Professor Miao Zhang is the director for the Center of Criminal Law at the Law School of Nanjing University, a top university in China, where he has taught since 2006. He began his teaching career in 2003 as a lecturer at the Ningbo Institute of Zhejiang University. He also teaches classes at the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies.
Prof. Zhang’s research focuses on comparative criminal law, and legal reform – especially on criminal sanctions in modern China.
Currently, Prof. Zhang teaches Chinese Criminal Law, Foreign Criminal Law (Anglo-American and continental), Economic Crimes (or “white-collar” crimes), International Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure in Chinese. In English, he teaches Chinese Criminal Justice and Criminal Law for a class of international students.
We sat down with him to discuss his research and his experience at SLU LAW and in St. Louis.
What drew you to SLU LAW as a visiting international scholar?
At first, I did not know where to go. After the encouragement and detailed introduction of Prof. Chad Flanders, who served as a Fulbright Scholar at the Law School of Nanjing University in 2012-13, I decided to connect with SLU LAW, where I got an enthusiastic reply.
What have you been researching while at SLU LAW? How has it contributed to your overall understanding of criminal law?
I have attended classes at SLU LAW and have learned a lot about American teaching methods, legal writing and also certain substantive areas of law. I took Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, American Legal History and Legal Writing, while for my projects I researched comparative perspectives on criminal law reform. I also regularly attended faculty workshops. I think all the academic activities provided me with a new angle to reconsider Chinese criminal law. One of the biggest differences I noticed between the U.S. and Chinese criminal justice systems was the conditions of the jails and rights of criminal defendants.
What do you see as the benefits for a legal scholar to travel to a foreign country to do research?
I’m pretty familiar with the Chinese criminal justice system, and when China looks to reform its law, it mostly looks to Japan and Germany, which are two countries that have influenced China in the past. Compared to these countries, the U.S. seems totally different, and I feel I’ve gotten a better sense of what “criminal law” is generally, and not just how it’s been practiced in my country and countries like it. And of course, it’s always interesting to see how different countries approach the same problems, and to see what obligations they think the government has when it comes to the criminal law.
What do you think of U.S. legal education?
I heard a lot about U.S. legal education and the U.S. criminal justice system from my colleagues and the news before I arrived in St. Louis. However, after a year here, I found that I had a lot to learn about U.S. law schools, criminal sanctions and criminal sentencing guidelines. Most importantly, I learned that the legal clinics play a very important role in U.S. legal education, and I hope to emphasize the importance of practical training when I return to China.
Which SLU LAW professors have you worked with?
Prof. Chad Flanders and Dean Anders Walker gave me great help both in the classroom and on academic research. I learned a lot by attending classes by Prof. Molly J. Walker Wilson and Prof. Kelly Mulholland.
What do you think about the SLU LAW community?
I really love the SLU LAW community, which is a harmonious family. All are friendly and kind to me. I took part in games of table tennis, basketball and other events besides academic workshops and lectures.
What do you think about life in St. Louis?
St. Louis is a good place to live, with good food, good museums and fresh air, although the winter was rather cold! I really love the city and have visited a lot of amazing places, including many museums, parks and churches. I think the Gateway Arch is my favorite. I brought my son to the top of the Arch several times during different seasons to look at the city and river. I also enjoyed Forest Park and often rode my bicycle to visit the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri History Museum. Finally, Castlewood National Park and the Botanical Garden were also very interesting.
From your perspective, why would an international student benefit from studying here?
I would definitely recommend it. I met some international students from Switzerland, France and Ireland who really enjoyed studying at SLU LAW and living in St. Louis. They got not only excellent academic training and legal knowledge, but also the harmony and happiness of being in the SLU “family.”