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New book by Jennifer Altehenger

Feb 12, 2019

Former Cluster member Dr. Jennifer Altehenger has published her monograph “Legal Lessons. Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1989” with Harvard University Press. Focusing on the history of law in socialist China, the book traces the dissemination of legal knowledge at different levels of state and society.

Altehenger´s research discusses the popularization of basic legal knowledge, which is an important and contested technique of state governance in China today. Its roots reach back to the early years of Chinese Communist Party rule. Legal Lessons tells the story of how the party-state attempted to mobilize ordinary citizens to learn laws during the early years of the Mao period (1949–1976) and in the decade after Mao’s death.

Examining case studies such as the dissemination of the 1950 Marriage Law and successive constitutions since 1954 in Beijing and Shanghai, Jennifer Altehenger traces the dissemination of legal knowledge at different levels of state and society. Archival records, internal publications, periodicals, advice manuals, memoirs, and colorful propaganda materials reveal how official attempts to determine and promote “correct” understanding of written laws intersected with people’s interpretations and practical experiences. They also show how diverse groups—including party-state leadership, legal experts, publishers, writers, artists, and local officials, along with ordinary people—helped to define the meaning of laws in China’s socialist society. Placing mass legal education and law propaganda at the center of analysis, Legal Lessons offers a new perspective on the sociocultural and political history of law in socialist China.

The book was published by Harvard University Press and is part of the series Harvard East Asian Monographs of the Harvard University Asia Centre.

Jennifer Altehenger worked on her dissertation as a member of research group B12: “Rethinking Trends. Transcultural Flows in Global Public(s)” at the Cluster “Asia and Europe” and obtained her doctorate with a thesis entitled "Love, Law, and Legality: Marriage Law Campaigning in the Early PRC" from the Institute of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History at the Department of History at King’s College London.


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