商投资法》(2004年)、《中国经济法概要》(2006年)等。
3 李适时:曾任第十二届全国人民代表大会法律委员会副主任委员,全国人大常委会法制工作委员会主任。19537月生,湖南湘乡人,外交学院外交业务系国际公法专业、中国人民大学法学院民商法学专业毕业

© Flora Sapio 2017


The General Provisions of Civil Law, Party Groups and the Belt and Road Initiative

It is my pleasure to announce the forthcoming publication, in Chinese, of a short essay on

"The General Provisions of Civil Law, Party Groups, and the Belt and Road Initiative". 

The Belt and Road Economies.
Public Domain Image

The essay, which is part of a series of commentaries on the General Provisions of Civil Law authored for the Chinese and Western public, examines the ways in which the General Provisions of Civil Law can contribute to the construction of a transnational rule of law framework for the Belt and Road Initiative. I discuss how the General Provisions of Civil Law bolster the legal status of Party groups in SOEs, private enterprises, and social organizations (including NGOs and Foundations) operating both in China and in Western countries.

A Chinese version of the essay - which was originally written in my native language (Italian) - will soon be published on this blog. 


CPC Regulations on Inspection Tour Work Amended

On May 26, the Xinhua News Agency reported that a meeting of the Politburo of the CPC was held, during which amendments to the CPC Regulations on Inspection Tour Work were examined and approved, alongside a report on the status of inspection work.

The Regulations on Inspection Tour Work were issued in 2009, and amended a first time in February 2015. A full-text Chinese version of the Regulations is available here. A full-text English version of the Regulations is available here. A description of the inspection tour process is available here.


Internship Opportunities at the Foundation for Law and International Affairs

I am delighted to share a call for internship issued by the Foundation for Law and International Affairs, an organization I am a proud member of.

FLIA Internship Opportunity

We are looking for interns from all over the world.

Who we are and what we do

FLIA is an independent nonprofit organization established in Washington, DC in 2015. As an educational and consultative think tank, FLIA is devoted to promoting global communication, cooperation, and education in the field of law and international affairs. The areas on which FLIA focuses include comparative law and culture, international crime and judicial assistance, courts and tribunals, social responsibility and sustainable development, global economics and world trade, international relations and multilateral diplomacy, global security and governance, and human rights. FLIA conducts various programs such as FLIA Conference, FLIA Dialogue, FLIA Insight, FLIA Youth, FLIA Publication, and FLIA Blog. 

Why be a FLIA intern

If you are seeking to start a professional path in the area of law and international affairs, obtain more practical knowledge and experience, and tap into your potential by working on recently launched programs, an internship with FLIA could be the right fit for you. 
What you can gain from FLIA is the opportunity to work with passionate young colleagues and world-class professionals from all over the globe, find inspiration from our culture to become experts and mentors, and make connections that you cannot make anywhere else. FLIA offers certain training sections to develop your knowledge and skills. There will be potential opportunities for official positions in FLIA and recommendations for graduate programs, internships, research assistantships, and other job opportunities. FLIA internships are part-time, voluntary positions. 

Who we are looking for

We are looking for young professionals, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students who are studying or working at the intersection of law and international affairs. Candidates with multilingual skills are preferred.

What you can work on

· Research Program on Establishing a Social Credit System in China
The Chinese government is currently striving to establish a social credit system nationwide to ensure sound and healthy social and economic development. The construction of a social credit system in China is an important method aimed at perfecting the socialist market economy system and innovating social governance. The 12th Five-Year Planning Outline of the Economic and Social Development put forward the overall requirement of “accelerating the construction of a social credit system.” One main principle for social credit system construction is to progressively establish and complete credit law and regulation systems. A research assistant will conduct background research related to the program and do written translation if needed.

· Research Program on the Belt and Road Initiative
The Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to chart out new territories for international cooperation. China invites other countries and regions to jointly build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The Initiative is essentially a new open platform on which countries in Eurasia and beyond can strength economic and cultural cooperation to achieve common prosperity. This program intends to issue public opinion reports on the Belt and Road Initiative. In addition to written translation, a research assistant will collect news, academic articles, and other materials that might be useful to scholars and practitioners interested in the Initiative.

· Research Program on Refugee Policy in China
China has acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Despite its accession to the treaties, however, China’s domestic law on refugees and asylum is still under development. At the same time, the number of refugees and asylum seekers coming to China has gradually increased in the past two decades. As of March 2014, there were 301,448 refugees and asylum seekers registered in China with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As China’s economic strength and political influence continue to grow, it is inevitable that more and more refugees and asylum seekers would be attracted to China. Thus, balancing its legal obligation under the treaties and the state’s own security interests will become a major challenge for China. This program seeks to provide policy recommendations on a wide range of issues relating to the regulation of refugees and asylum seekers in China.

Duration and Location 

The internship program starts on June 9, 2017, with a minimum commitment of three months. The average time commitment will be 20 hours per week.

Contact Us

If you can contribute your time, knowledge, leadership, and thoughtfulness to the above-mentioned projects and are interested in exploring this opportunity, please email your cover letter and résumé to by June 5th. Bolster your resume by working with scholars and practitioners from all over the world!

The Foundation for Law and International Affairs (FLIA) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization mandated to promote academic and public discourse at the intersection of law and international affairs. The core vision of FLIA is to promote international cooperation and public dialogue through the development of new ideas and collaboration with various academic, governmental and civil actors. . . . Our mission is to facilitate international scholarly activities, conduct high quality, independent research and policy analysis, engage in public education and awareness-building programs, as well as amplify the voice of the rising generation.