We argue in this paper that, China has begun to fashion an alternative approach to establishing legal market infrastructure, which we call, “law, Chinese style.” Facing the authoritarian’s legal dilemma that constrains formal legal development, the central government has effectively off-loaded a substantial part of the development and enforcement of commercial law to private actors, namely, various online trading platforms. This approach allows the central government to cabin the domain of the legal system to private law.
To elucidate this private development of law, we focus on Taobao, China’s largest online trading platform, owned by Alibaba. We demonstrate that, with over 430 million users and more than 10 million vendors, Taobao is not simply an exchange platform, but a complete market that is in the process of developing a modern legal system. The system includes a very complex reputation mechanism, a credit score, a fraud detection program, and even a jury-like system in which ordinary users can vote to adjudicate cases or to change platform rules. With respect to exchange on the platform, this legal system helps creates law, enforce contracts, protect certain property rights, resolve disputes, and prevent fraud. By doing so, Taobao has begun to supply many aspects of market-supporting infrastructure normally associated with the state.
This the kind of paper that might interest folks in Kigali and Addis Ababa. Or Nairobi, these days.