Letter from China

Shanghai lawyer

I often think back to my student days in Amsterdam. Walking across the beautiful inner square of Oudemanhuispoort with my legal texts, past the book market and along the canals towards Spui.

Kristie Tien

Kristie Tien

How very different my life is as a lawyer in China. Every day I put on my facemask and cycle to work through the busy streets of Shanghai. My neighbourhood – the French Concession – is a lively, multicultural mix of local Chinese shops and ‘expat’ restaurants and cafés.

My journey from being a student in Amsterdam to a lawyer in Shanghai was a pretty direct one. I started my legal career as a trainee lawyer in the business law department at a top-tier international law firm in Amsterdam. For four years, I devoted myself to giving legal advice on initial public offerings, mergers and takeovers. After a brief fling with international human rights law and a year as a legal researcher with an EU human rights agency, I ended up in China, which, for my architect husband, is the ultimate place to work.

China, of all places.

In fact, I'm half Chinese myself. I’ve done a lot of travelling around Asia in the past and feel at home with the culture and the way people communicate. But even so, moving here really required me to adapt in a big way. Working as a lawyer in China is completely different to what I was used to in the Netherlands. Chinese law and its application in practice is – well, how can I put this. It’s interesting. You know, but you don’t know, if you know what I mean.

An additional problem was my relationship with my Chinese colleagues upon whom I was entirely dependent, at least to start with. Communicating with each other was a challenge at first. Chinese lawyers have a completely different style of legal reasoning. We in the Netherlands learn to use law and applicable jurisprudence to find an answer to a specific legal question. We send our clients memoranda, in which we try to use accessible language to explain the applicable law and jurisprudence and to come up with a practical and creative solution to a problem.

In China, they approach things in a different way. They know the law, because it’s crammed into them as students, but they’re forced to spend time calling various authorities on the phone to ask how the law is put into practice. Chinese clients don’t appreciate being sent a memorandum. They just want you to solve the problem and pull the right strings.

After a few years in China – drawing on my full reserve of persistence and patience – I do now feel very at home both in Chinese law and its practice, and I enjoy working with my Chinese colleagues on a wide range of issues. We provide advice on Chinese business law, labour law and the protection of intellectual property. Every day is different in Shanghai, life thunders along at high speed and every day I meet the most fascinating people through my work and social life.

Will I ever want to return to the Netherlands with my family? Eventually, but as long as Shanghai life continues to excite and inspire me, I’m happy to stay! 

Kristie Tien – 1979


2005  Dutch Law at the UvA 
2006 - 2009 trainee lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Amsterdam 
2010 legal researcher European Union Agency Fundamental Rights, Vienna 
2011 - present foreign registered lawyer HIL International Lawyers & Advisers, Shanghai 
as of October 2013                            vice-chair of the UvA Shanghai Alumni Circle *

* The University of Amsterdam is keen to stay in touch with its alumni in China. We also want to help alumni get in touch with each other. On 25 September 2013, during a visit by UvA Executive Board president Louise Gunning, we established the UvA China Chapter, with local circles in Beijing and Shanghai. As the vice-chair of the UvA Shanghai alumni circle, Kristie Tien represents UvA alumni there.

Published by  Bureau Alumnirelaties en Universiteitsfonds

24 June 2014