Can Restorative Justice Reduce Incarceration? A Story from China

Mr Yan Zhang1, Prof Yiwei Xia

1Regnet School Of Regulation And Global Governance, Australian National University

This paper attempts to investigate the capacity of restorative justice to reduce incarceration in China. It utilizes a “top-down” approach to explore how macro transitions in Chinese politics and criminal justice translate into micro implementation of RJ, which ultimately affects incarceration. Interviews with Chinese police, prosecutors, and judges revealed how minor injury cases were diverted by RJ throughout the criminal justice system. In addition, 172,731 judicial judgments were coded to estimate RJ’s effect on sentencing lengths and the probability of probation for offenders. The findings suggest that the Chinese approach to implementing RJ does liberate thousands of offenders from harsher incarceration. Yet, Chinese RJ reforms remain a thin version without deep roots in civil society, in “bottom-up” social movement excellence, or thorough foundations in restorative Confucianism with roots in ancient Chinese society. RJ is still a marginalized part of a Titanic that resists turning away from the punitive “Strike-Hard” ideology.


Yan Zhang, is currently a PhD scholar at the Australian National University. His PhD thesis looks into restorative justice in China. The thesis both draws on a top-down view discussing how RJ is institutionalized in the formal Chinese justice system, and a bottom-up view that reveals how the traditional mediation, De Gu, in ethnic minority Yi region can interplay with the state law of the Chinese state. Mr. Zhang also has served as the secretary of the Asian Criminological Society and managing editor of the Asian Journal of Criminology since 2012.


Dec 09 2021