A quarter century ago, after the chaos of Mao's Cultural Revolution, China essentially had no legal system. In that context, it has made significant strides. The 1996 reforms were intended to shift toward an adversarial trial process, modeled in part after the American system. Instead, the reforms have become most notable for what was left out.
"They didn't put in rules of evidence," said Jonathan Hecht, deputy director of the China Law Center at Yale University. "They didn't put in requirements that witnesses appear at trial. Lawyers weren't given the ability to really prepare a case. They kind of created the shell of an adversarial process, but they didn't create the guts of it."