Nurturing maritime law talent

Updated: 2013-10-24 07:59

By Zhu Chengpei and Zhang Xiaomin in Dalian (China Daily)

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Rong Pumin, a 25-year-old PhD candidate in maritime law at Dalian Maritime University, is still cherishing her recent trip to a summer school in Germany.

Together with 36 other students, judges, lawyers and maritime law experts from 32 countries, she spent about three weeks on the premises of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg.

Although three universities in the Chinese mainland are able to cultivate undergraduate talent in maritime law, sending students to learn abroad and gain experiences in international maritime law is an important step, experts say.

"The graduates in maritime law can meet our domestic needs. But we need top talent," said Si Yuzhuo, Rong's tutor, who established China's first doctoral program on maritime law in 1998.

"It would be great if Chinese professionals could enter international organizations and speak for our country," he said.

Si, one of the drafters of China's maritime law, said when he completed his one-year course of study in Norway and returned home in 1981, there were less than 10 scholars engaged in the research of maritime law in China and no maritime courts had been created.

Today, there are 10 maritime courts around China and several thousand people doing maritime-law-related work in courts, law firms, enterprises and universities. Statistics show that the 10 courts heard more than 15,000 cases in 2012.

Philip Yang Liang-Yee, former chairman of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center, also suggested that young students should learn British and US laws.

"With centuries of development, British and US laws have formed a complete system, which became the most widely applied legal system in the international shipping community. It can be said that you must follow the rules as long as you are doing international shipping business," he wrote in a letter to a forum about the cultivation of maritime law talent held in Dalian Maritime University in June.

According to Yang, China has paid a heavy price since the global financial crisis because people do not know enough about the rules of the game. "It has become essential for China to cultivate a large number of professionals that know a lot about the Anglo-American legal system," he wrote.

At present, three universities are cultivating undergraduate talent on maritime law on the Chinese mainland, with 1,200 students in total: Dalian Maritime University, Shanghai Maritime University and Jimei University in Xiamen.

Dalian Maritime University is the only one to have established a comprehensive training system for undergraduates, postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers.

Shan Hongjun, dean of the university's law school, said it has established partnerships with several well-known universities overseas, including Swansea University and the University of Southampton.

Every year, several graduate students are sent to the University of Hong Kong to complete their master's degrees. Since 2007, more than 30 students have completed courses there.

"The cultivation of internationalized talent has become an inevitable trend. We are trying to cooperate with more world-famous universities," Shan said.

Shanghai Maritime University has similar programs. It also invites professors from the University of Southampton, Swansea University and elsewhere to teach courses in Shanghai. Usually, they teach 36 class hours over two months, said Jiang Zhengxiong, dean of the law school of Shanghai Maritime University.

"The problem is that the level of English differs from one student to another," he said.

To tackle the problem, the university employs Chinese teachers to help students review what they have been taught by foreign teachers after several classes.

Several comprehensive universities such as Fudan University and East China University of Political Science and Law are also training postgraduate students in maritime law.

However, Gao Zongze, senior partner of a Beijing-based law firm, suggested maritime law students should be trained in universities with strong shipping backgrounds like DMU, SMU and Jimei.

"As a specialist area of law, it requires not only good English but also a good teaching faculty and facilities. To be a good maritime lawyer, one must have a wide range of knowledge about related disciplines," he said.

Si Yuzhuo also emphasizes the importance of gaining a general background in shipping-related subjects in order to properly understand maritime law.

"Maritime law cannot develop independently. China's maritime law is developing well, but the sea-related laws as a whole do not form a system. We have a long way to go to cultivate top talent in maritime law," Si said.

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