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The duration of political imprisonment: Evidence from China

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Abstract

The Chinese regime is well known for the large-scale detention of dissidents and ethnic minorities. However, little is known about the fates of Chinese political prisoners. This study investigates determinants of the duration of political imprisonment in China. I argue that the duration of political imprisonment is shaped by (a) the perceived threat of individuals’ actions, and (b) their ethnic and religious identities. Drawing on the Chinese political prisoner database, I investigate predictors of the duration of political imprisonment with survival models. Since preceding actions shape detention times, I hand-code each prisoner's criminalized actions that led to incarceration. The evidence suggests that the Chinese regime conditions the duration of political imprisonment on prisoners’ demands and their collective action potential. The findings further demonstrate that ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans are imprisoned significantly longer than non-minority political prisoners. Additional analyses demonstrate that ethnic Uyghurs are also significantly more likely to die in prison.

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... In a recent study of the duration of political imprisonment in China, Steinert (2022) discovered that 53.7% of political prisoners (defined as those who exercise human rights under international law) between May 1981 and June 2020 have been formally charged and sentenced. The remaining 46.3% were held in different forms of detention without trial. ...
... However, it is reasonable to assume that the magnitude of individual dangerousness is likely to play a pivotal role in shaping the selection of police detention. Subject entirely to the assessment and enforcement of public security authorities, incarcerating politically risky populations according to their risk levels has been incoherent and randomized for many decades in China (Steinert, 2022;Zhou and Yan, 2014). Still, the findings of this study speak to an upward trajectory of police leaning on administrative detention as a more favoured punishment than criminal detention over the years. ...
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What drives politics in dictatorships? Milan W. Svolik argues that all authoritarian regimes must resolve two fundamental conflicts. First, dictators face threats from the masses over which they rule – this is the problem of authoritarian control. A second, separate challenge arises from the elites with whom dictators rule – this is the problem of authoritarian power-sharing. Crucially, whether and how dictators resolve these two problems is shaped by the dismal environment in which authoritarian politics takes place: in a dictatorship, no independent authority has the power to enforce agreements among key actors and violence is the ultimate arbiter of conflict. Using the tools of game theory, Svolik explains why some dictators, such as Saddam Hussein, establish personal autocracy and stay in power for decades; why leadership changes elsewhere are regular and institutionalized, as in contemporary China; why some dictatorships are ruled by soldiers, as Uganda was under Idi Amin; why many authoritarian regimes, such as PRI-era Mexico, maintain regime-sanctioned political parties; and why a country's authoritarian past casts a long shadow over its prospects for democracy, as the unfolding events of the Arab Spring reveal. When assessing his arguments, Svolik complements these and other historical case studies with the statistical analysis of comprehensive, original data on institutions, leaders, and ruling coalitions across all dictatorships from 1946 to 2008.
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What has happened to religion in China since the Communist revolution? Against all the odds of eradication measures dictated by the atheist ideology and secularization effects of modernization, religion has survived and has been reviving and thriving despite Communist rule. This book presents a comprehensive overview of Chinese versions of Marxist atheism, evolving religious policies, and the religious change in China under Communism. It presents a fresh definition of religion for the social scientific study that classifies the religious and religion-like phenomena into a clear order. Working within the new paradigm in the sociology of religion that explains religious vitality instead of secularization, the book adopts a political economic approach. It contends that the dominant "supply-side explanations" in the new paradigm is not suitable to explain the religious change in China. The author articulates the triple religious market model in a shortage economy of religion under heavy regulation, which is very much a demand-driven economy of religion. Moreover, China is only one case of religious oligopoly, where a selected few religions are sanctioned by the state. Oligopoly is the most common type of religion-state relations in the world today. What has happened to religion in China may be indicative of religious dynamics in other oligopoly societies under heavy regulation.
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On the basis of qualitative and quantitative data, I show that nonviolent protests against politically motivated repression in Mexico were more significant, both in terms of their histories and their political impact over time, than the literature suggests. I document that Mexico had human rights movements prior to the late 1980s that have been overlooked because activists since 1968 framed their struggles in terms of amnesty for political prisoners as well as the reappearance of, and accounting for, the disappeared. I further show that their 25-plus years of struggle were effective in the passage of two amnesties for political prisoners (1971 and 1978) as well as the emergence of an ombudsman called the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH circa 1989/1990), along with the negotiated settlement of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. This evidence suggests that even against strong odds, and even in the context of ongoing repression, nonviolent social movements of relatively powerless people can independently influence nondemocratic governments not only to pass favorable policy, but also to restructure the polity.
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The aims of this paper are threefold: to provide some historical background on ethnic separatism in the PRC; to identify the causes of ethnic separatism; and to provide an assessment of the current separatist challenges to the PRC and their implications for China’s domestic politics and foreign relations. The paper demonstrates that the nature and scale of the challenge posed by any one ethnic minority to the PRC is largely a function of three major factors: the historical relationship between the ethnic group and the Chinese state; the geographic concentration of the ethnic minority; and the degree of acculturation to the dominant Han society. In this regard the paper identifies Xinjiang and Tibet as the ethnic minority regions that pose the most enduring separatist challenge to Beijing.
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Using the October 2008 slapping incident of historian Yan Chongnian 阎崇年 as a case study, this article attempts to contextualize and critically examine the articulation of Han supremacism on the Chinese internet. It demonstrates how an informal group of non-elite, urban youth are mobilizing the ancient Han ethnonym to challenge the Chinese Communist Party's official policy of multiculturalism, while seeking to promote pride and self-identification with the Han race (han minzu 汉民族) to the exclusion of the non-Han minorities. In contrast to most of the Anglophone literature on Chinese nationalism, this article seeks to employ “Han” as a “boundary-spanner,” a category that turns our analysis of Chinese national identity formation on its head, side-stepping the “usual suspects” (intellectuals, dissidents and the state itself) and the prominent role of the “foreign other” in Chinese ethnogenesis, and instead probing the unstable plurality of the self/othering process in modern China and the role of the internet in opening up new spaces for non-mainstream identity articulation.
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In November 2008, the Politburo issued a new justice system reform plan that it hailed as emblematic of China’s new approach to harmonious society building. This reform plan is an exemplar of how politics works in the Hu Jintao era. It represents an attempt—using ideology, party leadership, and “politicking”—to change the way both social and organizational problems are handled. Looking at one facet of justice administration—criminal justice— reveals how these three political aspects intertwine to produce a path to reform that relies on a strong authoritarian hand. A new emphasis on balance, heralded as a key to the reform, provides a way of navigating the problem of how to achieve social stability in China within the broad state objective of building a harmonious society. The approach in the 2008 plan uses the discourse of harmonious society to attempt to maneuver out of some longstanding stalemates in both institutional management and the punitive culture of justice administration. This new reform path has less to do with creating the conditions for judicial independence and more to do with generating the conditions for greater uniformity in judicial practice across the nation.
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Does the U.S. public’s support for extraordinary interrogation and detention practices depend upon the religious identity of the alleged perpetrator? Some scholarly research indicates greater public acceptance for abridging the rights of Muslims after 9/11. This is consistent with social science literature suggesting that heightened perception of threat decreases popular tolerance for racial, ethnic and religious out-groups. This study executes an original national survey and finds that respondents are generally more supportive of subjecting terror suspects with stereotypical Muslim names or that are associated with a radical Islamic terrorist group to harsher treatment than non-Muslim suspects associated with domestic, right-wing terrorist movements. This effect is particularly strong for extraordinary detention practices such as indefinite detention and denying suspects access to legal counsel and civilian criminal courts. These results are robust to the inclusion of controls for respondent age, income, education, race, gender, attitudes towards race, personality type, religion and employment situation.
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We offer the first large scale, multiple source analysis of the outcome of what may be the most extensive effort to selectively censor human expression ever implemented. To do this, we have devised a system to locate, download, and analyze the content of millions of social media posts originating from nearly 1,400 different social media services all over China before the Chinese government is able to find, evaluate, and censor (i.e., remove from the Internet) the large subset they deem objectionable. Using modern computer-assisted text analytic methods that we adapt and validate in the Chinese language, we compare the substantive content of posts censored to those not censored over time in each of 95 issue areas. Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collection action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content. Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future --- and, as such, seem to clearly expose government intent, such as examples we offer where sharp increases in censorship presage government action outside the Internet.
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Tibet, which had enjoyed de facto independence from 1911 to 1950, was resubordinated to China in late 1950 and 1951 through a combination of political pressure and military force. On 10 March 1959 a mass revolt broke out in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Amid growing turmoil, the 14th Dalai Lama fled the capital. After Chinese troops moved into Lhasa on 20 March to crush the rebellion, the Tibetan leader took refuge in neighboring India. The Chinese People's Liberation Army quelled the unrest and disbanded the local government. This article looks back at those events in order to determine how the rebellion was perceived in China and what effect it had on relations with India.
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Numerous studies have addressed the question: Are African-Americans treated more harshly than similarly situated whites? This research employs meta-analysis to synthesize this body of research. One-hundred-sixteen statistically independent contrasts were coded from 71 published and unpublished studies. Coded study and contextual features are used to explain variation in research findings. Analyses indicate that African-Americans generally are sentenced more harshly than whites; the magnitude of this race effect is statistically significant but small and highly variable. Larger estimates of unwarranted disparity are found in contrasts that examine drug offenses, imprisonment or discretionary decisions, do not pool cases from several smaller jurisdictions, utilize imprecise measures, or omit key variables. Yet, even when consideration is confined to those contrasts employing key controls and precise measures of key variables, unwarranted racial disparities persists. Further, a substantial proportion of variability in study results is explained by study factors, particularly methodological factors.
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Western literature indicates that competent legal representation has a significant impact on case disposition. Despite the enhanced role of defence attorneys in China, little research has systematically examined the impact of legal representation on case outcomes. The present study examines this issue with data on the prosecution and adjudication of theft cases in a Chinese court. Although legal representation has little net impact on pre‐trial detention and sentencing decisions, further analysis indicates that some types of defence were more likely to be accepted by judges than others. We then discuss the implications of this study on legal reforms in China, and the role of legal representation in an inquisitorial justice system.
  • Buntman F
Racial inequality in punishment
  • M Omori
  • O Johnson