Morality vs. Legitimacy: Why do the Chinese Obey the Law

TitleMorality vs. Legitimacy: Why do the Chinese Obey the Law
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationSubmitted
AuthorsJingkang Gao, Jinhua Zhao
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Abstract

Social scientists and legal scholars have long approached understanding the rule of law in China through history, traditions, and cultural attributes. We take an empirical and individual-based rather than normative and aggregate approach in this paper. We implement a questionnaire survey of 1,000 drivers in Shanghai in March 2016 to explore compliance with a wide range of laws from long-established laws such as those inhibiting public disturbance and traffic violations to laws necessitated by recent technological changes such as those inhibiting downloading pirated material and distracted driving by texting and mobile phone use. We estimate a structural equation model to examine 1) the impact of the perceived morality of laws, the perceived legitimacy of the authority, the perceived severity of punishment and the perceived risk of apprehension on people’s compliance with laws, and 2) the impact of the procedural justice, the distributive justice, and the effectiveness of law enforcement on the perceived legitimacy of the authority. The results show three major conclusions. First, for all four groups of laws studied in the paper, the influence of the perceived morality of laws is stronger than the perceived legitimacy of the authorities and all other motivations for compliance. The influence of the perceived legitimacy of the authorities is inconsistent across the four groups of laws. Second, the influence of the perceived severity of punishment is consistent and significant across all four groups of laws whereas the perceived risk of apprehension had no significant impact on compliance. Third, evaluation about procedural fairness, not those about the equitable distribution of law enforcement services and the effectiveness of law enforcement, is most strongly related to legitimacy.