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Analyzing China: The Role of Empathy in Comparative Law

China has long been understood (and misunderstood) through the presuppositions and biases of the West. From canonical political philosophers, who have debated whether China represents an “oriental despotism,” to contemporary scholars who question the very existence of law in China, the study of the country is rife with analytical blind spots. But how can American legal scholars avoid such a fate? One underrated tactic is to adopt an empathetic approach, an openness to different possibilities in legal and non-legal ordering that does not take the necessity of formal Western legal institutions as a given. While an empathetic orientation does not preclude critique, it is a check against orientalist perspectives that see different laws, institutions, and cultures as self-evidently inferior.