Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An anti-slavery law for China?

Wuge In response to the scandal of the Shanxi brick-kiln slaves, lawyer and activist Wu Ge (吴革) has submitted a proposed amendment to the Criminal Law defining and criminalizing slavery. For various reasons as explained in the proposal and in an interview, he believes that existing laws (for example, laws against unlawful detention, assault, etc.) do not in fact adequately cover this phenomenon.

The text of the proposed addition to the Criminal Law is as follows: "以暴力或者暴力威胁,采取诱骗,精神控制,经济控制等方式,意在使他人被役使或役使他人的行为。一般情节判处5年以下有期徒刑,并处罚金;情节严重的,判处5年以上有期徒刑,并处罚金;情节特别严重的,判处无期徒刑,并处没收财产。同时构成其他犯罪的,数罪并罚。" I think there is a slight error in the text as reported; the period should probably be a comma. I would translate roughly as follows: "The act of using means such as trickery, mental control, economic control, etc. with violence or the threat of violence, to compel another to labor or with the intention of causing another to be compelled to labor, shall in ordinary circumstances be punished by up to 5 years of penal servitude and a fine; where the circumstances are serious, a sentence of 5 or more years and a fine shall be imposed; where the circumstances are especially serious, a sentence of life imprisonment shall be imposed and property shall be confiscated. Where the act constitutes another crime, punishment for multiple crimes shall be imposed."

This language is still a bit vague. The key term, yishi (役使), is not defined; since its general meaning is "to compel to labor," using it just shifts the definitional problem from "slavery" to "compelled labor." The use of violence (or the threat thereof) seems to be a parallel requirement with the use of methods such as "trickery, mental control, economic control, etc.," but it's not completely clear. Why, for example, is it not sufficient simply to use violence to compel another to labor? Why do we need the additional language about trickery, mental control, economic control, etc.?

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