In a groundbreaking work, Klaus Mühlhahn offers a comprehensive examination of the criminal justice system in modern China, an institution deeply rooted in politics, society, and culture.
In late imperial China, flogging, tattooing, torture, and servitude were routine punishments. Sentences, including executions, were generally carried out in public. After 1905, in a drive to build a strong state and curtail pressure from the West, Chinese officials initiated major legal reforms. Physical punishments were replaced by fines and imprisonment. Capital punishment, though removed from the public sphere, remained in force for the worst crimes. Trials no longer relied on confessions obtained through torture but were instead held in open court and based on evidence. Prison reform became the centerpiece of an ambitious social-improvement program.
After 1949, the Chinese communists developed their own definitions of criminality and new forms of punishment. People’s tribunals were convened before large crowds, which often participated in the proceedings. At the center of the socialist system was “reform through labor,” and thousands of camps administered prison sentences. Eventually, the communist leadership used the camps to detain anyone who offended against the new society, and the “crime” of counterrevolution was born.
Mühlhahn reveals the broad contours of criminal justice from late imperial China to the Deng reform era and details the underlying values, successes and failures, and ultimate human costs of the system. Based on unprecedented research in Chinese archives and incorporating prisoner testimonies, witness reports, and interviews, this book is essential reading for understanding modern China.
In this ambitious work of prodigious research and thoughtful analysis, Mühlhahn takes readers beyond a simple account of legal and institutional development to offer a more nuanced interpretive framework. This is an important contribution that significantly advances our knowledge of twentieth-century Chinese criminal justice.
This book rewards readers with the first comprehensive description of twentieth-century Chinese legal punishment as discourse, norm, and experience. Mühlhahn offers images of human dignity even in the most dehumanizing circumstances. He argues that in China a civic legal tradition has taken root and survived despite the interventions of totalitarian regimes and revolutionary struggles. A must-read for anyone with a serious interest in human rights in China.
In an outstanding study that stretches from imperial times up to the present, Mühlhahn takes punishment, not rights, to be at the core of the Chinese criminal justice system. In doing so, he changes the way we think about Chinese social control and deepens our understanding not just of the criminal justice system but of China more generally. This is an erudite work with a big argument. It is also exciting and novel, and I recommend it highly.
This is the most important work in a generation on criminal justice in China, past and present. Mühlhahn explores the theories, values, politics, and personal experiences that have defined crime and punishment in modern Chinese states. He puts forth compelling and chilling new research on communist "reform through labor" concentration camps--a vast system that within a decade of the founding of Mao's "New China" had enslaved tens of millions of Chinese. This is a book, then, not only on criminal justice, but also on criminals in power.
Here is an example of the best kind of Sinological scholarship together with the blackest possible indictment of the Chinese criminal-justice system...Mühlhahn shows that China's criminal-justice system today has arisen from political violence, and the result is "suffering that for millions [has] encompassed pain, anguish, fear, loss, grief, and the destruction of a coherent and meaningful reality."
- 2009, Winner of the John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History
- 376 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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