Sovereign Power and the Law in China

Zones of Exception in the Criminal Justice System


Flora Sapio

In China the coexistence of arbitrary detention and a transition towards a rule of law is either seen as an oxymoron, or as an aberration. This book analyses under-researched institutions and practices in China’s criminal justice system, arguing that derogations from the rule of law constitute an organic component of the legal order. Hidden behind the law, there lies sovereign power, a power premised on the choice to handle certain issues through procedures that derogate from rights. This theoretically sophisticated study overcomes the current impasses in analyses of China’s criminal justice. The result is an highly innovative reading of law and legality in the PRC, useful to scholars of contemporary China, mainstream political theorists, philosophers of law and policy makers.

"This important book heralds a new chapter in the comparative study of Chinese law and presents and analyses a tremendous wealth of information, above all from contemporary Chinese sources...[the book] provides a new basis for deeper comparisons of the emerging Chinese 'reforming Leninist' model with the 'rule of law' and its suspension in Western countries." - Magnus Fiskesjö, Cornell University

Sarah Biddulph, Elisa Nesossi, Flora Sapio and Susan Trevaskes

This article reviews forms of detention and their reforms in the People’s Republic of China (prc). We examine the changing scope and uses of both administrative and criminal detention powers in the reform period and the impact of changing politics, ideology, and law in reform of both detention powers and institutions.

In Part 1, we focus on the continuities and discontinuities in the ideology of punishment, the perceived role and uses of detention in shaping society and in social control. In Part 2, we explore the factors relevant to the reform or abolition of range of administrative detention powers. We seek to understand how reforms have occurred, where they have stalled and where they are now possible. We ask how relevant these considerations are to the reform of criminal detention powers and find some distinctive features, not least of which is the comparative rigidity brought about by legal codification. We also note that reform to some administrative detention powers has been accompanied by an expansion in the criminal justice system. Our analysis illustrates that not only is there a wide range of people that the Party-state considers deserve to be placed outside of society, but also that in contemporary China detention is still considered to be a very useful form of social management and control.