One of the popular myths about the Great Wall of China
is that it is visible from space. That’s not true (it’s not visible
with the naked eye), but it’s still an incredible sight. The Wall’s
origins date back to the 5th century, but the Ming Dynasty is best known for
its additions to the Wall after the Ming army’s defeat by the Mongols
in the mid 1400s.

Today, I hired a taxi with two of the other conference participants and
visited Mutianyu, one of the sections of the Wall that is close to
Beijing. On the way there, we saw a few sights not often seen at home:
the entire staff of a restaurant, in uniform, doing morning
calisthenics in formation on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant was
one, a man towing a load of logs behind his bicycle was another.

One of the great benefits of attending a conference like LSPI is the
opportunity to spend time with academics from other countries. Not only
do we learn about other legal systems, we learn about how universities
in other countries work. For instance, in the U.S., a law professor is
certain to progress from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to
Professor, so long as she teaches well, serves the school and the
larger legal community, and writes articles regularly. In other
countries, however, the title “Professor” is given to the few. For
instance, in Australia, the ranks are Associate Lecturer, Lecturer,
Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor, and Professor. The jump from
Senior Lecturer to Associate Professor is the hardest to make; in order
to do so, one must show that he has an international reputation. To
prove an international reputation, a candidate must have a record of
participation in international conferences and publication in
international journals. For an Australian academic, a publication in
the Harvard Law Review would
not count for anything, as it is edited by students. In many U.S. law
schools, however, a publication in a peer-reviewed journal geared to an
international audience would not count for much.

Spending a week in China with colleagues from other countries has been a
fantastic experience, and I thank Dean Ammons for making it possible!

Privacy: They’re Not Like Us

Lawyer jokes seems to be popular all over the world. Here’s one told by
an Australian lawyer working in Beijing. A doctor, a lawyer and an
engineer were arguing about whose profession was the oldest. The doctor
said “Eve was made from Adam’s rib. That means that surgery was
advanced at the time, so my profession is the oldest.” The engineer
said “Order was created from chaos on the first day, so mine is the
oldest profession.” The lawyer, who had been sitting quietly, said “Who
do you think created the chaos?” Our discussions today illustrated some of
the legal chaos inherent in doing business on the internet.

This morning, we had a spirited session about virtual worlds. No one
knows what to make of them from a legal standpoint, and I think that
they provide a great vehicle for discussing property rights generally.

The afternoon’s discussions were devoted to privacy issues. As I noted
yesterday, the European Union is far more protective of personal data
than the U.S. On the other hand, as Ji Lian Yap, of City University of
Hong Kong pointed out, in most Asian countries the idea of data
protection is completely foreign, as people assume that the state has
their information and can do whatever it wants with it. In China, there
is no data privacy whatsoever.

What’s a discussion of privacy without a discussion of MySpace and
Facebook? Rebecca Wong, of Nottingham Law School in England, led a
terrific roundtable discussion on social networking. Those are sites
that seem to really tie the world together, and all of the participants
in the discussion, who were from at least 10 countries, had something
to say on the subject. Of course, you’ll need to be careful if you post
about your European friends, because processing of “sensitive personal
information” can subject you to a fine. Of course, we professors are
concerned about the information posted about us as well. I learned this
afternoon that “ratemyprofessors.com” is not just an American site –
professors in the UK and Australia are rated on it as well!

But No One Seems to Be Able to Control Spam

This morning, we went over to the Communication University of China
to start the substantive part of the conference. The presenters, who are from 20 countries,
include both legal scholars and computer science experts. This
conference provides excellent opportunities for dialogue and
collaboration, as the participants include junior scholars, established
academics, and business and government leaders.

One of the keynote speakers this morning was Judge Jayin
Sunthornsingkam, of the Central Intellectual Property and International
Trade Court in Thailand. Specialized courts are a big topic of
conversation everywhere; this Spring, an issue of Business Law Today
will be devoted to specialized business courts. The jurisdiction of the
Thai specialized court is broader than the name implies, as it has
jurisdiction over all intellectual property and international business
matters, including disputes over international sales, maritime law, and
letters of credit and other financial instruments. The judge impressed
us all with is ability to deliver a humorous talk in a language other
than his native one. And he had great PowerPoints showing the most
popular pirated goods!

Today’s presentations were impressive for several reasons. First,
because all of the papers were delivered in English, at least half of
the speakers were making presentations in a language other than their
mother tongue. Some papers drove home the fact that some legal issues
are viewed very differently in other countries. Privacy is a prime
example. Richard de Mulder, of Erasmus University in Holland, delivered
a paper on “Privacy Protection and the Right to Information.” In his
talk, he discussed a decision of the European Court of Justice
involving a Swedish woman who had created a blog in her role as a
church volunteer. The blogger wished a neighbor well on her blog; the
neighbor had been hospitalized with an injury. Why was this in court?
Well, the blogger, who was acting out of compassion, had processed
personal data about the medical condition of another person, in
violation of the European Union’s Data Privacy Directive. Privacy is an
area in which U.S. law differs from that of many other countries.

Some problems, however, seem to be unsolvable everywhere. This
afternoon, Sebo Tladi, of the University of South Africa, discussed “A
South African Perspective on E-Consumer Protection.” In her talk, she
discussed some new South African laws governing electronic
transactions. Like our own CAN-SPAM Act,
South African law purports to require spammers to identify themselves
and to allow consumers to be removed from the spammers’ mailing lists. Good
luck with that!

Time to Stop Bargaining and Get to Work

China is known for its fakes, which makes it a great place for a
conference filled with intellectual property lawyers. The Silk Street
Market
is a great place to find those fakes, ask to see the “authentic
reproductions,” and you’ll be ushered into a room filled with “Louis
Vuitton” handbags. Bargaining is the game at Silk Street and the other
markets, and the salespeople will follow you around calling “lady,
lady,” until they can sell you something. I knew that I had had enough
when I bargained for a Chairman Mao alarm clock.

The conference started with a dinner tonight and we just received the
materials, which contain some fascinating papers by scholars from all
over the world. I will be presenting on a “Virtual Worlds” panel on
Friday with Angel Adrian of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen,
Scotland, who will be discussing her paper, “No One Knows You’re a Dog:
Identity and Reputation in Virtual Worlds.”

Like all internet law conferences, this one straddles many areas of
law. Tomorrow there will be panels on cybercrime, data protection,
privacy,
intellectual property, internet governance and several other topics.
I’m interested in hearing what all of these authors have to say!

Chinese culture is fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which
is its symbolism. This morning, we went to the Forbidden City, the home
of 24 emperors from 1420 to 1923. The buildings have yellow roofs,
because yellow was the color of the royal family. The number 9 plays a
big role, because 9 is an odd number (thus male, positive, and light),
and because it is the largest single-digit number, it was reserved for
the imperial house.

Not only do colors and numbers have great meaning, so do foods. Our
Chinese friends treated us to a wonderful lunch, and explained to us
the significance of many of the foods. I should have excellent skin by
the end of this trip. Texture plays a large role in Chinese cuisine,
and among the dishes at lunch were jellyfish (strangely crunchy) and a
soup made with the “soft bones of shark” (cartilage, perhaps)? And then
there was the special soup. Tasty and thick, it was perfect for the
cold winter day. But then again, there were some unusual textures. Our
Chinese hostess whispered some of the ingredients to one of my
companions. Her face registered some mild surprise for a few moments,
but when one ingredient was mentioned, her eyes grew wide and she
exclaimed “Whose?” It was a body part not seen on American menus, but
is not ususual in China. Hint: I don’t have one.

Food aside, there is much that is familiar in China. The cars are
large, more like American ones than European ones. The better to battle
with the bicycles, I guess. Internet access is not nearly as restricted
as I had believed, and the only site that I have tried to get on
without luck so far is Wikipedia. The Chinese people are very
welcoming, and eager to talk about their economic reforms and their
appreciation of the importance of foreign study. David Brooks had an interesting op-ed in the New York Times yesterday
in which he described the Communist Party as follows: “Imagine the Ivy
League taking over the shell of the Communist Party and deciding not to
change the name.” From what I have seen so far, that’s about right.

Donkey tastes just like . . .

When I travel, it’s all about the food. When I checked in at the China
Resouces Hotel, where most of the conference participants are staying,
I was fortunate to run into several people with British accents who
were, as I suspected, other participants.  They graciously invited
me to join them for dinner at a restaurant chosen by the native
Beijinger in the group.

The restaurant, Bai Hia Da Yuan, is known for “imperial court cuisine.”
The buildings are in the garden style of the Qing Dynasty and the
servers are dressed in traditional Qing costume. There is also
entertainment in the form of music and dancing. Our Chinese hostess
chose all of the food, and she did a fabulous job of introducing us to
Beijing specialties, one of which is, yes, braised donkey. Which tastes
like beef.

Good morning Siberia!

The world is small. I could go on and on about how the Internet has
made the world smaller, but that would be awfully cliche, and I’ll be
writing plenty about the effect of the Internet after the conference
starts on Thursday. The fact that my flight from Washington to Beijing
involved only 13 hours in the air really drove home the small size of
the world; when I attended the American Bar Association Annual
Meeting in Honolulu last year, the total travel time, including the 1.5
hour layover in Chicago, was about 12.5 hours. Yes, Hawaii is far, but
it’s in the United States.

The opening of polar routes to commercial air travel has drastically
reduced the travel time from the East Coast of the US to Asia. I love
looking at those maps that they show on planes. From the map, I learned
that we lost daylight somewhere over Hudson Bay and greeted the morning
somewhere over Siberia. Cool (cold, actually)!

Welcome to the China Blog

Welcome to my China Blog! With the encouragement of my Dean, Linda
Ammons, I am using this blog to inform the Widener Law community and
other interested friends about my upcoming trip to Beijing, China, to participate in the Second International Conference on Legal, Security and Privacy Issues in IT. There’s more about me and my interests at “About This Blog.”