UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal
2019, Volume 36, Issue 1
Abstract: Public interest litigation (PIL) is a form of socio-legal activism. PIL originated in the United States, and spread, through the aggressive promotion of U.S.-centric rule of law, to China, where it has had a significant impact on socio-legal activism since the 1990s. This Article explores both the process through which human rights discourse is translated into practice by activist lawyers and human rights defenders, as well as the circumstances that cause socio-legal mobilization to fail or succeed. This Article examines the collective and sustained endeavour by human rights lawyers and other activists to advocate for the rights of specific communities through a rights complex, composed of activist lawyers, NGO leaders, and citizen journalists, as well as supporters within state institutions, Chinese society, and the international community. This Article looks at the institutionalized manner through which legal cases facilitate socio-legal mobilization to serve the broader objectives of educating citizens, enhancing the capacity of civil society, and making the government more accountable and responsive. The principal argument is that once citizens are endowed with legal rights and institutions are put in place for their implementation, the remaining issue is raising rights-awareness among rights-bearing citizens and generate demand for rights in society and channel those rights to institutions. Lawyers and other rights defenders play an indispensable bridging function in translating rhetoric to practice.