John Stanley Gillespie, Transplanting Commercial Law Reform - Developing a 'Rule of Law' in Vietnam (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 362 pp., ISBN-13: 978-0-7546-4704-1, GBP 65 (hardback).
A Case-specific Sociology of Legal Transplant Theory
One should always be careful when accepting an invitation to review a book without having seen the book before and without knowing anything about the author. Having had the pleasure of accomplishing two missions in Vietnam, one as a professor and one as a consultant helping shape a policy towards accession to a number of international conventions, I thought I had some legitimacy to review Gillespie’s book. Now that I have read it, I realise that not only has the book taught me much, but also that I knew very little about Vietnam and nothing at all about the theories developed by scholars on transplanting law.
This book is more a book on the sociology of law than a law book, so to speak. Readers will learn a great deal about the history of the Vietnamese legal system; about the different forces which are at work in Vietnamese society and influence the law-making process; about how these forces have helped craft a unique blend of top-down regulation and self-regulation; and, finally, about how foreigners should be careful in trying to impose on another society legal solutions which may have been successful in their own countries but may not be adaptable in another environment.
In the book, a number of questions are left partially unanswered.
How long did the author live or has he lived in Vietnam, or, if he did/has not, how often (and for how long) did he visit the country? Some clues can be found in the book. First, the bibliography includes many references to literature written in the Vietnamese language (whose titles are given in English), hence it may be supposed that the author has mastered the Vietnamese language. Second, at least in Chapter 8, Gillespie refers to a survey of sixty companies operating in five different industrial sectors through interviews with their managers in 2004 and 2005. This is probably the most fruitful part of the research, as it shows how the beneficiaries of the legal rules view them, use them, or ignore them, and how they may (or may not) adapt their behaviour to the changes.
Why was Vietnam chosen and why is it an interesting case? Again, pointers can be found in the book itself. First, Chapter 2 describes Vietnam’s long and troubled history in constructing its legal system as a result of the many foreign influences. The French colonial period is covered in a few pages only (pp. 49-54), and elsewhere in the book its legacy does seem to disappear altogether. For instance, the long bibliography provided by the author does not appear to contain any references to French literature. It is probable that the author’s focus was on recent transplants of American or common law origin. Second, it is probably the quasi-unique mixture of a socialist political system and newly recognised liberal values which makes the creation of the current legal system a real challenge – as seems also the case in mainland China, if on a more modest scale considering the size of the country.
With regard to legal transplant theory too, the informational value of Gillespie’s book is considerable. Here again, the learning curve was steep, as I had been unaware of the sizeable body of literature written on this issue. Not only is Gillespie familiar with this literature, he also aids the reader with numerous examples borrowed from commercial law, which is the focus of his study. Through the legal transplant paradigm, his study is also of relevance to the area of globalisation, presenting a cortege of competitive models (even though some authors he quotes claim that there is no competing model to the US model) and the imperialist-like approach of western countries when they provide “legal help”.
To conclude, I can recommend Gillespie’s book not only for the information it provides about the Vietnamese commercial legal system, but also for its nuanced analysis of the legal transplantation theories and their implementation in the particular case of Vietnam.
Cite as: Catherine Kessedjian, Review of John Stanley Gillespie,Transplanting Commercial Law Reform - Developing a 'Rule of Law' in Vietnam, vol 12.2 ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LAW, (October 2008), <http://www.ejcl.org/122/review122-1.html>.
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