Thursday, September 27, 2007
Two cases from the last few years have got me thinking about the way Chinese criminal law thinks about responsibility for death. In the first case, a man was convicted of intentional homicide in Tianjin for allowing his wife to succeed in her suicide attempt. After a domestic spat, the wife had leapt into a sewer canal in an attempt to drown herself. The husband jumped in after her and attempted to coax her out. After she refused to do so, the husband returned to the bank, got out, and left. He then went to a relative's house, explained what had happened, and called police. By the time the police got to the scene almost an hour later, the wife was dead. Perhaps in recognition of these facts, the sentence was only six years - somewhat low, one would think, for a crime characterized as intentional homicide.
In the second case, a man caught a 17-year-old boy stealing his bicycle and, with the aid of two others, began beating him. The boy fled, eventually jumping into a river in an attempt to swim to the other side. Running out of strength, he began to swim back, but began sinking. The three men stood watching on the bank long enough to ensure that he had drowned and began to leave. They were in turn stopped by some boatmen, who kept them until the police arrived. The men were then charged with intentional homicide.
The second case doesn't seem to stretch traditional notions of homicide very far, if one views the men as having intentionally forced the boy into a life-threatening situation even though their original intention was probably not to kill him. The first case, however, is another matter.
Here I think we can separate out several issues: (1) What is the duty to help people generally? (2) What is the duty to help people with whom we have a special relationship? (3) What is the duty to help when the consequences of not doing so are fatal? My tentative hypothesis is that the first duty may be a bit stronger in China than in other countries, but probably not by much. I believe the second and third duties, though, are probably much stronger. In particular, the fact of death seems very important in Chinese criminal law; someone has to be held responsible.
Zhu Suli (朱苏力) in his book "Sending Law to the Countryside" (送法下乡) mentions a case in which the decedent (call him "D") had been drinking with two friends and was joyriding on a motorcycle around midnight. They ran two consecutive police checkpoints; when they approached the third, a policeman (Wang) fired two warning shots. After the motorcycle failed to stop, Wang fired again and hit one of the passengers (not D) in the leg. D continued driving the motorcycle for another kilometer until he collided with another vehicle and was killed. D's mother, who had lost her other son to drowning a year earlier, demanded Wang's arrest for murder. When the police refused, she committed suicide in protest. (Case summary taken semi-verbatim from Frank Upham, "Who Will Find the Defendant if He Stays With His Sheep? Justice in Rural China," 114 Yale L.J. 1675, 1683-84.)
The death of the motorcycle driver, and the subsequent death of the mother, put irresistible pressure on the local government to punish Wang. I think the criminal law as implemented in these cases reflects a genuine social belief that deaths don't just happen; someone needs to be held responsible. My hypothesis is that Wang's case and the case of the suicidal wife would have been seen quite differently if only injury had resulted, even though logically the cause-and-effect relationship would have been the same, and intentional injury is as much a crime as intentional homicide.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
If you were worried that having to deal with pollution, corruption, and the banking system might be distracting the Chinese government from more urgent social problems, you will welcome the news that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) is cracking down on "Super Girl"-type shows by banning mass audience voting via the internet or text messages and forcing such shows out of prime time. This regulation seems to be a follow-up on a regulation I blogged about last year that, among other things, forbade judges in such shows from making comments that hurt contestants' feelings.
Here's the Associated Press news report. The report says the text of the regulation is on the SARFT web site, but I couldn't find it. If anyone can find a link, please post it in the comments.
9/26 UPDATE: Here's a detailed report from the SARFT site. Still no actual text, though. Thanks to Ziyang Fan.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
In the wee hours of Sept. 22, plainclothes police apparently swept through the Sanlitun bar area in Beijing with dogs and stun batons, beating up every African-looking person (perhaps limited to males) on the street who could not give a good account of himself - apparently a good number of them in the view of the police. Here's a blog posting on the subject; an acquaintance of mine in Beijing states that someone who was in the area at the time telephoned him with substantially the same account.
Further comment would be superfluous.
9/23 UPDATE: Here's another blog post on the story. One commenter makes the good point that it's hard to explain this as a crackdown on drug dealers as such. There's a police station right near by; drug dealing has been rampant for years; it would be easy for an undercover officer to stand around taking pictures of drug deals. If they haven't managed to crack down yet, it's because they don't want to. More likely the word came down that Something Must Be Done and there was a high-visibility round-up to satisfy the higher-ups; things will soon be back to normal.
9/27 UPDATE: Here's an eyewitness report.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Although the Supreme People's Court (and everyone else who knows) still keeps the number a secret, they want people to believe that the number of executions has declined and have so informed the China Daily. Maybe it's true. The news report is here.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Dr. Flora Sapio, a researcher at Lund University in Sweden, has a blog called "Forgotten Archipelagoes" that is mostly about detention in China but, as she says, not just detention, and not just in China. Check out the right hand side of the blog page for interesting links.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Lund University in Sweden is offering postdoctoral fellowships for research concerning contemporary East and South-East Asia, principally from social sciences, economics, and humanities perspectives. This would of course include Chinese law. For more information, see the application information here.
Monday, September 3, 2007
Transnational Law and Business University (Korea) seeks faculty to teach Chinese law (and other subjects)
I have received the following announcement from Transnational Law and Business University in Korea. Please note that although is says the due date is 25 Aug. 2007, this is not correct; they are still accepting applications. I don't know what the actual deadline is.
The China Labour Bulletin, Han Dongfang's Hong Kong-based NGO, has just issued an English-language report on child labor in China. It is a revised and updated version of a Chinese-language report issued last year.
Given the current almost toxic zeitgeist about all things Chinese (at least inside the Beltway, where I live), it's important to stress that the CLB is a serious organization that produces high-quality and credible work. This is not just more China-bashing. Indeed, the report acknowledges the complexity of the issue at the very beginning:
Child labour in any society poses a complex challenge, one simultaneously ethical, legal and economic in nature, and China is no exception to this rule. The income generated by underage workers is often critical to a family’s overall livelihood, especially in the poorer rural areas from where most such workers originate, and so identifying “culprits” who can be suitably punished under the law is not always the best way to proceed. Indeed, except in the most egregious of cases,6 the sternly punitive approach may even be counterproductive, both by forcing this sector of the economy further underground and by pushing underprivileged families – and hence the children themselves – deeper into hardship and poverty.