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Chinese farmer 'studies law for 16 years' to defeat dumping of hazardous waste (independent.co.uk)
236 points by EndXA 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

I think it's really fucked up that people have to study law. I'm expected to live by a complex set of rules that only a few understand well enough to reliably navigate, where any transgression might ruin the rest of my life?

Almost nobody I know has even read any law. Whenever I have, it has been a frustrating exercise in deciphering jargon and ridiculously long sentences. It leaves me a modest degree of terrified to do anything, because everything is probably illegal by some interpretation of some corner of some strange grammar used in some paragraph or other somewhere.

It's not like law was ever going to fit onto a note card, unless the law was "What King George says, goes". Even if you assume no interference from organizations manipulating the law, life is complex and sometimes morally ambiguous. Even simple board games have rule books of many pages- or, those that don't, frequently leave the players wondering about some ambiguous circumstance.

Remember, too, that our legal system was designed to temper the "everything is probably illegal by some interpretation..." nature. That's why you have a right to confront your accuser, a right to a jury of your peers, the "reasonable man" standard, so on and so forth.

If approached from outside it should be rather straightforward to craft effective law. Unfortunately, laws are approached from inside.

It would probably be about as easy as a lawyer trying to write a new OS, because from the outside it looks like it should be straightforward.

This is a good point, law is the operating system for society. When you think about any given issue, you run into many sub-issues.

However, keep in mind this is Chinese law which at this point is only enforced selectively to back the goals of its dictator and the CCP. If dictator Xi Jumping did not want this feel good story to run, it would not have ran. If this farmer had any way even hinted it crossing the communist party of China, he probably would have been murdered and buried in his own field.

> I think it's really fucked up that people have to study law. I'm expected to live by a complex set of rules that only a few understand well enough to reliably navigate, where any transgression might ruin the rest of my life?

Have you heard about the UpCodes suit?[1] No pressure on UpCodes or anything, but if they don't win forget trying to understand it, you might not even be able to read the law without paying a fee.

I take your point, it's scary that we're subject to so many rules and regulations that most of us are completely unaware of (and I say that as someone who has studied law) but imagine how much worse that will be if we aren't even able to freely read the rules in the first place?

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/09/can-the-law-be-copyrighted...

As someone building his own house right now, I exactly understand the complexities here. It's outrageous. Many of the laws are counterproductive and the use of certain products is lobbied for by the companies making them.

Drywall, insulation, plumbing, electrical all these products work their way into the laws encoded in building codes. Many of the companies have members on the committees of these "non-profit" organizations.

It's terrible. It's part of the reason houses cost so much.

Everyone wants their piece of the pie. If you want to house yourself, first you must feed everyone else.

At the same time, we've seen the result of deregulation in New Zealand, which in part resulted in the Leaky Homes Crisis [1]. Developers tend to put profit first, if the house falls apart 10 years later it doesn't matter to the developer or the builder, they already made their money.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaky_homes_crisis

A big flaw of modern society is the most experienced experts we rely on for industry regulations inevitably have a bias towards their industry.

Look in any industry and their regulating bodies and often it's a revolving door of key executives giving each other a slap on the wrist now and then and not effectively regulating or punishing clear wrongdoing.

Holy shit, this is absolutely outrageous.

I find laws to generally be very readable, the issue is case law is monkey patching the laws as written making all specific interpretations up for debate. At a minimum studying all the related Supreme Court cases is effectively required. Luckily there are only so many of those: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_United_States_Supre...

After that you’re still going to need to talk to a lawyer, but you should be able to keep up with what’s being said.

Note that China does not use Common law. Civil law is much more rule based; similarities in cases can not be used to explain each other. Having case XYZ the rule for XY may be disabled by a rule for Z (being defined in a completely different law book).


EDIT: This may even be the reason why legal tech in the US is way ahead of europe.

>This may even be the reason why legal tech in the US is way ahead of europe.

My guess is that Civil law simply doesn't need that much specialized tech since the law is clearly defined by the law books. The need to search tons of case law is mostly a result of the antiquated Common law system.

U.S. Supreme Court case opinions are also generally well-written, to the point that even people without a law degree can follow along, barring bits of jargon that usually aren't necessary to understand the overall meaning. For any news article summarizing a Supreme Court case, I generally recommend just reading the case itself.

Law is not about laws. The study of law isnt memorizing what is and isnt illegal. It is the difference between simply knowing the rules of baseball enough to play, and being the umpire at the world series.

ridiculously complicated law is emergent from democracy where the law is basically a negotiation and the final balance with all its nooks and crannys reflect the balance of power between all the interested parties.

We got smacked by that for a securities violation. We were CS undergrads raising money for our startup, no idea that financial regulation even existed.

Once we knew it was wrong, it was too late. Recisions aren't as simple as just returning the money and the legal overhead was greater than the total money raised.

Oh well. We know better today.

TOS of any electronic device or software. All the whereas and therfores the average Joe can't follow.

I did take a few law courses in uni (German law, mind you), and after the first you understand enough to be able to "read the law".

In US law in not sure because they put so much weight on precedent, that it's probably mostly difficult to find out what applies.

We live in a society based on and shaped by law. Laws and regulations are everywhere. As such it does seem reasonable to me that everyone should have a modicum of understanding of the law and legal matters work.

Schools should teach law, just like programming and music.

So law school? I know in my engineering degree we had courses on the regulatory environment that pertains to us, (FDA). Not sure about other disciplines but I'd expect civil, electrical, mechanical, aerospace, etc. have similar courses. Although, since you can't really make high-level decisions without a P.E. in those fields that might not be necessary since you will get that knowledge working with a P.E.

Don't kill, lie, cheat or steal. That will pretty much cover most of it. You don't need to be a lawyer to function in society.

Or, you know, ship a lobster in the wrong kind of container.


Or buy a book an Amazon. UK people where prosecuted for having 'The Anarchist Cookbook'


Pretty much all layers of the American justice system are fucked, from the corrupt legislators, gamified prosecutors, bigoted juries and automaton judges.

A normal justice system has multiple checks and balances to keep undeserving people out of jail. In the US these have all been eroded and the result is the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Cheat is a great one, do you understand your contractual undertakings and consumer protection enough to protect your rights?

Do you know case law well enough to resolve disputes?

Its not just about mot going to jail, it's also about not being taken advantage of.

And don't violate the Terms of Service.

Some of which may be illegal, depending on where you live. and may be changed with or without notice.

Reading the linked report by the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims [1], it's clear that the problem was not with the law being so complex it took 16 years to understand, but that the agencies tasked with enforcing the law were trying very hard to shirk their duty and stalling him at every opportunity. The People's Daily article [2] recounts a nice anecdote about getting rebuffed when requesting land use maps from the responsible agency, which he countered by quoting the law granting him access from memory, which apparently scared the agency employee enough to hand him the maps.

[1] http://www.clapv.org/english_lvshi/ZhiChiAnJian_Content.asp?...

[2] http://jx.people.com.cn/n2/2017/0203/c355185-29659118.html

Honestly, a good amount of law and politics is knowing what you can or cannot do. It's not that law is complex it's that dealing with people who know law, or people that know that you don't know about law is complex.

You can see it when people with the basic understanding of police interactions can avoid so much illegal stuff happening if they just know when to say no.

both my father and a dear friend gave me some great advice... "if you can, go to law school. even if you're not a practicing lawyer, it's very useful to know how they think."

one friend commented "law school teaches you about the operating system of society"

I don't understand how this is great advice. You might as well say: if you can, go to med school so that when you have to deal with the medical establishment, you know how it works. Spend years as a carpenters apprentice so when you buy a house you will be able to recognize the quality/problems it has. etc

It’s because (according to this thinking), a legal background combines well with almost anything else you end up doing as long as terms, contracts, long documents and regulations are unavoidable. Other fields are also useful, and the rigor from studying, e.g., medicine, may be useful for the discipline it instills, but aren’t as ubiquitous and scary to laypersons as law.

It’s why you see a lot of COOs and CEOs with some legal background or at least familiarity.

> It’s why you see a lot of COOs and CEOs with some legal background or at least familiarity.

An alternative hypothesis based on people I know - traditionally, smart/middle-to-high class people pick between medicine, law, and finance, with law school being the default. Then many of these people realize they don't like practicing law so they transition into something else.

That’s reasonable. I think law’s especially well suited to that, too, because the lawyer job market is in tatters compared to medicine right now (no idea about finance.) The comparative advantage of using the degree to complement another field can be worth more than actually practicing.

I've been reading "Lectures on Jurisprudence", a collation of lecture notes from a course Adam Smith gave in the 1760s. It is somewhat puzzling phrasing but seems to be a very structured introduction to the law, addressing questions like:

* What are the ways recognised by the law in which people acquire property? One way is simply by holding it for a long time; another is by receiving it, as through an inheritance; a third is when property results from other property, as when an apple tree produces apples.

* What do "rights" mean in a legal context and where do they originate from? Some are intrinsic, some are the result of agreements.

* What are the laws of marriage and inheritance and how have they changed over time?

I would agree. Too bad it costs an arm and a leg these days to go...

I'm surprised there isn't a Khan Academy style online class for learning aspects of American law.

There are online degree programs which are accepted by some state bar associations.

ooh, gonna find that out later.

Barbri isn't free, but it's much cheaper than law school. You don't need school to learn the law, you just need to borrow and buy some books.

It depends on the country. I'm assuming you're from the US, but (law) education in Europe is generally much more affordable.

Yup, here (Belgium) it costs the same as anything else. :)

You don't have to go to law school. Just take a commercial law course in a college.

I’d go just to learn the latin

Would definitely fill in the pieces from some of my own study of law

A couple undergraduate classics courses would be far cheaper and much more useful in that regard. On a similar note, studying Greek and Latin in college gave me a large leg up in other areas of study (e.g. I had a much greater mastery of English and writing, programming language syntax was far easier to learn, etc.). Classical languages are far more useful than people realize.

How's Greek and Latin related to programming language syntax?

I studied Latin and to me it’s the syntax that’s interesting and useful for this career. Subject-object-verb structure, and the words change depending on their usage (declension/conjugation). Picking apart a sentence in a foreign language and making sense of the structure is a lot like programming so it’s a transferable skill

"Picking apart a sentence in a foreign language and making sense of the structure is a lot like programming so it’s a transferable skill"

... yeah no those are nothing alike at all...

Key ideas in computer science, such as for instance Chomsky grammars, are derived directly from linguistics.

I don't think it's fair to say that approaching a foreign language has nothing to do with approaching a new programming language.

Debugging, then. I don’t know. Your mileage may vary.

OK but you can do all that in your native language also. It's called grammar and rhetoric, part of the language arts, taught in schools worldwide.

Sure you can. You can add flavour with other languages, too. For example, I only really learned about the subjunctive mood after learning it in French, which uses it much more distinctly than in English.

Let's suppose I buy into this idea. Is studying German or other modern language any less useful?

For me it would be less useful due to the similarity(e.g. I had little to no difficulty learning Spanish as a native English speaker. Sure, there were differences, but the similarities allowed me to focus on and pick up the difference more quickly without being overwhelmed). It would be like going from Java to C#. Some differences, but very few because the base is so similar.

I should have specified it was learning Koine Greek that helped (Latin was somewhat of a bridge that made it less painful, because Latin also relies heavily on declension/conjugation instead of straight word order). Koine Greek is wildly different than English. I think it would be the difference between something like going from an OOP language to something like Prolog.

I don’t think so. It’s not about the particular language, just studying the structure and figuring out the rules. It’s good practice. Latin is interesting because it’s a root for so many languages and in particular English

Indirect relation. It forced me to think differently about language and syntax in general. For example, English (and many other languages) relies on a word order typology. Greek relies on inflection and declension over word order, which is wildly different.

Between taking a term in statistics/law 101/ and learning Greek I would always go for the first group.

I am trilingual, but I have never found anything in natural languages to be useful for programming (well, apart from knowing English because most of the software is written in it). Moreover - learning syntax of a programming language is the easiest part.

The hardest part for natural languages are your vocab/familiarity with the culture, and the hardest part of programming languages is your familiarity with the ecosystem/libraries.

Same, trilingual as well.

There have been studies that show children with a bilingual upbringing tend to score higher in school.

So it might indirectly help with programming, or at least help with learning to program.

I took a latin class in uni.

I think it did help a bit because it made me think about the syntactic structure intellectually, where my native tounge the syntax comes intuitively.

Not saying it magically made me a super programmer or anything, but i feel like it certainly didnt hurt my programming skill.

It's so annoying when they use latin for the sake of latin. My brain automatically translates "inter alia" to "among other things", but why not just say "among other things"?

I get it if there just isn't an English equivalent for a phrase, but when there is, and it fits 100%, it should be unacceptable to use anything else.

Maybe most commonly used language patterns can carry other connotations therefore bring in ambiguities. Bringing in special terms that are not otherwise used would reduce arguments over the usage. But in all likelihood it is probably just tradition, and a barrier of entry that insiders are happy to maintain.

Operating systems are suppose to assist the user. In this and most cases the law is a system of oppression. 16 years is a travesty. Economics and science are the true operating systems of society.

You go to law school to learn security exploits.

Using security exploits is non-coercive. Law is coercive.

You go to law school to learn how people convince other people to force other people to do things.

Why people follow law is not part of what you learn in law school. That is an anthropological phenomenon that has to do with culture, society and biology.

What you learn in law school is less fundamental and more specific to the system at hand. You learn contracts, property, criminal law, constitutional law, legal methods, civil procerude... torts...

You learn the specifics so that the system can be exploited.

If you think people who study law have some deep insight on the true nature of civilizations and the rules that humans operate under you are completely wrong.

Questions like which system is better? Communism or capitalism? Dictatorship or Democracy? Are not what you study in law school.

Remember law school is about security exploits.

Putting aside the question of what they do and don't teach in law school - over in my part of the world, where, as is normal in the British Commonwealth, law is normally studied at an undergraduate level, it's fairly standard for law students to double major in the humanities or social sciences, where those questions do indeed get asked from a non-legal and more anthropological and cultural perspective.

Well double majoring is different right? I'm sure if someone wanted to double major in physics and law they wouldn't be getting the social science part.

I think you have not studied law.

…but security researchers go to school to learn exactly that?

Man made laws are indeed oppression. They are an attack on the individual.

I'm genuinely surprised you can take a Chinese state-owned corporation to court. Does China really have environmental laws which regular people can sue over?

So, you would be surprised, Chinese law itself is actually extremely comprehensive and large. I would argue that Chinese law is nearly identical in scope to most Western law. There are laws on the books enshrining freedoms, and many which allow the people to hold the state accountable. All this with the humongous caveat that courts and judges will often not enforce laws as they are written, so just because China might have stringent environmental protections on its books, getting a judge who will actually allow such cases is difficult.

The law is structured in such a way that the judges and courts have a great deal of freedom and discretion about which laws to enforce when, and can decide not to enforce laws at specific times. This is seen as a strength of the system, in that it prevents a lot of obtuse bickering over minor details of legal interpretation. The judge can do maneuvers like saying "The spirit and intent of the law was this, doesn't matter what it actually says" and this is legal. So yes the Chinese state probably does have protections for this sort of thing, but they probably never enforce any of them because of rampant abuse.

>and many which allow the people to hold the state accountable

The thing is, if you try to use your right to petition Beijing, for example, you will be harassed and may be arrested.

I followed the story on weibo of a parent who petitioned Beijing for better discipline in schools after bullies took out her son's eye. She was followed by agents, prevented from taking her son to hospital appointments in the city and forced to sign a "confession" that she was a dissident.

So yes, you have the right, but if you use it, you will be targeted. So stop spreading this "China is not so bad, it has the same freedoms as in the west!" bs.

Right after the part you quoted:

> All this with the humongous caveat that courts and judges will often not enforce laws as they are written

Please don't use selective quotations to misrepresent the viewpoints of other commenters.

Harassment and arbitrary arrest are not quite the same as "judges will often not enforce laws as they are written"

Seems like you've deliberately misinterpreted my comment

No, I'm just disagreeing with the parts of it directed at the commenter you were responding to. (Edit: basically just So stop spreading this "China is not so bad, it has the same freedoms as in the west!" bs. )

More surprise for you. Government can be sued too. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1434836/hebei-man-be...

They key is that:

1. a local court always stands on the lower level of authority to local administration and party committee, and can always be overruled by them.

2. only a court of above standing administrative unit can overrule your local court, but to get there you need to get through a local court first.

The Chinese government has been taking environmental concerns quite seriously as of late. This article actually originates from a feature story in the official newspaper of the Chinese Youth Communist Party Central Committee. It's very much party-endorsed.

Serious question: is there any publicly available place I can go and simply read all the laws? Obviously knowing the letter of the law won't let me know how to apply it in all situations, but I literally have no idea how to discover what laws I'm supposed to follow, besides asking a lawyer.

The Cornell Law College has the entire US Code published on its website: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text

Neat, thanks! Curious though, where does Cornell get the source material / wording from? When something changes, how are they informed? Does the government keep a master copy somewhere?

They subscribe to the US government's gazette: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Register Each US state also has a corresponding gazette.

Cool, thanks!

You can see the government's version of the US Code at https://uscode.house.gov/. The Cornell version is more browsable.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel is responsible for taking each individual Act of Congress and updating the USC appropriately.

In the UK we have http://www.legislation.gov.uk

I’ve asked before, but never got a good idea. How should a lay person best understand law without becoming a lawyer? What do we read? Where is a good course?

The Legal Analyst by Ward Farnsworth is an enjoyable introduction. https://www.amazon.com/Legal-Analyst-Toolkit-Thinking-about/...

The Law Student's Toolkit class on Coursera from Yale's Ian Ayers covers some similar ground. https://www.coursera.org/learn/law-student/

Should be available in book form. Lawyers basically knows it as a christian knows the bible.

This is a great story. If only AdChoices would stop dumping all over the site, so I could read it to the end.

Off-topic, but that time lapse of Beijing smog makes me angry.

This is fake news....

Not hard to see, you can even read the original article in google translate, which seems to be their only source and they still messed it up.

The case was 16 years start to finish, not him studying law.

He used a lawyer..... "Wang Enlin began work to protect his rights in 2006 and received assistance from the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) in 2007" [1]

Sure you just want a meme to make you happy, but Reddit did this story years ago. And they have new memes that are untrue and fun there now.

The more real story here is still kinda cool [2]. But this isn't close to the truth.

[1] https://ipen.org/sites/default/files/documents/Case%20Study%... [2] http://www.clapv.org/english_lvshi/ZhiChiAnJian_Content.asp?...

Why was this comment was marked dead? I am "vouch"ing it for now because I have read Wang Enlin's story a long time ago, and though a cool story, I have doubts about this version of the story by the Independent to be a good representation.

The account was banned in 2017: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15691778

If a comment is marked as [dead] but not [flagged] it was killed automatically, usually for reasons related to the account, not the specific comment in question.

Not a lawyer, in any country, but I assume chinese law is whatever the government feel likes at that time. Can't imagine their law is like anything in the west.

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