Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Prof. Kam C. Wong, J.D., Ph.D.
Department of Criminal Justice
Xavier University
Cincinnati, Ohio

ABSTRACT: This article is brief review of “Police Reform in China” (CRC: Taylor and Francis, 2011) (“Reform Book”) and its major findings. The Reform Book, in seven chapters (introduction, obstacles, taking stock, legitimacy, reform, accountability, reflections), variously deals with current status, future prospect and research development of PRC policing. The Reform Book points to clear evidence of successful bureaucratization, professionalization and legalization of police work in the reform era, conducted in the spirit of Mao’s “mass line” political doctrine and in line with the scientific postulates and predictions of Wong’s (黄锦就) “State Police Power as a
Social Resource Theory” (“以国家警察作为社会资源伦”).

Some ten odd years ago, I started researching police reform in China and in 2002, I published my first article on this subject.[2] This was followed by Policing in China: History and Reform [3], a broad study giving an introduction to the origin, history, culture, education, reform and theory of policing in China.

In my 2002 article, I stated three conclusions about the current status, future prospects and difficulties about researching police reform in China. Due to the time that has gone by and the increased knowledge of the field, these subject matters deserve a second look.

With respect to current status (2000) of police reform, I said then:
“The Chinese public security system is changing in fundamental ways. It is in the process of re-generating itself. The impetus of reform has come from within as well as without the organization. The forces of change have been both economic and social, though political considerations have invariably played a part. The direction of reform has been towards more rationalization, institutionalization and legalization of police service.”

With respect to the future prospects of police reform, I raised the follow questions:

Less clear is: what does the future hold for police reform in China? In this regard there are two questions that are of most concern: the durability of past changes and the direction of future reform. For example, will the police reform process sustain itself? How fast, how deep and how comprehensive will the reform process be? In what direction and manner will the reform process move in the short and the long term? More significantly, what will the public security system "with Chinese characteristics" look like?”

With respect to the problems of research, I made the following observation:

In this first attempt to investigate police reform in China we find that: we know more about stated objectives and espoused purposes than unarticulated priorities and hidden agenda; we know more about public commitments than private ambitions; we know more about what the Party and central government wanted than what the professional officers and local administrators desired; we know more about official pronouncements than common understanding; we know more about theory, policy, laws and regulations than social reality, street practices and individual idiosyncrasies; and last, but certainly not least, we know more about reported compliance and noted successes than hidden defiance and undisclosed failures. In sum, we know more about the formal and official aspects of the reform, to the exclusion and at the expense of the more important (for our purpose of analysis) unofficial and informal accounts of changes that transpired. An informed and balanced judgment on the future prospect of the current reform process has to wait for more objective information and properly conducted surveys: not to mention an enlightened perspective and seasoned analysis.

In this short review essay, I will revisit the above three observations on (A) “Status,” (B) “Future” and (C) Research of police reform in China, in the light of current research findings reported in my “Reform Book”.

A. Status
Much that was said about the status of police reform in 1990s still holds true today, i.e., the Chinese police has changed in “fundamental ways” and is in the process of “re-generating itself.” “The direction of reform has been towards more
rationalization, institutionalization and legalization of police service.”
The “Reform Book” is an extension and elaboration of the 2002 study theme, but with a different focus and approach.

The 2002 study is an overview of police reform in China. There I reported on what is known about police reform in China in a systematic way, i.e., mission, values, power structure and status, organization and process, and leadership.

The “Reform Book” builds upon the 2002 study. It seeks to lay the necessary foundation for the healthy development of a Chinese police research and discourse field, by debunking myths, proposing methods, offering perspectives, raising issues and supplying data.

First of all, the “Reform Book” is dedicated to revealing how little we know about Chinese policing, in theory and especially in practice (Chapter 3 “Taking Stock”). For example:

We know very little about the theoretical and empirical relationship, necessary or contingent, between Chinese political-ideological development, leadership - personality transition, and social – economic change vs. MPS strategy, PSB policing tactics and frontline officers’ behavior. For example, how does a shift in political ideology from revolutionary communism (Mao) to socialism with Chinese characteristics (Deng) impact upon the direction of police reform? (“Research agenda and issues (1995 – 2010)”, Chapter 3)? How do changes in successive generations of political and police leadership affect police work (“Leadership footprints”, Chapter 1)?

We know very little about what Chinese-style policing is all about (“Conceptualizing policing with Chinese Characteristics”, Chapter 5)? In what way is it similar and to what extent is it unique when compared with other Asian police agencies, such as those of Hong Kong?

We know very little about what Chinese people “think” and “feel” about their police (e.g., on corruption, Chapter 5). In the study of policing, understanding what people “think” or “feel” matters, it being more important to understand the latter than the former. In theoretical terms, a bottom-up understanding of the police from the people’s perspective is more important than a top-down understanding based on the state’s pronouncements.

We know very little about how police “insiders” view police reform from “bottom up” (police on O/T, Chapter 3, “32 Classical Police Sayings”, Chapter 6). What is the role of frontline PSB officers in the formulation of MPS strategy? What is the impact of police reform on police officers (“Impact of police reform”, Chapter 1)?
Second, building upon Policing in China: History and Reform (Chapter 1) I propose to change the way we investigate and in turn to understand Chinese policing in a particular way. Specifically, I argue that at the present stage [4] of Chinese police study development, we need to adopt more of cultural–anthropological approach[5] rather than a scientific–survey approach to the study of Chinese policing. This means investigating into Chinese history, culture and social conditions, what Chinese called “guo qing” (literally “national circumstance”) in order to provide context,[6] and more importantly to make sense of what is going on.[7]

Finally, in studying Chinese policing it is best to adopt an inside-out, bottom-up approach. Research projects should be driven by an indigenous perspective (“qing-li-fa”, Chapter 1) and informed by empirical data.[8] Researchers should have a bicultural orientation, if not qualifications, e.g. language facility and cultural emersion.[9] Research should focus more on data collection than theory development, more on description than evaluation, more on analysis than on proselytizing, and more on understanding than critique.

What has been achieved in police reform at the end of 2000s over that of 1990s is perhaps as follows:

First, the discovery of a secular police reform ideology. Over the years, there has been a gradual but distinctive shift of political ideology from Deng’s “two hands” (development vs. stability) reform doctrine to that of Hu’s “scientific development outlook” with its harmonious and humanistic approach (“The “fourth generation” leadership: background, vision and mission”, Chapter 1). This turns police reform from a reactive to pro-active mode.

Second, the evidence-based policy-making process embraced by policing that draws upon Marx’s dialectical materialism philosophy, Mao’s “in-practice” action learning theory, and Deng’s “seek truth from facts” thinking. These put police reform policy-making on a factual - rational basis, amenable to factual disputation, accessible to logic analysis, and capable of empirical assessment, away from ideological straightjackets and into policy analysis (“MPS decided that the year of 2002: Change of work-style year, investigation year”, Chapter 5).

Third, the consolidation of the police reform plan, linking political ideology with police reform strategy and policing operation measures under the “Decision regarding strengthening and improving public security work” (November 18, 2003). Police ideology now has to come to terms with grounded problems and emerging issues in a systemic, comprehensive and coherent manner.

Fourth, with scientific study and through trial and error, the Party and MPS leaders are becoming seasoned reformers with experience and confidence to match. Chinese police reform is moving into a new phrase, i.e., from fighting bush fire to conducting plan change.

Fifth, police reformers have to come to terms with the structural “contradictions” besetting the reform process, with no end in sight, e.g. the spread of mass incidents. (“Mass Rebellion Against Police Authority”, Chapter 4).

Sixth, the single most important achievement of police reform is the actualization of rule police by law (“yifazhi jing”). Since 1990, the focus has been on the stringent enforcement of police law. The effective implementation of the legal supervision of the police began by educating people and officials to the importance of the law, i.e. building up a legal culture.

Finally, in terms of accountability, the most significant development has been the discovery of public opinion supervision by Internet. On December 4 2009, in a year-end review of notable media related events, Internet public opinion supervision emerged as one of the most important media stories. To many people in China Internet public opinion supervision is democracy in action.

To the socially aggrieved, economically oppressed and legally wronged, Internet enables the “public supervision” of officials and “virtual justice” by netizens.

B: Future
With respect to the future of police reform, two issues present themselves:
Ideologically, Chinese-style policing has yet to be clearly and definitively articulated. This remains an unfinished but on-going police reform project. If it is ever happens, Chinese-style policing is likely to be defined bottom up rather than top down, with the top providing the necessary leadership and the bottom setting the basic parameters. Furthermore, in order to be meaningfully understood, Chinese-style policing needs to be contextualized within a specific time-space milieu. That said, consistent with CCP governance philosophy and mass-line policing theory, it is anticipated that under the broad rubric of Chinese-style policing, there would be many varieties of Chinese-style policing (region by region, e.g. coastal vs. interior; city by city, e.g. Shanghai vs. Beijing vs. Shenzhen) that defy a single approach by policy makers and warrant different research strategies from academic researchers.

Philosophically, can revolutionary policing exist side by side with professional policing? It is now clear that Chinese leadership, especially during the Hu-Wen era, has been seeking to re-invent the police by adopting a bureaucratic – legal – professional paradigm (“professional” policing), without explicitly reconciling it with the revolutionary model. Three assumptions are at work to support this marriage of convenience between “revolutionary” ideals and “professional policing”: (1) The Party leadership considers “professional” police to be an instrumentality of state to serve revolutionary ends, without inherent conflicts, as in the case of the resolute suppression of Falun Gong and negotiated peace-making with “mass incidents”. (2) With the Chinese Party in the lead, neither “bureaucracy”, “law” nor “profession” is allowed to stand above the Party and the mass, as autonomous institutions, with entrenched values and culture to match. In this way, a “professional” officer is first and foremost a “revolutionary” cadre. For example, a “professional” officer is one who is responsive, responsible, fair, competent, good mannered and who works selflessly for the people, just as Lei Feng would. (3) Inasmuch as “revolutionary” policing is a strategy and style and “professional” policing is an organizational principle, there is no conflict between the two. For example, “yanda” can be carried out by professional police according to law.refom”)?

C: Research
Of all the areas of police reform, Chinese police research and publication has made the most improvement (Chapter 3). Reading through national and provincial police journals reveals an increase in the output and quality of police research. We learned that since as early as 1992, MPS has been collecting survey data on the public fear of crime. Over the years, Chinese government research institutes (CASS), police think tanks (MPS Fourth Research Institute), police colleges (PSU), police scholars (Wang Danwei) and academic units (Wuhan – Law School:. Center for Protection for the Rights of Disadvantaged Citizens) have been conducting theoretically driven empirical studies on various aspects of policing in China, from extended detention (Chapter 6) to public opinion on torture. In essence, there is no shortage of data and empirical findings to allow us to make a preliminary assessment of police reform in China. What awaits is for China bound police researcher to provide a (re)analysis of such data (“A case study of ED in a mid-China province, Chapter 6) contextualized with case studies (“A case study of ED: The Cheung Tse-keung case”, Chapter 6).

I would like to close this essay with a review of the book by David Bayley:
“With a rare understanding of Chinese materials, K.C. Wong painstakingly describes efforts to reform the Chinese police during the past decade, courageously exploring sensitive issues of policy and performance. Written in an engagingly personal manner, it is a fundamental book for anyone interested in how modern China manages law enforcement and public order.”[10]

Kam C. Wong, J.D., Ph.D. is Associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio; Faulty Fellow, School of Criminal Justice, State University of New York (Albany); Visiting Professor of Law, City University of Hong Kong, National Law School (Orissa), India and Chinese People’s Public Security University, PRC. Professor Wong has published 9 books and 100 articles/law reviews/chapters, in 10 countries. His most recent books are: Cyberspace Governance in China (Nova Science Publication, 2011), Policing in Hong Hong (Ashgate, 2012) (Foreword: Distinguished Professor Peter Manning), One Country Two Systems (Transactions Publisher, 2012) (Foreword: Distinguished Professor James Acker), and Policing in China (Pakistan Criminology Society, 2011). He is working on: Policing in Hong Kong: History and Reform (N.Y.: CRC Taylor and Francis, 2013)

[1] Police Reform in China (N.Y.: CRC Taylor and Francis, 2011) (“Reform Book”).
[2] “Policing in the People's Republic of China. The Road to Reform in the 1990s,” Br J Criminol 42 (2): 281-316 (2002).
[3] Policing in China: History and Reform (N.Y.: Peter Lange, 2009).
[4] We need both qualitative as well as quantitative research to understand policing in China. But when beginning to build a Chinese police study discipline, it is more important to provide a more particularized (thorough case study) and contextualized (historical and cultural) study of China in order to improve our understanding of China sufficiently to answer general research questions and help interpret research data. See Chapter 2-3 in Policing in China: History and Reform (Peter Lang, 2009).
[5] Llewellyn and E. A. Hoebel, The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence (Norman, OK. University of Oklahoma Press, 1941).
[6] Philip C. C. Huang, "Theory and the Study of Modern Chinese History: Four Traps and a Question," Modern China, 24.2: 182 – 208 (April 1998).
[7] “Cultural Cognition Project Study Examines Why “Scientific Consensus” Fails to Create Public Consensus,” Yale Law School, September 13, 200
[8] Kam C. Wong, “Studying China Policing: Some Personal Reflections,” International Journal of Sociology of Law, Vol. 35(3): 1 – 20 (2007).
[9] Philip C. C. Huang, "Biculturality in Modern China and in Chinese Studies,” Modern China, 26.1: 3 – 31 (January 2000).
[10] David H. Bayley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, School of Criminal Justice, State University of New York at Albany (12 January 2011).

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