The Silent Majority: China's Other Lawyers

At The Huffington Post, John Wagner Givens argues for greater recognition of the work of Chinese lawyers aside from “the handful of well-known activists”:

The number of lawyers that are involved in criminal justice and other kinds of legal resistance against the Chinese state is actually considerable. Based on a 2007 survey, I estimate that, in any of the last few years, about 60% of China’s 200,000 lawyers would have represented a criminal defendant in at least one of hundreds of thousands of cases. Additionally, around 25% of lawyers will have helped sue the state in at least one of tens of thousands of cases. While not all of these cases dramatically challenge the Chinese government, suits against the state commonly address forcible evictions, the expropriation of homes and farms, and the tactics of overzealous police, hardly uncontroversial subjects.

Not every lawyer or every case can make headlines, but focusing too much on those that do provides a biased picture and does not give sufficient credit to tens of thousands of Chinese lawyers. Many of these can only afford to take “rights defense” cases in between routine divorce and contract cases that pay the bills and feed their families. They may take fewer risks and stay out of the media, but this does not make their contributions irrelevant. In fact, the strategy of keeping a low profile sometimes makes them more effective than their more controversial counterparts, and their far greater numbers means that their overall impact may be much more substantial.