How a law professor cracked the Civil Code


Chen Weizuo. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING-At 5:30 am every day, Chen Weizuo wakes up, showers and goes for a run before starting his busy day.

He has followed the same routine for nearly 40 years.

Chen, 53, is a professor at Tsinghua University's Law School and translator of the Chinese version of the German Civil Code. His 25-square-meter office is crammed with civil codes and legal documents from different countries, including China's newly adopted Civil Code, which has a bright red cover.

China's Civil Code is the latest achievement of the codification movement around the world. It represents Chinese wisdom and China's contribution to the culture of the rule of law, Chen said.

Studying law was Chen's dream from a young age. Realizing China's legal system had many imperfections, he decided to study abroad and introduced advanced legislative achievements from around the world to China.

In 1998, Chen went to Germany where he marveled at the strict logic and complete structure of the German Civil Code. Finding many errors in the then Chinese translation of the code, Chen decided to translate it himself.

Even for Germans, their civil code is difficult to learn. Chen weighed every clause, word and even punctuation to ensure the accuracy of his translation.

In 2004, Chen's translation was published and widely welcomed by law school teachers, students and other legal workers in China.

Thanks to his translation, many legal professionals gained an in-depth understanding of the German legal system.

Before translating the foreign civil codes, Chen and several generations of Chinese legal scholars' long-cherished wish was for China to have its own civil code based on local practices and specific national conditions.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the formulation of the Civil Code had been initiated several times, but failed to be completed for various reasons.

In 2014, the compilation of the Civil Code was put on the agenda again, and a step-by-step strategy was adopted to issue the general provisions and then compile the separate subsections. In May 2020, the Civil Code of the PRC was officially adopted.

China's Civil Code has 1,260 articles, many of which, from Chen's perspective, are advanced by world standards.

For example, the code stipulates that a fetus has civil rights in terms of inheritance and other claims, which provides better protection for unborn children.

After more than 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has made remarkable progress in the rule of law. We cannot rely on others to make the rules, but should make them ourselves, Chen said.

In his classes, more and more overseas students are studying Chinese law. Under Chen's guidance, they have realized the rationale behind special provisions in Chinese law.

Chen is now translating China's Civil Code into English. He plans to translate more Chinese laws into English in the future, to help the world better understand the country's latest legislative achievements.

I hope to serve as a bridge for the legal exchanges between East and West and an envoy for academic exchanges, Chen said.