The following is a book review written by Russell Murphy, a very experienced China lawyer who speaks both speaks and reads Mandarin.

The review is of Modern Chinese Real Estate Law (Property Development in an Evolving Legal System) by Gregory M. Stein, Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law.  I asked Russell to read and review this book because of Russell’s experience with international real estate.

Here is the review:

China real estate is estimated to contribute approximately USD $1 trillion (15%) to China’s economy in 2013.  Professor Gregory M. Stein’s Modern Chinese Real Estate Law (Property Development in a Developing Economy) is an excellent introduction to the inner workings of a that important sector.

Professor Stein interviewed lawyers, property developers, and government officials to put together an insightful exposition on the inner workings of the Chinese real property development industry.  Professor Stein does not attribute any of his conversations to his sources, having extended the anonymity requested by a few of his interviewees to all who participated.  However, the resulting freedom from fear of consequences to participants allows the book to explore in detail potentially provocative subjects, such as how the government comes to possess all of the land underlying the development in the first place.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part I of the describes the challenges of legal work in a field such as real property development where the laws and regulations have been non-existent, under consideration, or only recently adopted.  The mismatch of demands for taking rapid action in property development and the ambiguities in China’s legal framework produce a tension that rewards the innovative (and brave) and provides guidance to both imitators and the regulators seeking to keep up.

Part II transitions smoothly into the details of how real property gets developed and sold in China.  All but one chapter in this part focuses on residential property, and given the importance of the housing market to Chinese development, and the individual Chinese person’s plans for wealth creation, it is a good place to spend the bulk of the research.  It is, however, somewhat unfortunate that only one chapter deals with development of infrastructure, because the public works arena is another major part of China’s development story.  However, infrastructure and public works can easily be the subject of a separate book, and by maintaining its focus on residential and commercial, the book delivers a much more valuable proposition for the reader.

Part III is a departure from the practical aspects of Parts I and II as it delves into the theories of the relationship between development economics and development of the rule of law.  After an overview of theories generally and then application to China’s recent economic history, Stein adds his own explanation to try to reconcile some conflicts.  Though interesting certainly to the academic reader, the real estate practitioner likely will not find these last two sections nearly as vital and practical as the bulk of the preceding text.

This is not the book to use as a source for texts of China’s real estate laws and regulations, though it does contain citations to legal references in the footnotes for those who want the specifics.   The book reads easily, and despite the title, it does not really require a legal background to understand, and so should be of interest to anyone interested in the Chinese Real Estate market, or even in the Chinese economy in general.  A lawyer or development professional will want to follow up with the reference materials cited for the details, but will still benefit from the comprehensive introduction to industry practices Professor Stein has provided. If you are interested in how China real estate works, I recommend you read this book.

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.