Centre for Asian Legal Studies

Pluralism, Transnationalism & Culture in Asian Law


There has been debate in Europe and North America on the proper role of comparative law. Some have argued that the role of comparative law to assist in the unification of laws (either nationally, regionally or internationally) by pointing out the similarities between legal traditions, systems or cultures. Others have argued that its role is to point out the differences between these traditions, systems, cultures, thus assisting in promoting diversity and respect for different cultures and traditions.

This debate has not yet taken place to the same extent in Asia and this Symposium will give us the opportunity to raise these issues in the Asian context. More specifically, are there “Asian values” or Asian characteristics which mean that attempts at international unification of laws are doomed to fail or should be resisted. Within Asia are there such great differences that regional unification should not be undertaken.

For centuries, Asia has adopted and adapted transplanted laws. Hinduism and Buddhism moved, with their concepts of norms and duties, from India to most parts of Asia, and later Islam, with its law moved to many parts of Asia. Further layers of Western laws, including civil law, common law and socialist laws were later added and nowadays, in the name of globalisation, so-called global standards in business law and human rights, for example, are imposed on Asian countries. Some of these transplants are voluntary, some are imposed; some are successful, some not.

What do South East Asian experiences of legal pluralism and legal transplants teach us about the role of comparative law in Asia and the possibility and desirability of legal transplants and unification? This project would introduce the arguments about transplants, diversity and unification arising out of the Southeast Asian experience.

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