Chen Guangchen (陳光誠), a Chinese legal activist who has been blind from an early age, often uses his legal expertise to help farmers and people with disabilities. Because of his constant efforts to uphold justice he was imprisoned for four years by the Chinese government. After his release from prison in September 2010, he was kept under house arrest and it was not until a few days ago that he miraculously managed to escape.
Chen, often referred to as a “barefoot lawyer,” has never formally studied law and is self-taught. However, he has used his instinctive sense of ethics when helping fight for the legal rights of disadvantaged people which is something truly valuable.
As a teacher in a law department, I greatly admire his efforts and his story has made me think about myself and the way law is taught as a subject in Taiwan.
Many law students ask me what they will do in the future if they do not take the tests held for lawyers, judges and prosecutors. I always tell them that students in many other faculties do not have similar exams and ask them what they think these students should do after they graduate. I then ask my students what they want to do if they pass the exam to become a lawyer, a judge or a prosecutor.
In recent years, law has become the most popular subject choice for students of social sciences. Many parents hope their children will study law and more students are taking law school entrance exams. However, I am not sure how many of the students in our school are there because they are truly interested in law or because their parents wanted them to study the subject.
Even sadder is the fact there are few students in postgraduate law schools who actually have a passion for research. Most of the books on display in the research rooms of postgraduate law schools come from cram schools rather than being foreign or domestic law books.
Over the past few years, restrictions that used to limit the number of practicing lawyers have been greatly relaxed and those working in law often lament that the market was limited to begin with. They say that accepting large numbers of students does nothing to help create jobs, but instead creates a bunch of unemployed lawyers.
It would seem that in law, everything is about jobs and those involved in law lack ideals and a sense of vocation — to a certain degree.
I really hope that more law students will begin to understand that what remains more important than passing tests and getting licenses is the question of whether they really want to work in the legal profession.
Chen’s story has moved me and I hope that it can encourage more law students in Taiwan. Taiwanese are very lucky that we do not to have to face the same problems that Chen must, but our environment is far from perfect. There is still a lot of unfairness and injustice in many areas and much still needs to be done.
I hope law students do not just view their education as a way of gaining a lawyer’s license, but rather as a basis from which they can realize their ideals.
Hsu Tze-tien is an associate professor in the College of Law at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Drew Cameron