Punish and Cure

By drawing on the life histories of 20 former and current heroin and methadone users in Yunnan Province, this essay explores the history, the logic, and the functioning of China’s anti-drugs camps. It shows how the tight intertwining of public health and public security models to fight against drug use has given rise to a contradictory policy landscape, whereby medical support always coincides with physical violence, social exclusion, and continuous surveillance of the bodies and the movements of Chinese addicts.

Preventative Policing as Community Detention in Northwest China

A preventative policing system in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has detained as many as 1.5 million Turkic Muslims deemed ‘pre-terrorists’ or ‘extremists’. This essay shows how a counterinsurgency mode of militarism that emerged in the United States, Israel, and Europe, has been adapted as a ‘Xinjiang mode’ of community policing in China. It argues that the scale of detentions and the use of surveillance technology make the ‘Xinjiang mode’ of counterinsurgency unprecedented.

Forced Internment in Mental Health Institutions in China

In China, people with mental disorders may be committed to mental hospitals for treatment in accordance with either the Mental Health Law or the Criminal Procedure Law depending on the specific situation. This essay gives a brief introduction to the two institutions involving forced deprivation of liberty of the mentally ill; compulsory treatment and involuntary hospitalisation. By comparing these two institutions, it also points out their shortcomings and some possible steps forward.

Systematising Human Rights Violations

The People’s Republic of China has a long history of abusive coercive custody—from administrative reeducation through labour to forced incarceration in police-run psychiatric facilities and extra-legal black jails. Through recent legislative and constitutional amendments China has attempted to systematise human rights abuses behind the veneer of the rule of law. But in institutionalising arbitrary and secret detention, China is in stark violation of international human rights law and fundamental norms.

The Power to Detain in a Dual State Structure

After four decades of legal reform, what kind of progress have the Chinese authorities made in controlling the power to detain, reducing its arbitrariness, and making the repressive arm of the state legally accountable? Has the fear of police power, in particular the proverbial panic of a knock at the door in the middle of the night, been reduced or increased? This essay argues that there are both changes and continuities, as the power to detain is largely defined and shaped by China’s regime type.

Harsh Justice?

What makes a penal system ‘harsh’? Can penal severity be compared across time and place? In the case of China, the question of how to evaluate relative severity in punishment is not just methodological; it is also political. This essay discusses why this type of comparison is sensitive, and why nonetheless it is not possible to avoid talking about it. The article suggests a variety of approaches for assessing penal severity in China, and cautions against relying on any one of them.

On Detention, ‘Dirty Work’, and Extra-legal Policing in China

Detention is just one of the ways in which the Chinese police force and legal system maximise discretion and evade accountability, all in the name of upholding social order. Detention takes many forms and is often linked to extra-legal methods of intimidation and harassment of the people who become victims of its operations. In criminology, such practices are termed ‘dirty work’, and the paradox in today’s China is that ‘dirt’ and ‘harmony’ are forming an unholy alliance in the name of ‘stability maintenance’.

Cosmic Infrastructure

Whether taken by rail or by road, the journey up the narrow gorges and blasted passageways that link the Chinese interior to Xining city, located at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, is a study in shades of browns, yellows, and dull greens. The landscape flattens out when the Plateau is finally reached. Amid […]

Invisible Labouring Bodies: Waste Work as Infrastructure in China

Recent investments in municipal waste infrastructure in China can be understood as a part of a broader effort by the state to build modern green cities that symbolise development. In concrete terms, the state’s approach to modern waste infrastructure has meant building waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerators and promoting citizen recycling programmes. In Guangzhou, where my research […]

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