Author He Jiahong says China’s salvation lies with attorneys. The novelist and law professor has been vocal about the need for legal reform in the PRC, and his books feature lawyers that are honest in their pursuit for justice. Ahead of his appearance at The Bookworm’s Literary Festival this evening, He tells the Beijinger about the challenges that lie in the Middle Kingdom’s legal reforms, his admiration for American legal thriller authors like John Grisham, and the familial shames and struggles that have informed his work.

Critics have called you the John Grisham of China. Is that an annoying comparison, or is it valid?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know much about Grisham. But from what I gather, it’s a good comparison. We both have backgrounds in legal education. I have a lot in common with many Western writers. I once lectured in Freiburg, Germany, for two months, and while I was there I was introduced to Bernhard Schlink, the author of The Reader. He told me that we had some similarities, because he is also a law professor. I think he researched legal history, and he writes novels. But his novels are not crime fictions. And I have some similarities to John Grisham, because we both write crime fictions. But, of course, I think he’s better than me. And we have some key differences: I am still teaching law, my primary job is still being a law professor, but he has quit his legal work to write full time.

Why would you say Grisham is better than you? He’s seen as quite formulaic, while your books have been critically acclaimed.
But he is so popular, he has so many best sellers. I consider myself an amateur writer, because my primary job is still teaching law, I have not come close to reaching his level of commercial success.

Speaking of comparisons, some critics have suggested that Hong Jun  the protagonist in Black Holes, your latest novel to be translated and released in English  is based on yourself.
I didn’t want to write Hong as myself. But I did give him a lot of my experiences, like studying at Renmin University and studying law in the US And yet, we have a lot of differences. He is still practicing law in the novel, while I teach. I wanted to create a gentleman lawyer when I was writing him. We have a lot of talented lawyers in China now, but we need more noble lawyers. So I think Hong Jun shares something in common with me. But he’s not me.

Tell me more about the need for noble lawyers in China.
China’s corruption is not individual but institutional. It’s a social corruption. We see it not only with public officials, but also in the private sector, at hospitals and at universities. Within this social environment the lawyers, generally speaking, are private practitioners, although we do have a kind of bar association, so that they have some professional standards of restraint for their behavior. But lawyers here are essentially self restrained professionals, so it’s obvious that their goal is to make more money. And money driven work is not noble. We have some noble layers, but not as many as our society needs. We need more lawyers like Hong Jun, they are in high demand in our society. To some degree it’s not very realistic, but that’s why I’m writing fiction. I hope one day we can actually have more of those good lawyers.

Do you think that fiction will become reality as China’s legal system develops more?
Yes. China’s legal system is developing in the right direction. For 10 years leaders have talked about judicial reform, because we have too many loopholes in our system. It won’t be easy, but this new leadership has shown willingness to push reform and emphasize the rule of law in China.

See He Jiahong speak tonight (Mar 26) at 6pm at the Bookworm International Literary Festival.

Photo: i.ytimg.com


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