In This Review

Chinese Justice: Civil Dispute Resolution in Contemporary China
Chinese Justice: Civil Dispute Resolution in Contemporary China
By
Cambridge University Press, 2011, 432 pp

According to the contributors to this volume, the Chinese government tries to channel citizen disputes away from protests and petitions and into the courts, which practice both mediation and adjudication. But few citizens actually use the courts, and those who do are often dissatisfied with the outcome. Judges, who are civil servants, are graded on a point system that motivates them to check pending decisions in advance with higher courts, lest they lose points for making mistakes. Citizens seeking justice often take their cases to the media, the Internet, and the street, and courts often respond to such pressure with decisions favoring those litigants who have pushed the hardest. Overseeing the entire court system is the Supreme People’s Court, which maintains a good deal of independence because its work is regarded as too technical for either the ruling party or the legislature to manage. Yet the highest court instructs lower-court judges that their primary responsibility is to support social stability, rather than defend citizen rights. It has also resisted attempts by pioneering lawyers to use the constitution to overrule government regulations. It is no surprise, then, that Chinese citizens remain unconvinced that they can find justice in court.