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Notes From Peking University Exchange Students

UMKC_ChinaPhoto: Kara BAI

As I wrap up writing about the school portion of UMKC’s China Summer Program at Peking University, I would like to take a moment to thank a few people whose dedication and hard work make this program possible.  Professor Tim Lynch leads the program for UMKC and knows Beijing and the intricacies of Peking University very well.  His relationships with PKU have been a tremendous asset.  Nancy Kunkel is the UMKC program coordinator and serves as the go-to person for nearly everything.  Her commitment to the program is truly remarkable.  The staff at Peking University’s Overseas Exchange Center far exceeded any expectations, particularly Kara BAI.  Her guidance during cultural trips and with general questions made the experience go very smoothly.  I can’t thank each enough for their help this summer.

I thought it would be nice to highlight some stories from fellow classmates. We had a diverse group of students from law schools in Oregon, Georgia, Canada, and Kansas. The program is open to JD and LLM students as well as practicing attorneys for CLE credit (we had one from Texas). To learn more about the program, click here.  I highly recommend it for any law student

Here is a little from a few students:

Courtney Ruby
University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
I decided to participate in this program and go to China because it seemed like the most efficient and interesting way to broaden my horizons. I have never been out of the country. I don’t speak any Mandarin, haven’t lived in a huge city, and am generally very picky about my food. I love the architecture from what I’d seen online, in books, and at theme parks, but I couldn’t even use chopsticks! So China was either going to force me to realize I can do a lot more than I thought, or I was prepared to spend six weeks curled in a corner.

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
China has been the most surprising in the fact that it doesn’t feel “weird”. Things are different – like the language, manners, and food – but after a few days here it was like a new home. I feel safer walking around in Beijing than I do in Kansas City. The subway is easy to use. The people go outside to dance and play in ways that no one does back home. Adults play on the playgrounds almost more than the kids seem to. It’s not the China I pictured. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface, but it is far different – and better – than I expected.

Have your horizons been broadened?
I’m happy to report there’s no huddling in corners. I went through a few days of feeling like I was just wandering a huge theme park, but that faded in time. Now I know how to use chopsticks, the subway, and squatty potties. Horizons have definitely been broadened!

Joshua Honn
University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
Lawyers entering the workplace today will have to deal with China’s emerging significance and even dominance in the world economy. Seeing China first hand will provide invaluable context and appreciation for this unique and interesting place in the world.

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
Before coming over here, I read horror stories about the disastrous levels of pollution and smog that sit over Beijing. There were images online of horrible, thick clouds of pollutants. Such images depict smog clouds that hang over everything, limiting vision to a few meters and people scuttling along with masks on. The actual view in Beijing for the time I have been here has been rather beautiful. This is not to say that some days do not appear with a slight haze, but those days have been far outnumbered by those with clear skies and cool breezes.

Christin Tolle
University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law

Why did you decide to participate in this program and come to China?
I’ve studied abroad in Europe before, but I try to push myself to do things that scare me a little, and China seemed so foreign and different.  I’m interested in International Law, and I’ve always wanted to travel as much as possible, but China seemed like a very intimidating destination.  So, I decided that if I was ever going to have the courage to go, now was the time.  Plus, I got five law school credit hours from three weeks of coursework…and I got to do it in China!

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
At least in Beijing, it’s not nearly as different as I thought it would be.  It basically feels like every other big city I’ve ever been to, except instead of signs in English there are Chinese characters everywhere.  People are friendly, and communicating with hand gestures and a handful of Mandarin vocabulary words is surprisingly easy.

Favorite part of the trip?
Hands down the middle of the night bike ride to Tiananmen Square.  This is something unique to this program, not something that people regularly do in China.  My professor and a few of my classmates rented Chinese bicycles, woke up at 2:30 a.m. and rode from our hotel at Peking University to Tiananmen Square to see the sunrise flag-raising ceremony. (The sun rises at 4:30 a.m. in Beijing)  After spending more than two weeks in a city that is constantly crowded and noisy, seeing it at 2:30 in the morning when it is almost completely quiet and the streets are empty is an indescribable experience.  If you participate in this program, this is a can’t-miss.

Why you should go?
It’s not as scary as you think.  It’s not as different as you think.  It’s ok if you don’t speak a word of Mandarin.  The cultural experience is phenomenal, and the food is amazing.  This trip will change your life!

Queena Zhang
University of Kansas School of Law

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
I came to China to do my externship simply because I want to learn as much as possible the Chinese legal system and Chinese laws in practice as I do have a strong desire to practice my law degree in China after graduation and to serve the Chinese clients.

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
During my stay in China, I have been greatly fascinated by the rapid development in all aspects of life. People here are industrious, hardworking, open-minded, easy to approach and peace-loving. With the economic growth, the Chinese people are enjoying a higher standard of life, and are willing to learn and accept new ideas and try new things.

Max Goins
Lewis & Clark Law School

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
I decided to participate in UMKC’s China Law program on the basis of a mentor’s recommendation.

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
What’s surprised me most about China in general and Beijing in particular is how much I like it here: I love the food, the parks, hanging out with the robust elderly crowd early in the mornings, how great the subway system is, and how friendly and helpful everyone’s been; also surprising is how much China has accomplished in the past 30+ years since the decided to “open” their country up to the rest of the world. 

Thomas Hedden
Lewis & Clark Law School

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
I decided to participate because I felt it was a unique opportunity that will not come up again, and the price was quite reasonable.

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
I can’t say anything in China shocked me too much.  I read the information packets written by previous students, which were very useful and informative.

Demi Jacques
Lewis and Clark Law School

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
I was interested in going to India for a Human Rights internship (where I am now), and when I talked to Prof. Klonoff about it, he suggested the UMKC China program as well. The timing worked and it was a fantastic opportunity for me to start learning about comparative law, especially with a country as important to the US as China.

What has surprised you most about China, thus far?
It was not my first visit to China, so the trip wasn’t full of too many unexpected surprises. I was surprised with how fast the program went by, I’m already in India! What was unexpected was perhaps that eating and accommodations were nicer than my previous study abroad trip in China, which was both nice and sometimes frustrating when I wanted to reminisce but couldn’t find a dish I ate in little restaurants before or something. Overall though, the trip was wonderful and I learned a ridiculous amount in a few very packed weeks.

Christine D. Herron
Hess Corporation

Why did you decided to participate in this program and come to China?
PANDA BEARS and I have always loved to travel and experience new cultures. One of my biggest achievements in life would be to visit all 7 continents. Additionally, I take the opportunity to network very seriously. I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing IP attorney from Budapest on the Great Wall of China, in town for a conference on IP law, and rising 2Ls from Ohio State Law School while traveling in Chengdu and volunteering at the Panda Reserve. These connections are worth bragging about. This trip opens a lot of doors to Law Students and Attorney’s alike, doors that without the trip would be unknown.

Chinese Law and More From Beijing

Forbidden City

This was our final week of the summer program in Beijing. We were fortunate to have Mr. Wu Zhipan, Vice President of Peking University, lecture for a day on China’s financial law and it’s cultural environment. Mr. Wu is a highly respected scholar and professor; we were very lucky to learn from him. He walked through China’s financial ups and downs (lately, mostly up and up). We discussed the Chinese stock market, how consumers pay for purchases here (almost always mobile), the concept of Intellectual Property law (very new idea for China), and the breakneck speed at which Beijing’s real estate market has grown. It was certainly one of the highlights of the education portion of the program.

Prior to Mr. Wu’s lecture, we moved to a new classroom for a day due to the arrival of India’s Prime Minister, Narenda Modi. Bonus excitement!

Other Chinese law facts of note:

  • Property owners do not own the actual land in China. Surprise, it is owned and controlled by the government. People are essentially granted fixed-period land use rights that must be renewed periodically.
  • China has a “hukou” system that prohibits persons from moving freely throughout Mainland China. Citizens must apply for permits that allow them to move to certain areas (a Beijing or Shanghai residency permit is very valuable).  The cost of driving in Beijing (the car, driver’s license, license plates, registrations, etc. is extremely expensive).  Nonetheless, traffic is awful!
  • Employment law favors employees much more than the United States. There are fixed-term periods for employment and it is often difficult for an employer to fire an employee.
  • State Owned Enterprises (“SOEs”) are prevalent in many of the key industries in China (banks, telecom, and to a certain extent the film industry). This can be good and bad, but certainly restricts competition in the marketplace (thus, higher prices and lower quality products).

Some of the “cultural trips” of note for this period included: witnessing a trial, a visit to the Supreme People’s Court, the Bird’s Nest, eating Sichuan style crawfish, meeting with local Peking University law students, and visiting the law firms of Zhonglun W&D and Sheppard Mullin.

UMKC China Program

Fellow UMKC classmates Cody Ford, Joshua Honn, and I at the Haidian District Court.

Access to courts is rather rare for foreigners. Luckily for us, PKU is super prestigious and provided us a level of access few will see. The trial we witnessed seemed like a well-orchestrated play. Translation was difficult but essentially the defendant was on trial for extorting money from a woman through WeChat (wildly popular messaging app in China). He did not present much of a defense and was convicted and sentenced accordingly.

Supreme People's Court

With Supreme Court Justice outside the Supreme People’s Court

Once again, affiliation with PKU gave us the very rare opportunity to visit the Supreme People’s Court of China. We were able to speak with a Supreme Court Justice and discuss how the court operates (there are over 700 justices) and the challenges facing China’s legal system. This was a major highlight and something I will never forget.

Beijing National Stadium

Beijing National Stadium

We visited the grounds of Beijing National Stadium (aka The Bird’s Nest). This stadium was constructed for the Beijing Olympic games in 2008. It is a modern structure with mixed reviews by locals. I found it rather nice.

Beijing Sky

Sichuan Style Crayfish + the Amazing Post-Dinner Sky

You would not know from reading this blog, but I am a food enthusiast. I know, we all eat food. But… I love trying new food anywhere I travel. This particular occasion, a few classmates and I walked to a nearby restaurant that had great reviews online. It turned out to be a modern designed restaurant (think Jetsons) that served Sichuan spicy crayfish. It was spicy. It was great.  Also pictured is the (rare) awesome sky after our meal near Peking University.

UMKC Law China Program

Most of the group at our farewell banquet

We had another group feast after taking our final exam (yes, there is an exam). It was a really nice Peking duck restaurant. Lots of great food and really great people. Pictured here is most of the group.  Students came from across the United States and Canada and each person was truly great. Each has a unique story to tell and I will share some of those with you in the following blog.

Stay tuned for more from other students on the UMKC Law China Summer Program and my experiences as a Summer Associate in the Beijing office of Sheppard Mullin.

Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall and Beyond!

The Great Wall of China

A bit of a delayed post here from Beijing. Our program is essentially two parts; first we study for three weeks at Peking University and then have an optional externship program for the remainder of the summer. I am participating in both and will keep you abreast of what life is like both as a student and summer associate at an American law firm in China.

Peking University is the most prestigious school in China. That may be an understatement. People literally line up outside the gates of the university to take pictures. Yes, there are gates. We have class each day for roughly four hours and then go on cultural trips in and around Beijing.

Something most people may not know is that law is a relatively new concept in China and is developing rapidly. The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 and the bulk of China’s law began only 30 years ago. For an ancient country with so much history, its law is very new. It is an exciting time for legal issues in China since so many of the policies are currently under reform. The country is making great strides in a variety of legal matters, but predictably in a country with over 1.3 billion people, change is not always fast. Below are two recent courses we have covered with brief recaps to give you a gist of what is happening and where things are headed.

Contract law: very new concept in China that has been essential to its economic growth. Contract law allows for foreign investment (big deal) but also domestic business partnerships between farmers and urbanities. People no longer need to exclusively do business with those whose families they know, trust, etc. Great for business!

Criminal law: obviously very important and developing. Major differences between China and the United States include: 1) China does not follow common law; thus, no case law; 2) China’s Supreme People’s Court is made up of over 700 justices and hears cases on a wide variety of issues; 3) judges in China do not write public opinions; and 4) there are over 3,000 “basic” courts in China and over 700 “intermediate” courts. A huge challenge for China is interpretation of laws since its judges do not have precedent or explanations from lawmakers. The courts use a handful of non-binding “guiding cases” as a roadmap, but outcomes can vary widely depending on location.

Recent cultural trips of note include Tiananmen Square, National Center for Performing Arts (The Egg), Summer Palace, and The Great Wall.

Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square is probably the most famous location in Beijing. It is an essential stop for anyone visiting. During our visit, the square unexpectedly closed and we were quickly ushered away. Bonus excitement! It is enormous and looks even bigger when completely empty.

National Center for Performing Arts

National Center for Preforming Arts (The Egg) is an ultramodern structure built for performing arts. It is located just behind Tiananmen Square and is representative of “New China”; very modern and sleek. I was fortunate enough to see the Philadelphia Philharmonic there.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is a sprawling palace and lake located North of Beijing near Peking University. We wandered around the lake, checked out the impressive structures and meticulously kept gardens. It is a nice, leisurely visit that is very popular with locals and tourists.

The Great Wall of China

Last but not least, The Great Wall of China. It is about 2 hours outside the city and is accessible from many locations on the wall. We went on a Saturday and hiked around for several hours. Words don’t do it justice. Definitely a must-see if you are in China.

Stay tuned for more adventures and a peek into what it is like to be a summer associate in Beijing!

Welcome to Peking University in Beijing

Peking University

Welcome from Peking University in Beijing, China!  My name is Keith Kelly and I will be your official guide into the life of a law student and summer associate here in Beijing, China.  UMKC Law has an amazing exchange program with Peking University that provides students from around the United States and Canada the opportunity to study for the summer at the most prestigious university in China.  Classes started Monday and will continue through June 5th.  The program gives students the chance to learn various aspects of Chinese law from the most prominent scholars in Asia four hours every morning, followed by a cultural tour of Beijing each afternoon.  Thus far, we have visited the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace.  Tomorrow, we will learn more about Chinese criminal law and visit Tianamen Square!

Peking UniversityPeking University

Peking University campus

Many more updates on the great food and sights from in and around Beijing on the way.  Stay tuned!