Keith Hand

Publication Date

Winter 2011

Document Type


First Page



Beginning in 1999, a series of events generated speculation that the Chinese Party-state might be prepared to breathe new life into the country's long dormant constitution. In recent years, as the Party-state has strictly limited constitutional adjudication and moved aggressively to contain some citizen constitutional activism, this early speculation has turned to pessimism about China's constitutional trajectory. Such pessimism obscures recognition of alternative or hybrid pathways for resolving constitutional disputes in China. Despite recent developments, Chinese citizens have continued to constitutionalize a broad range of political-legal disputes and advance constitutional arguments in a variety of forums. This article argues that by shifting focus from the individual legal to the collective political dimension of constitutional law, a dimension dominant in China's transitional one-party state, we can better understand the significance of the constitution in China and identify patterns of bargaining, consultation, and mediation across a range of both intrastate and citizen-state constitutional disputes. Administrative reconciliation and "grand mediation," dispute resolution models at the core of recent political-legal shifts in China, emphasize such consultative practices. This zone of convergence reveals a potential transitional path for resolving constitutional disputes. Specifically, the Party-state could choose to adapt and apply the grand mediation model in the context of constitutional disputes. Grand mediation involves a multilevel, Party-state political consultation that preserves a limited but meaningful role for the judiciary. An adaptation of the grand mediation framework would provide an indigenous dispute resolution model for resolving constitutional disputes, regularizing informal constitutional dispute resolution practices, and bringing judges to the constitutional interpretation table. At the same time, it would take account of the realities of China's current political environment. Chinese reformers could use such a mechanism (or existing informal dispute resolution practices) to advance their long-term goals of facilitating citizen-state consultation, reform concessions, and further the diffusion of constitutional norms through the Chinese polity.

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