China first incorporated the term “domestic violence” into its legal system in 2001 and then promulgated the Anti-Domestic Violence in 2016. Unfortunately, such legislative countermeasures have failed to protect victims, particularly female victims. Accordingly, this study scrutinizes the unsatisfactory legal practices at the Chinese police departments through examining street-level police officers’ policing actions and strategies in domestic violence-related public security offenses (zhi’an anjian). Fieldwork data was collected through in-depth interviews with 47 police officers and six months of participant observation at a police station in Northeast China. Constructivist grounded theory directed data collection and analysis. The findings reveal that despite the Chinese state’s efforts to criminalize domestic violence, it adopts pro-mediation policies in minor domestic violence cases. During the administrative mediation, police officers act upon a gender-based morality that both challenges and adheres to the socially prescribed gender roles of husbands and wives, and, furthermore, a family-based morality that prioritizes intergenerational relationships over the conjugal relationship. This work provides a new and nuanced perspective to the scholarly discussion on extralegal forces’ role in influencing states’ legal responses to gender-based violence, with policy implications.
Wenqi Yang is an advanced doctoral candidate at the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Her interdisciplinary research investigates how different forces worked synergistically, contributing to the transformation of China’s gender and family relationships, with historical, anthropological, and sociolegal lenses. Her dissertation studies China’s legal responses to domestic violence from the mid-Qing dynasty to the contemporary period.