Presented by Professor Xin He, Professor of Law at City University of Hong Kong and Co-Editor of Asia Pacific Law Review. His research interests focus on examining the operation of Chinese legal systems from the perspective of law and society.
Based on participation observations and interviews with petitioners and petition officials in Chinese courts, this lecture analyzes how the petitioning discourse is organized and how it influences the dispute resolution process. It finds that the discourses between the petitioners and the petition officials are mismatched. The petitioners fight to frame their disputes in legal terms, in order to convince that their grievances are worthy of the law’s attention. The petition officials, however, rarely contest their popular legal discourses but usher a “channeling discourse” to divert the petitioners to legal or extra-legal institutions. The two types of discourse barely confront each other, nor are the substantive issues seriously debated. Since being channeled into other institutions does not resolve their disputes, petitioners start naming their petitioning experiences as injurious, blaming officials, and making new claims. Disputes are thus reproduced. The research sheds light on the petitioners’ legal consciousness and the operation of the petition system in China. With a brief comparison with the situation in the United States, it also explores the contextual reasons why the phenomenon of mismatched discourses occurs in China.