Law school graduates carry the nation's hopes for rule of law

Andrew Li says to excel in a fast-changing world, graduates of the mainland's top law school must relish all of life's challenges, for the nation's hopes of developing the rule of law rest on their shoulders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 3:46pm

I remember vividly my first encounter with Tsinghua University. In 1995, Mr Hu Xianzhang, vice-president of the university, and Mr Wang Zhenmin called on me in Hong Kong. Mr Wang was then a young man and assistant to the head of the law department. They told me about the university's aspiration to restart law. I immediately appreciated the great significance and importance of this project.

I first visited Tsinghua in early 1996. The library of the law department was in a classroom and occupied only a few shelves. But from modest beginnings, the School of Law grew. Its rise has been truly impressive.

From my perspective, this has been due to a number of factors. First, with rapid economic growth and with the development of the rule of law on the mainland, there has been massive demand for legal education. Second, Tsinghua University, with its great reputation, has been able to attract top students and excellent faculty staff. Third, as a new law school, it has not been burdened by the baggage of the past. It has the flexibility to pursue new initiatives and to seize opportunities quickly. Fourth, it has had the benefit of dynamic leadership of successive deans.

The achievements of Tsinghua School of Law have been outstanding. It has produced high-quality graduates. Many have risen to leadership positions. In the latest QS ranking of law schools, which is accepted internationally, it was ranked 26th in the world in 2012, the highest for a mainland law school. This is truly remarkable for a relatively new law school.

Professors, administrators and students must all be justifiably proud of its achievements. In particular, I wish to pay tribute to the outstanding leadership of dean Wang Zhenmin. His work has been crucial in contributing to the school's success.

We live in a fast-changing world. Past success does not mean, let alone guarantee, success in the future. I know that all concerned with the Tsinghua School of Law will not rest on its past success. As the famous Chinese saying goes, it is like rowing a boat against the current. If you do not progress, you recede. At the law school, the quest for excellence is never-ending and must never cease. Its work is of the greatest importance to the development of the rule of law in the motherland. I know that all concerned would take its past success to be an encouragement and that they will do their very best to take the law school to greater heights.

When the students of today at the Tsinghua School of Law reach my stage of life, it will be in the 2060s. The future is full of uncertainties and no one has a crystal ball to predict it reliably.

But I think that one can be satisfied of a number of matters. First, there will continue to be rapid developments in all fields of human endeavour. This follows the trend in the last few decades but the pace of change is likely to accelerate. In particular, developments in the area of information technology have brought revolutionary changes and will continue to have a far-reaching impact on our lives.

Second, with increasing affluence, citizens in all parts of the world will have growing expectations of the institutions that serve them. These include the universities, the professions and governmental institutions. These expectations relate not only to high standards of competence but also to the institutions' transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

Third, we live in an age of globalisation. We can with justification speak of living in a "global village". Globalisation is usually discussed in terms of trade and services. But of even greater significance is the global marketplace of ideas. It enables the free exchange and vigorous debate of ideas. It knows no boundaries and will continue to thrive.

The challenges of the future are exciting and indeed daunting. How can the Tsinghua law school prepare its students to face these challenges?

First, students must be equipped with the intellectual and professional skills to enable them to cope with a fast-changing world. These include the ability to think and analyse critically and to reason logically. Good communication skills will be essential. An understanding of the use of technology will also be necessary. Students on graduation will be making their contribution in a wide variety of fields, including government, the legal profession and the business sector. These skills will stand them in good stead.

Of even greater importance, they must be committed to the life-long pursuit of learning in all respects. Things taught at schools and universities are only the means to education and there are no limits to learning. It is most important to believe in and practise learning for life. They must continue to upgrade their knowledge and skills. And they must be keen to learn from experience in the university of life.

Second, students must be taught to appreciate the importance of ethics, including professional ethics. They must at all times uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct. We live in a highly materialistic world. But it would be detrimental for any society to be obsessed with material possessions.

Third, creativity and innovation will be of pivotal importance to human progress. Students must have an understanding of discussions in the global marketplace of ideas. And they must possess the widest of horizons and the broadest of perspectives. All things must be approached with an inquisitive and open mind. They must always ask "why" and explore new answers and solutions. They must be flexible and prepared to try out new ideas.

Fourth, students must have a strong sense of commitment to the community and to the betterment of mankind. We must remember that, as has been well said, we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give. We must all be concerned about the problems faced by society. And we must all be prepared to do our fair share to serve and contribute to the welfare of the community.

Lastly, it is most important for students to develop the strength of character, the inner strength, to overcome adversity. The world is fiercely competitive and life's journey is a long-distance one; there will be many ups and downs. It is important always to move on. One must face life's challenges with great vigour and courage.

With an excellent education at the Tsinghua School of Law, students should be well prepared for life's journey. The development and strengthening of the rule of law will be of pivotal importance to the future of China as a modern nation. This is essential not only for continued economic development but also for ensuring the stability and well-being of society. Graduates of the Tsinghua law school carry on their shoulders the aspirations of the nation in relation to the rule of law and should play an important role in strengthening it.

Andrew Li Kwok-nang is a former chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal. This is an edited version of his speech at the Tsinghua University honorary degree ceremony yesterday