Public interest law as concept and practice emerged in the US in the early 20th century and was expanded in connection with the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The concept has to a large degree been imported from the West where it has travelled from the US to other jurisdictions and been somewhat transformed along the way. Litigation, petitioning and advocacy activities in the name of the public interest have during the last decade been used by Chinese lawyers and activists in order to strengthen the protection of the rights of Chinese citizens. This article analyzes the version of public interest law developed in China, tailored to the distinguishing features of the social and political system there. The public interest label is used as it is less politically sensitive than terms like civil society or human rights protection.