This article surveys recent academic literature on the Supreme People’s Court of China, sorting existing studies into three basic categories: those that study what the Court is allowed to do, those that study what it actually does, and those that study why it does those things. Moving from the first category to the second and third is, in many ways, a progression from a predominantly formalist method to more realist ones. The article argues that the field suffers from a lack of rigorous political economy modeling and that this affects not only the thoroughness of studies in the third category, but also those in the first and second categories. Remedying these problems will depend on whether future scholarship can successfully make use of the theoretical and empirical tools developed by political science and institutional economics. Most importantly, the field needs to develop a usable model of individual judge behavior, based on their material incentives, political aspirations, and ideological commitments, which can then provide the foundation for modeling of the Court as an institution. At the early stage, ethnography and bibliographical analysis may be more useful than quantitative analysis.
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