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Maintaining social harmony and stability for the sake of economic development is a key rationale behind the social control strategy of the Chinese government. Since early 2000, the Chinese government has gradually changed the focus of its social control from the harsh “Strike Hard” campaigns with disappointing effectiveness to the softer “Balancing lenience and severity” policy. Under this circumstance, the government has been promoting several restorative reforms in China as important parts of the “lenient end”.
This doctoral research project aims at examining the current restorative mediation programs (people’s mediation, criminal reconciliation and traditional De Gu mediation) by the Chinese government to see how they can work and what resistance to promoting them can be encountered.
People’s mediation is a massive mechanism of resolving civil disputes in China. It is regarded by the Chinese government as the first line of preventing civil cases from deteriorating into criminal ones. Criminal reconciliation was born from a startlingly large and universal top-down restorative reform after the implementation of 2012 Criminal Procedural Law.
De Gu mediation is a particular bottom-up form of indigenous justice in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which in the recent decade has been embraced by the formal justice system by inviting respected tribal leaders who, to some extent, can use their traditional law in court, to resolve disputes between villagers.
By interviews with government officials, village leaders and stakeholders and observations in mediation settings, Ian’s research mainly investigates the hypotheses that:
In reality, people’s mediation is a mechanism that resolves disputes beyond the civil domain, but social and cultural transitions have greatly reduced its popularity, despite their strong promotion by the Chinese government.
Nation-wide criminal reconciliation runs into profound resistance from the failure to energetically diffuse the reforming message and overcome the inertia of the bureaucracy in the Chinese criminal justice system, the dramatic social transitions and the inadequate legislation of the criminal reconciliation law. Consequently, restorativeness, and can prove elusive.
De Gu mediation is more restorative because on one hand, the institutionalization of indigenous justice enhances its legitimacy and stability; on other hand, the relative autonomy and well-preserved traditional values in the Yi People region can reduce bureaucratic resistance and offer a communitarian setting that facilitates the restorativeness of mediation.
This research will encourage a more rounded global understanding of restorative justice by contributing a big Chinese story to restorative justice scholarship.
About the Author
Yan (Ian) Zhang commenced his PhD program at RegNet in July 2015. He is the recipient of a RegNet Scholarship and HDR Merit Scholarship. Currently, Ian is the secretary of the Asian Criminological Society and works as the managing editor of the Asian Journal of Criminology.