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The Social Credit System as a Challenge for Law and Courts in China

Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, funding period: 12/2019-11/2021

The Chinese social credit system is intended to systematically assess the trustworthiness of citizens in complying with law, moral norms and professional and ethical standards. Nudging through rewards and punishments, restricting access to public transport, hotels, educational institutions and social security systems shall induce compliance. The social credit system is designed as a comprehensive instrument of social control and a cure-all tool for societal ills that aims at upgrading the Chinese authoritarian system. The research project addresses three interlinked issues that are fundamentally transforming Chinese society and will have an impact that goes far beyond the Chinese state: (1) the rise of assessment systems of individual social behaviour that circumvent, supplement and change legal regulation as well as traditional law enforcement mechanisms; (2) the development of smart courts that are partially changing into automated decision makers through an increased use of big data and AI and (3) the legal regulation of social credit systems, in particular the legal protection of personal data.

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Chinese Fundamental Rights Jurisprudence: Constitutional Development under One-Party Rule

Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, funding period: 9/2017-8/2019

Chinese scholarly discourse on constitutional development and the theory and practice of fundamental rights has been gradually changing from being dominated by concepts of rule of law and the constraint of governmental power to a discussion that focuses on 'constitutionalism with Chinese characteristics’ and rejects the previous cautious liberal reading of the written constitution as a symptom of ‘Western ideological hegemony’. This highly ideological debate goes hand in hand with an unprecedented official emphasis of rule-of-law rhetoric and far-reaching judicial reforms under the leadership of Xi Jinping. The current constitutional debate and its perception in Western scholarship on China, however, is not sufficiently informed by judicial practice, in particular the multifaceted ways in which Chinese courts implement fundamental rights and basic constitutional principles in their day-to-day practice. This project analyses and systemises the application by Chinese courts of laws and regulations that regulate areas falling within the sphere of protection of fundamental rights of the Chinese constitution. We investigate and categorise decisions in which Chinese courts apply the constitution directly and study current Chinese official and scholarly discourses on constitutionalism and the role of courts in constitutional development. Further, we will link discourses on Chinese constitutionalism with current fundamental rights jurisprudence in order to develop a sound theoretical framework that takes into account both theories of different schools of constitutionalism and court practice and contribute to the literature on courts and constitutional development in authoritarian regimes.

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Chinese Immigration Law and Policy Reforms: Perspectives of Lawmakers, Administrators and Immigrants

Funded by the German Research Foundation, funding period: 6/2015–5/2018.

The project investigates the transformation of Chinese immigration legislation and policy on the national and local levels by looking at the perspectives of state and non-state actors, including lawmakers, administrators and immigrants. We analyze the negotiation, implementation and enforcement of the new national immigration legislation and its local implementing rules with regard to different immigrant groups as well as immigrants’ responses to these changes. The project forms part of the larger research co-operation of European and Chinese universities focusing on the topic of Immigration and the Transformation of Chinese Society, which is funded by the relevant national funding organizations under the Europe-China Collaborative Research Programme on Understanding Population Change.

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Global South Studies Center

Björn Ahl is Principal Investigator in the Research Area Citizenship and Migration of the Global South Studies Center (GSSC) that was established in 2014 as part of the German Excellence Initiative. Interdisciplinary research in the GSSC focuses on processes of mobility and exchange and on the resulting translocal connectivities. The Center provides a framework for linking China related research with global discourses and questions that go beyond the regional focus of Chinese legal culture.