We all know a story of someone who signed a contract written in a language they did not understand. It seems China has the same complaint. I would like to present two stories that might hit home for multilingual lawyers.
This article in Xinhuanet shares stories of Americans in China who are of the view that contracts in China should either be in English or, if they are in Chinese, should not apply to them even when signed. The Xinhua article highlights William Arrington, an American who found out the hard way that a Chinese apartment lease contract he signed actually applied to him even though he did not understand it. When the housing management company came to collect maintenance fees, Arrington argued: “Isn’t that included in the monthly rent?”
“No, the contract says clearly that the maintenance fees are not included in the rent,” he was told.
Mr. Arrington proposed a fail-safe solution to prevent someone else from falling prey to the legal problems that he incurred. Arrington suggested that the government make it a rule requiring all contracts involving foreigners be bilingual.
The article in Xinhuanet brought up another story speaking to a problem in the same vein. James Baquet was a teacher in China whose landlord spoke English. “My landlord is a Chinese lawyer who speaks good English and he explained the lease terms to me. I had to rely on him, although I did not know if I should trust him,” said Baquet. So, he signed the contract but added a line below his name: I CANNOT READ CHINESE.
Wang Xinle, a lawyer with Shentiancheng Law Firm, said Chinese law did not require bilingual copies for all contracts involving foreigners. By signing their names, parties to a contract agree to its terms. Baquet’s note that he could not read Chinese did not help him. As Dan Harris, attorney at Harris & Moure, pllc, commented, “If you sign a contract written in Chinese, it is a valid contract whether you understand Chinese or not.”
I couldn’t help but read this article and draw parallels between China and the U.S. While the American legal market may be oversaturated right now, these stories highlight contract issues that arise worldwide as well as the need for multilingual attorneys.