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China’s Crime: By the Numbers

Breaking down the statistics on China’s criminal behavior

Court statistics revealed in a work report at a recent People’s Congress event are, at first glance, as dry as you would expect from one of China’s least interesting meetings.

They do, however, provide a handy snapshot into the types of crime the courts are dealing with at each level.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the courts have two separate systems for dealing with crimes and/or misdeeds. So when an official does something wrong, they may face Party punishments, court justice, or both, depending on whether their crimes are primarily a moral issue or a legal one. Usually it’s both, but not always—keeping mistresses, for example, is basically a moral crime which can throw party membership into jeopardy. As for the Party justice, well, that’s mostly a black box, but don’t go thinking it’s less of a big deal than court punishments—it’s actually far scarier.

So the figures we’re looking at today relate specifically to the courts. There was a total of 1.12 million criminal cases concluded. There were 4 million business-related cases concluded by courts at all levels. This includes the Supreme Court as well as the three tiers of People’s Courts and the weirdly specific courts like the railway court or maritime court.

The Supreme Court alone took on 22,742 cases and resolved 20,151 of them.

Top billing was given to the corruption cases, which are the most (un)popular crimes with the masses, probably due to the sheer amount of media attention they get.

All types of graft under the sun

There were 45,000 graft cases handled by China’s courts in 2016, which implicated 63,000 people. Of those, there were 35 former officials at the provincial or ministerial level, or above. That was out of a total of 48 former officials at this level appearing as defendants (presumably the remaining 13 officials’ cases are either still open or didn’t result in convictions).

These were people primarily within provincial governments, so the closest analogy with, say, the American system, would probably be either bureaucrats or politicians connected to state governments or legislatures. It’s a clumsy analogy perhaps, but, if you’ll permit the pun, close enough for government work.

This number also included some bigwigs at the national government level, such as Ling Jihua, former confidante of president Hu Jintao, and Bai Enpai, a former National People’s Congress lawmaker.

Next rung down was the prefectural level, where 240 officials were nabbed. China has 335 prefectures, and these are basically city governments. So the analogy here is that these are your city government senior bureaucrats or city councilors.

All levels of court combined handed down convictions for 2,862 people on bribery charges and 15,000 cases involving embezzlement of funds  or corruption, with Chief Justice Zhou Qiang specifically referencing funds stolen from poverty alleviation projects. These figures don’t cover the full breadth of graft punishments in China though, because a lot of this stuff is handled internally by the Party.

There were also 47,650 who were convicted of “duty-related” crimes, which are basically less direct forms of corruption, such as spending government funds on inappropriate items or abuse of power.

At the grassroots level, there were 17,410 convictions for local government crimes, such as demolitions, land expropriation, stealing agriculture funds and so on. These are basically the meat-and-potatoes complaints of the petitioners who come to Beijing seeking justice.

Murder, robbery and kidnapping

Zhou didn’t specifically give figures on murder cases, but there was a catch-all number for generally heinous crimes: 226,000 cases. These were for murder, robbery kidnapping or burglary.

Drug crimes

There were 118,000 cases related to drugs in 2016 at all levels of the court system.

Crackdowns promised

In the second half of the year there’s another big CPC congress, and Zhou Qiang promised to crack down on any crimes that might affect national security. As you may have guessed, that’s a pretty broad category of crime.

Telecom fraud, murder, robbery, terrorism, separatism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, guns, explosives, mafia activity and corruption were all referenced in the court report. So… it looks like the courts are going to be busy for a while yet. Next time it might be easier to just reference what they’re not cracking down on.


Cover image from Mtime


David Dawson is the former deputy editor of The World of Chinese.

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