Liu Wanfu: Defender of Social Justice



IN 2006, Liu Wanfu, one of Jiangsu Province’s leading lawyers, founded the first individually-owned law firm of Nanjing, capital of the province. Well established in his field, he believes a good lawyer should be righteous, conversant in legal knowledge and ready to lend a helping hand and shoulder due social responsibility. These are the standards he requires of his employees.

A Righteous Man

Born into a farming family, Liu Wanfu is an upright and plain character. Intelligent and studious, he was immediately granted a place at a national medical school upon graduation from junior middle school, so benefiting from reforms in China’s education system. At medical school, he came to understand the value of compassion, a quality that would later become a pivotal force in his legal practice.

Liu has taken on many cases at no charge and always displays a readiness to help socially disadvantaged groups. In one case, when representing an orphan named Xue, he traveled on numerous occasions to the mountainous area where the orphan lived in order to obtain irrefutable evidence of the crime committed against him. He was successful in winning proper compensation and bringing the criminals to justice. In another case, he represented the Chang family, whose four members were badly burned. Liu attended over 10 court sessions at the first and second instances, and won compensation of more than RMB four million, which enabled the desperate family to make a new start.

Liu regards law practitioners as the elite of a country whose duty is to maintain social justice. Therefore, they need to cultivate high moral integrity. He believes lawyers are guardians of social fairness and justice through their conscience and wisdom, which makes them different from businessmen. Liu was a public health doctor for eight years. He said a doctor’s duty is to save lives through benevolence and medical knowledge, while a lawyer saves lives by safeguarding people’s legal rights through their principles and wits.

A Master of Law

In 1986, Liu started his two-year career in public health supervision. In his spare time he participated in independent law studies sponsored by Anhui University. Three years later, he passed all necessary exams and graduated as one of the first group of law professionals to obtain their degrees through independent study. Then, in 1990, 27-year-old Liu passed China’s Bar Examination on his first attempt. After an internship, he was transferred to a local law firm and formally became a lawyer.

Liu recognized that to be a good lawyer and develop a deeper insight into the workings of the law, one had to constantly expand one’s knowledge in various fields. Accordingly, aged 35, Liu attended the graduate school of Nanjing University to study sociology. Soon afterwards he entered the Institute of Psychology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences to delve into psychology. In 2008, aged 45, Liu joined a doctoral candidate class in judicial science at the School of International Law under the China University of Political Science and Law. In 2010, despite his busy schedule, Liu still found time to attend classes on traditional Chinese learning sponsored by Nanjing University, and the EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration) class at Southeast University.

His unwavering and assiduous endeavors have rewarded him handsomely. Not only has he become an inter-disciplinary expert with a professional background in law, medicine, sociology, psychology, traditional Chinese learning and management, but also more skillful and mature in his law practices.

Over more than 20 years, Liu has taken up more than 1,000 cases involving various fields of law, like criminal, civil, administrative and non-litigation. With his insightful understanding of law and rich experience, Liu has turned some major and tricky cases into classic examples for fledgling lawyers to study.

And he has fought some significant opponents: In 2001, Liu, representing a professor of Southeast University, sued the Nanjing 120 Emergency Center, China’s first suit against a public service agency demanding damage compensation.

In 2002, Liu achieved a first win in cases safeguarding sexual rights in China. This was widely reported by domestic and overseas media, like The Australian, Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, Shanghai’s Dragon TV and CCTV, as a significant breakthrough in traditional Chinese ethics. It was considered a landmark of China’s progress in human rights protection, and also as the most humane verdict by some insiders. The case, inventively handled by Liu, not only made him widely recognized abroad, but set an excellent example of how rule of law in China can be humanized.

Another case in 2002 again brought Liu into the spotlight. A woman named Zhang sued a local property management company for illegal demolition by force, reported in CCTV’s “Legal Report” as a typical case. With the headline “Wrong Construction, Wrong Demolition,” the program invited Liu to elucidate legal aspects of the case.

Liu’s reputation preceded him. In 2003, a prestigious Hong Kong businessman called Zheng traveled to Nanjing to ask Liu for his help. Zheng had donated around RMB 70 million to finance a school in his hometown Huai’an of Jiangsu Province. However, despite its own breaching of the agreed contract, the local contractor sued Mr. Zheng and demanded a default fine of about RMB 1 million. The local court was biased towards the contractor’s evidence and supported its claim, issuing a verdict that the financed school had breached the agreement and should pay compensation to the contractor. The unjust judgment greatly harmed Zheng’s patriotic sensibilities. As a member of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, Liu prioritized the case and carried out a detailed investigation. At the trial of second instance, Liu delivered a potent argument; Jiangsu Provincial High Court fully adopted Liu’s view and repealed the first instance judgment. It gave a verdict affirming the contractor as the default party and ordered the contractor to compensate all losses the school had suffered. Mr. Zheng was so pleased with the outcome he donated another RMB 10 million. For the rest of his life, Zheng continued to contribute; eventually, his donations totaled over RMB 130 million.

In 1998, Liu answered the country’s call to establish partnership law firms. He quit his job at a state-owned law office and joined a partnership law firm. In 2005, with his outstanding performance in the legal field recognized, Liu was selected as one of Jiangsu’s Top Ten Lawyers. Having studied Western practices in setting up law firms, Liu weighed up domestic reform trends on the subject and founded the first individually-owned law firm in Nanjing in 2006. For the last seven years, his business has developed steadily.

A Man of Social Conscience

Chinese Confucianism has a creed: “A man of noble character favors righteousness and takes delight in upholding justice.” Liu is an adherent of this creed. As a beneficiary of the government’s program to promote legal knowledge, Liu is keen on helping more people benefit from it, and often organizes activities to promote legal knowledge. In a similar vein, he often appears as a special guest on Jiangsu TV to analyze and solve legal conundrums for the public, thereby popularizing legal knowledge with specific cases, promoting the idea of rule of law and arousing people’s admiration for law. In addition, Liu also gives lectures to law students and acts as a reserve officer to give law lectures to the military. What both transcends and underpins Liu’s legal work is his love of philanthropy. He has contributed to organizations such as Jiangsu Provincial Charity Federation as well as local impoverished citizens. In 2012, he set up the Liu Wanfu Fellowship in Nanjing Agricultural University, providing scholarships to excellent students.

In 2009, invited by the National Bar Association, Liu gave a speech entitled “Strategies and Tactics for Individual-owned Law Firms” at the National Lawyer Forum. His paper “Bringing the Role of Scientific Planning in Urban Rule of Law into Full Play” garnered an award at the 2009 Jiangsu High-level Forum on Rule of Law, during which he also delivered a speech. Liu’s involvement in disseminating information on law is also palpable in the publishing world. As a deputy editor-in-chief, he compiled the book Fight for Noble Causes – Classic Cases of Contemporary China.

In 2013, Liu held a reception for Kyle D. Latimer, legal counsel of the U.S. embassy in China, and his visiting group. Liu gave a presentation about his law firm’s development and China’s progress in legal aid and execution of criminal law. Based on his own experience, Liu projected a positive image of a Chinese lawyer to major players in American law.

Cultivating the Next


When reflecting on his past achievements and future course, Liu firmly bears in mind his father’s words: “Be good in what you choose to do.” In Liu’s view, since he has chosen a legal career, which lays a high demand on social responsibilities for its practitioners, he should be courageous in his work and do it well.

Liu’s deep morality is also reflected in his daily life: He sticks to a low-carbon environmentally-friendly living concept and, until now, has not bought his own apartment, choosing instead to rent one close to his office, which allows him to reduce his car use. He believes in the creed, “Diligence brings about career success, and frugality shapes virtues.”

Inevitably, Liu’s acts and virtues have influenced his family. He encouraged his daughter, a journalism major, to study law, which she did at Nanjing University, completing the course in only one and a half years by self-study. In 2011, she passed the National Judicial Examination with an excellent performance mark, 82 points higher than the national pass mark. Today, she is a practicing lawyer like her father, and continues to improve herself with further study in the U.S.

Liu is devoted to cultivating young lawyers at his firm. He not only provides guidance in their legal practices, but also pays attention to their character building. He instills in them the concept that as legal professionals, they should have a sense of social responsibility and be just in their deeds to uphold the reputation of lawyers.

(HUANG YUANJUN is a freelance journalist.)