Comparative Perspectives on Criminal Justice in China
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Comparative Perspectives on Criminal Justice in China

Edited by Mike McConville and Eva Pils

Comparative Perspectives on Criminal Justice in China is an anthology of chapters on the contemporary criminal justice system in mainland China, bringing together the work of recognised scholars from China and around the world.
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Chapter 15: Legal erosion and the policing of petitions

Flora Sapio


In a Beijing courtroom, the judge brought down his gavel and declared the man who stood before him guilty of intentional wounding, sentencing him to ten years imprisonment. The defendant, Wang Yujun, the deputy director of Hongxing public security station had tortured Zhang Jianshe, a criminal suspect (Wang, 2007). Cases such as this demonstrate how the separation between law and power has increased, even though the law may still be used to legitimate state power. Wang Yujun was subsequently made unable to torture suspects, so the law was eventually able to restrain state coercion. A man in power, he was held responsible for his actions, signalling that not only citizens, but also officials are accountable to the law. Chinese law is becoming more and more autonomous (Nonet and Selznick, 1978). If this is the case, and we know that to a certain extent it is, why then do some citizens indeed disappear (Nonet and Selznick, 1978)? While unlawful detentions may involve a minority of Chinese citizens, any deliberate use of state power to crush rights – no matter on what grounds, scale or with what frequency – reveals that ‘something rotten’ (Benjamin, 1921) still exists in the law. In this chapter, I attempt to understand how this ‘something’ managed to sneak through legal reform.

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