Jennifer Altehenger

Dec 4, 2018

Legal Lessons

Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1989

Harvard University Asia Center 2018

purchase at In her new book, historian Jennifer Altehenger, a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History at King’s College London, grapples with the complex issue of how authorities and cultural workers attempted to create effective law propaganda. Legal Lessons: Popularizing Laws in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1989 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2018) traces the techniques used and challenges using a series of case studies including the 1953 Marriage Law mass campaign and the 1954 constitution national discussion. These efforts sought not only to inform Chinese citizens of the law but also involved them in such ways that they would feel obliged to then follow the laws in the future. Drawing from a wide variety of archival sources including government documents, periodicals, advice manuals, memoirs, and posters, Altehenger highlights the tension between the intention of the government to educate and the interpretations the people made themselves about new laws. She explores law dissemination into the 1970s and 1980s, locating a revival of efforts to popularize laws, including the use of new media and five-year plans. These techniques have a lasting legacy in China, making this book important reading for anyone interested in propaganda and the governance of China.
Laurie Dickmeyer is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University, where she teaches courses in Asian and US history. Her research concerns nineteenth century US-China relations. She can be reached at

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