Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Possession of state secrets in the Chinese law on defection

In my last post I translated the part of the Criminal Law dealing with defection. It calls for enhanced punishment for state personnel who defect while possessing state secrets. The Chinese term used here for "possess" is 掌握 zhangwo. A colleague emailed me to note that this should be understood here to mean simply knowing state secrets, not necessarily physically possessing them. I completely agree. While zhangwo literally means "to grasp in the palm of the hand", when I think about it I don't think I've ever heard it used other than metaphorically.

On the other hand, that poses a problem: since only state personnel can commit this crime, and the definition of state secrets is so broad that it is impossible to imagine any state employee who does not know at least some state secrets, what is intended by the language about enhanced punishment? Who would not be eligible?

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