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China is a large country with a total land area of 9.6 million square
kilometres, and more than 1 billion people which amounts to one fourth
of the world population.
People's Republic of China was established as a socialist country in
1949. Since then, efforts have been made to enact basic laws concerning
criminal justice administration. It was in 1979, after the period of
"Cultural Revolution" which lasted for ten years, that the Criminal Law
and Criminal Procedure Law were enacted. At the same time, laws
concerning the organization and function of the courts and public
prosecution were also re-organized. Basic laws with regard to the
lawyers, arrest and detention of the suspects, civil suit procedures,
marriages, etc. have been established.
The Chinese Criminal Law takes the concept of Marxism, Leninism and Mao
Zedong as its guide. It proclaims that its tasks are to use criminal
punishments to struggle against all counter-revolutionary and other
criminal acts in order to safeguard the system of the people's
democratic dictatorship and the smooth progress of the course of
The Law takes the Constitution as its basis. Article 28 of the
Constitution stipulates that "The State maintains public order and
suppresses treasonable and other counter-revolutionary activities; it
penalizes acts that endanger public security and disrupt the socialist
economy and other criminal activities, and punishes and reforms
Since 1979, higher legal education has considerably developed through
universities and other institutions. High priority is being given to
publicizing information on the legal system through, eg. the China Law
Journal, and many provincial and municipal journals, magazines and
newspapers. Law education has been introduced in the primary, middle
and other schools. Studies, symposia and public lectures are often
organized in factories, mines, rural communes and brigades in order to
give increased publicity to the Constitution and other laws.
The age for bearing criminal responsibility is sixteen. Minors under
the age of fourteen are entirely exempted from criminal responsibility,
even if they commit acts harmful to society. Minors aged fourteen but
under the age of sixteen shall partially bear criminal responsibility,
that is to say they are responsible criminally only in cases involving
murder and manslaughter, serious injury, robbery, arson, habitual theft
or other acts seriously undermining social order. For delinquents aged
fourteen to seventeen but younger than eighteen, the Law requires a
lenient punishment - to be specific, a lessor penalty within the range
of the legally-prescribed punishment. When minors are not punished
because they are under sixteen, the heads of their families or their
guardians are to be ordered to subject them to discipline or when
necessary, the minors may be given shelter or rehabilitation by the
The crime rate in China has shown a drastic increase in recent years.
Still China remains one of the countries with the lowest crime rate in
the world. Of all the crimes reported, theft accounted for about 80%,
but the violent crimes like murder and robbery were also up. Crimes
associated with gangs abroad, such as trafficking in narcotics,
smuggling of gold and relics, and counterfeiting of currency and credit
cards also increased during 1988.
The Criminal Law provides that Principal Punishments are classified as
control, criminal detention, fixed term imprisonment, life imprisonment
and death penalty.
Control is a criminal penalty imposed for minor offences. The offender
continues to work in his place of employment and continues to receive
his normal wages, while undergoing the supervision of the public
security organs (police) and the masses. He is required to make
periodical reports on his circumstances to the public security organ
Criminal detention is a criminal penalty imposed for relatively minor
offences, and totally different from pre-trial detention. The criminal
on whom this penalty is imposed is deprived of his freedom and confined
in a detention house by the local organ of public security rather than
being put in prison. He may go home for one or two days each month and
be paid for work. The term of fixed-term imprisonment is not less than
six months and nor more than fifteen years. An offender sentenced to
fixed term imprisonment or life imprisonment is to have his sentence
executed in prison or in other place for reform through labour. Reform
through labour is to be carried out on any offender who is imprisoned,
as long as he has the ability to labour.
The death penalty is only to be applied to those offenders who commit
the most heinous crimes. The Criminal Law provides for two types of
death penalty viz. death penalty with two year suspension of execution
and death penalty without suspension of execution. The Law stipulates
that in the case of a criminal who should be sentenced to death, but for
whom immediate execution is not essential, a two-year suspension of
execution may be pronounced at the time the sentence of death is
imposed; the criminal will be put into prison and reform-through-labour
carried out and the results observed. If the criminal truly repents
during the period of suspension, he is to be given a reduction of
sentence to life imprisonment upon the expiration of the two-year
period; and, if he not only truly repents but also demonstrates
meritorious service, he is to be given a reduction of sentence to not
less than fifteen years and not more than twenty years of fixed-term
imprisonment upon the expiration of the period. Only those who have
resisted reform in an odious manner, provided the evidence of such
behaviour is verified, are to be executed upon a ruling or an approval
of the Supreme Court.
The Criminal Law provides for the following supplementary punishments:
fines, deprivation of political rights, and confiscation of property.
These supplementary punishments may also be applied independently.
The people's procuratorates (public prosecutors) are responsible for
initiating public prosecution. The people's procuratorates have the
power to investigate criminal cases as well as the power to make
decisions of prosecution, non-prosecution or exemption from prosecution
in each criminal case considering the evidence of the case and nature
and circumstances of the crime.
The people's courts are responsible for adjudication, and no other
bodies are given the power to adjudicate criminal cases. The number of
professional judges as of 31 December 1986 was 137,066, out of which
19,897 were female judges. More than 144,000 employees are working in
the judicial system.
In Chinese prison services, there have been various new ways of
mobilizing public participation in helping re-mould prisoners. For
example, famous scholars, writers, educators, artists, musicians and
sportspeople are invited to call on prisoners, and encourage them to
make more efforts to reform themselves; former prisoners who have been
already integrated into the society after release are organized to
persuade current inmates to re-mould themselves; family members,
relatives and friends of the prisoners are encouraged and provided with
every facility to admonish and educate them.
In China, supervision of offenders both during the suspension of
execution of sentence and after release on parole is carried out by the
public security organ (police). Probationers and parolees are turned
over by the public security organ to a work unit or a basic level
organization. The policeman in charge of the community shall supervise
their daily life, their work and ideological trend and encourage their
consciousness to become law-abiding citizens. Meanwhile the policeman
shall keep in touch with their neighbours if they conduct any law-
The Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that, in hearing a case of public
prosecution, the people's court shall announce judgement within one
month after accepting the case, and it may extend one month and one-half
at the latest. Accordingly, pre-trial detention is not considered to
pose any serious problem.
There are several diversion schemes to imprisonment.
Police are empowered to give warnings or to impose a certain limited
amount of fines (not more than 200 yuan) to the criminals who have
committed minor offences (Security Control and Enforcement Law). This
warning and fine are regarded as a final sanction imposed by the police
and they need not send the case to either the public prosecutor nor the
court. This system is applicable to various types of minor offences
including theft, embezzlement, fraud, assault, gambling, violations of
traffic regulations and various types of public disturbances. If the
person who receives this summary sanction is dissatisfied with the
disposition, he/she can appeal to the higher police organ and finally to
the courts. This scheme is fully utilized as an alternative and
diversion to the formal criminal justice procedure and imprisonment.
At prosecution stage, public prosecutors are empowered to grant
exemption from prosecution, considering the gravity of the crime and
other circumstantial factors, even if there is enough evidence to
convict the suspect. According to the Criminal Law, suspension of
sentence may be pronounced for an offender who has been sentenced to
criminal detention or to fixed-term imprisonment for not more than three
years according to the circumstances of his/her crime and his/her
demonstration of repentance, and where it is considered that applying a
suspended sentence will not result in further harm to society.
An offender sentenced to fixed term imprisonment of which not less than
half has been executed, or an offender sentenced to life imprisonment of
which not less than ten years have been actually executed, may be
granted parole if he/she demonstrates true repentance and will not cause
further harm to society. If special circumstances exist, the above
restrictions relating to the term executed need not be imposed.
During the period of suspension of sentence and parole, the offender is
placed under the supervision of the public security organ (police), and
the public security organ utilizes the mass organization of the
community to help watch the offender's daily behaviour and lead him/her
to become a law-abiding citizen.
It is said that the number of the revocation of suspension of sentence
and parole because of the committal of new crime is very small, and that
this type of community based treatment has been proving very successful,
although clear statistics are not available in this regard.
Reform through Labour
Offenders who have been sentenced to detention, fixed-term imprisonment,
life imprisonment or the death penalty with suspension of execution,
provided that they can work, are obligated to work. Under the basic
policy of "reform through labour", emphasis is placed on educating and
redeeming prisoners to law abiding citizens through daily labour in the
institutions. The purpose of this policy is considered to re-mould
their ideology, freeing them from bad influence and habits, and to
resocialize them into someone who can live on their own labour and are
useful to society. Labour is considered to be a principal measure of
reforming criminals, though it is not the only one.
The system of reform-through labour has been said to be effective and
successful over the past forty years. It is reported that, according to
some sample statistics, among those who have served a term of
imprisonment, 4-6% of them committed a crime again after release.
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