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Innovations in ADR Teaching in Hong Kong: Experiences From The Field

In teaching negotiation courses both at the graduate and undergraduate levels within a law school in Hong Kong, students are invited to share anonymous feedback regarding those aspects of the course they find effective and those aspects they have suggestions for improvement.  Class composition is generally quite international, with students representing a diverse array of cultural and professional backgrounds.  Experience gleaned both from student feedback and course delivery for a period of 2.5 years has shed light on what teaching methods work well, which teaching methods might be adjusted and improved, and suggestions for future development.

1) What Teaching Methods Work Well:

Student feedback regarding effective teaching methods in negotiation course delivery in Hong Kong include the following key insights: students enjoy learning about the connection between collaborative negotiation and ancient Chinese texts, group mixing/experience sharing, and the integration of technology in classroom teaching (including a course website and video illustrations).

Connecting selected elements of problem solving negotiation with ancient Confucian text provides a sense of context and connection between ancient wisdom and contemporary practice.  Increasingly, the link between our vision of social order and the development of systems of dispute resolution has increasingly been made explicit.  For example, Lawrence Freedman writes that systems of justice stand “in close relationship to the ideas, aims, and purposes of society.”[1]  Sun Li Bo adds that, “differing thought processes have lead to differences in the understanding of the concept of justice and the way to put this ideal into practice.”[2]

In the negotiation course we discuss that in traditional China, justice was seen as the achievement of harmony.  According to Sun Li Bo, the concept of justice was “based on morality, from which one… brings harmony to a family, and skillfully administers a country.” [3] During the period surrounding the Warring States, Confucius saw the Chinese empire plagued by interstate war, rebellion, intrigue and immorality and faced with the challenge of providing sustenance to a significantly large population on a very limited percentage of arable land.  According to Phyllis G. Chew, “the major question of the time was how people could live in peace.”[4]

Inspired by the great teachings of the past[5], Confucius sought to contribute to harmony through promulgating principles of virtue and forgiveness.  These principles became integrated into China’s unique system of dispute prevention and resolution, called tiaojie meaning to “reunite” or “bind together.”  For centuries, tiaojie was used to resolve the majority of all civil disputes in China.

Emphasizing harmony among the collective, for centuries, tiaojie was the preferred method of dispute resolution, and considered superior to adjudication.[6]  Some have considered tiaojie to resemble mediation with elements of arbitration.  When broken down into its literal meaning, tiao meant ‘to mix or stir’ and ‘jie’ meant ‘solution.’ Therefore, tiaojie denoted a means by which individuals could restore harmony through compromise and forgiveness.

In practice, tiaojie focused on resolving disputes through a network of local peacemakers charged with assisting disputing parties to compromise, yield and finally come to a negotiated resolution. These peacemakers intervened in conflict situations and encouraged disputing parties to yield, forgive, or compromise for the sake of harmony—even in the face of “unreasonable disputants.”

If one gets into fights with others, one should look into oneself to find the blame.  It is better to be wronged than to wrong others…Even if the other party is unbearably unreasonable, one should contemplate the fact that the ancient sages had to endure much more.  If one remains tolerant and forgiving, one will be able to curb the other party’s violence.[7]

The following case study recorded in Shantung province gives a sense of the  primacy of harmony in the context of tiaojie.  In particular, we see how peacemakers worked to encourage parties to “meet half way,” “admit their own mistake,” and eventually “share the expenses equally” irregardless of fault.[8]

First, the invited or self-appointed village leaders come to the involved parties to find out the real issues at stake, and also to collect opinions from other villagers concerning the background of the matter.  Then they evaluate the case according to their past experience and propose a solution.  In bringing the two parties to accept the proposal, the peacemakers have to go back and forth until the opponents are willing to meet half way.  Then a formal party is held either in the village or in the market town, to which are invited the mediators, the village leaders, clan heads, and the heads of the two disputing families.  The main feature of the party is a feast.  While it is in progress, the talk may concern anything except the conflict…If the controversy is settled in a form of “negotiated peace,” that is both parties admit their mistakes, the expenses will be equally shared…thus the conflict is resolved.[9]

In discussions in class, we examine the differences and similarities between a problem solving negotiation approach and tiaojie.  This provides an opportunity to reflect on assumptions regarding the negotiation process.

Students also expressed appreciation for the requirement that each new simulation/small group be conducted with entirely new set of students as well as the invitation to students to share reflections from professional and personal experience.

Finally, students also had the opportunity to continue discussions off-line using our interactive course website.  Students also appreciated the integration of video and short movie clips to illustrate various aspects of the negotiation process.

2) What Teaching Methods Might be Done Differently/Adjusted:.

Students shared that they would like to see more illustrations of effective problem solving negotiation processes.  In addition, some students desired more critical feedback, and a clear or roadmap of steps to follow in the negotiation process.

3) Recommendations for the Future:

In looking toward the future development of these courses, it seems that one area of potential investigation is the inclusion of a course assignment requiring students to engage in experiential learning through the attempt at resolving some real-life existing problems that the students face, either in the workplace, dorm environments or the community at large.  This hand-on applied element of the negotiation course aims to be inclusive of multiple environments, cultural contexts and learning styles and aims to integrate theoretical learning into practical application.


[1] Friedman, Lawrence M, The Legal System, A Social Science Perspective (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1975)

[2] Sun Li Bo, “Morality, Law and Religion: A Comparison of Three Concepts of Justice” in Towards the Most Great Justice, edited by Charles O. Lerche, The Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996.

[3] Sun Li Bo, “Morality, Law and Religion: A Comparison of Three Concepts of Justice” in Towards the Most Great Justice, edited by Charles O. Lerche, The Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996.

[4] Chew, Phillis Ghim Lian, The Chinese Religion and the Bahá’í Faith, (Oxford: George Ronald, 1993)

[5] In addition to Buddhism, see: Chew, Phillis Ghim Lian, The Chinese Religion and the Bahá’í Faith, (Oxford: George Ronald, 1993)

[6] Stanley Lubman, “Mao and Mediation: Politics and Dispute Resolution in Communist China”, 55(5) California Law Review 1284 (1967). P. 1290.

[7]  Taga Akigoro, Sofuku no kenkyu (Tokyo: Tokyo bunko, 1960).  In:Ebrey, Patricia. Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook (New York: The Free Press, 1993). P 604-608.

[8]  During this time, the concept of ‘gain’ was understood as the happiness of the majority. See: Lieberthal, Kenneth, Governing China (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995). P. 16.

[9] M. Yang, A Chinese Village: Taitou, Shantung Province 134 (1945) quoted in: Lubman, Stanley, “Mao and Mediation: Politics and Dispute Resolution in Communist China”, 55(5) California Law Review 1284 (1967).

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