Topic: Law enforcement and its impact on social stability in China

Presenter: Associate Professor Sarah Biddulph - University of Melbourne

The issue of social and political stability in China has been brought into sharp focus in the wake of the jasmine revolution and recent popular dissatisfaction with authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Deng Xiaoping once famously declared that 'stability overrides everything', a policy imperative which remains unchanged today. What role does law play in the maintenance of order and stability? This presentation explores the at times contradictory roles played by law and law enforcement practices in the preservation of social order and stability. On one hand, the party/state has invested significant resources and political capital in establishing a system of governance according to law to define and protect citizens' rights, as well as to regulate and legitimate the exercise of power. On the other, serious and systemic failure to enforce the law, abuse of power and the lack of effective legal redress for these failures and abuses are factors that themselves contribute to social instability. A core tension within the law exists between a promise to protect rights and a threat to punish severely those adjudged to disrupt social order, even if it is in the pursuit of rights. I illustrate this tension with a discussion of disputes over compulsory housing eviction and relocation and disputes over unpaid and underpaid wages.

All welcome, no RSVP required.

Contact: Beth Williams, ph: 334 69350, email:


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