Weihan Sun


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Weihan Sun

DPhil candidate, Faculty of History



Weihan Sun’s recent research is on the legal history of the PRC, with particular interests in material culture, institutional history and the post-Mao period. Weihan received his BA in History from Peking University and his MA in Social Sciences-History from the University of Chicago. His MA thesis examines the reversal of ‘unjust, false, and mistaken’ cases (yuan jia cuo an) and the rehabilitation of Maoist victims in the post-Mao era. Using documents from the Party Centre and the cases from Guangxi and Henan, he showed the rehabilitation process as a hybrid product of the Maoist political legacy of legal and political practices and a mechanism of retroactive justice to strengthen the legitimacy of the CCP’s new leadership. He has also worked as a translator, with more than five translated books in Chinese being published.

DPhil topic

With the death of Mao in 1976, laws rose to renewed prominence, and the CCP sought a break with the Maoist past as the Party committed to what it said would be an open and impartial legal system. More than an instrument of party rule, laws and the legal system were supposed to set standards for a post-Cultural Revolution society. While there are many studies of legal codification and professional legal education during this time, to date, few works have examined the actual legal practices beyond abstract ideas. This leaves many questions unanswered. 

Weihan Sun’s project sheds light on how the Maoist flexible and informal campaign-style adjudication remained effective in criminal justice (e.g. the anti-crime Strike Hard campaigns). He will examine how the formalised legal procedures, newly educated judicial officials and well-designed courtrooms performed in the practices of adjudication. Also, his project will show how the contradictory ideologies and adjudication styles reconciled with each other in the post-Mao years. His project concentrates on objects such as furniture, fittings and recording media that made up the courtroom, on the bureaucratic organisation through forms, information and data management with the help of electronic devices and computers, on formal attire and vehicles for judicial officials’ routine workings which contributed to creating ‘the legal’ in its material form. His project shows how laws were brought to life in judicial officials’ work and the creation of legal space and how it became crucial to the party-state’s local interaction with people.