The Politics of Law and Stability in China

The Politics of Law and Stability in China

Edited by Susan Trevaskes, Elisa Nesossi, Flora Sapio and Sarah Biddulph

The Politics of Law and Stability in China examines the nexus between social stability and the law in contemporary China. It explores the impact of Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rationales for social stability on legal reforms, criminal justice operations and handling of disputes and social unrest inside and outside China’s justice agencies.

Chapter 7: Death sentencing for stability and harmony

Susan Trevaskes

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, asian politics and policy, law - academic, asian law, human rights, politics and public policy, asian politics


Death sentencing may sound discordant with notions of stability and harmony. But the death sentence has an obscure place in the law–politics–stability nexus as it operates to stabilize and harmonize Chinese society. This chapter examines an important but largely overlooked aspect of the Chinese justice system; the use of exemplar cases promulgated by superior justice organs – the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) – to ‘guide’ judicial and prosecutorial decision-making in lower courts and procuracies. China’s SPC has long used ‘reference cases’ (cankao anli), otherwise known as ‘standard cases’ (dianxing anli), to illustrate best practice and educate the local ranks in best-practice decision-making. This is a case referencing system whereby exemplar cases are promulgated to local jurisdictions to guide understanding of new judicial interpretations, sentencing guidelines, opinions, law or policy. In November 2010 the SPC and SPP announced the establishment of a new ‘case guidance system’ (anli zhidao zhidu). The SPC and SPP select reference cases and ‘upgrade’ them to guiding cases, giving them more authoritative clout: the crucial difference is that local courts are now compelled to cite guiding cases in the judgments of similar cases.

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