March 24, 2010

China's Supreme Court Second-Level Justice: I Hope Citizens Do Not File Lawsuits

The original title is "Zhang Jun (张军): I Hope Citizens Do Not Sue and Do Not Have the Courage to Sue"

The conversation below is part of a longer Q&A session. It took place during the NPC and CPPCC annual meetings.

Translation: 张军:希望老百姓尽量不要打官司 更不要敢于打官司

At 8PM on the evening of March 11, 2010, during the third session of the Eleventh National People's Congress, two NPC representatives and one director of China Supreme People's Court conducted an online exchange with Netizens. Armed with work summary reports from Supreme People's Court, the three officials answered questions concerning how judicial system may help to protect the livelihood of ordinary Chinese citizens.

[CNR.CN reporter] A CNR.CN reader would like to ask Judge Zhang Jun the following question: I inadvertently heard that the courts have a series of policies, such as fee waivers and installment plans, which aim to make filing cases easier for vulnerable groups like persons with disabilities and those enjoying five guarantees (五保户, in China, village minors, childless elders and the infirmed are guaranteed food, clothing, medical care, housing and burial expenses). However, in everyday life, we rarely see relevant information about these policies. In the future, could the courts make a greater effort to disseminate said information, so that ordinary people and vulnerable groups have more courage to file lawsuits?

[Zhang Jun] This reader is quite interesting. He "inadvertently heard." That means we are definitely doing a better job at spreading the knowledge than before. I agree with him in that the people's courts have implemented many concrete changes to make themselves more accessible to the public. Just this afternoon Court President Wang Shengjun (王胜俊) mentioned in his report the large amount of work that has been done in the area. Last year, the reduced, waived, or delayed litigation fees due to difficult life circumstances amounted to 0.76 billion, and this number increases every year. The growing financial aid reflects the concern and care Party and government have for the masses. In the future we shall enlist the help of internet and the websites here today to advertise these policies to Netizens. I hope Netizens will jump in as well and let more people "inadvertently" hear about the policies.

Separate from the topic, I have another issue to bring up. Conflicts between ordinary people and neighbors are common. If you can avoid lawsuits, do. Don't be "daring" to sue. In other words, try to eliminate trials by asking people to mediate and letting respected elders to speak on your behalf. Litigations are money consuming. They also damage relationships. As one old Chinese saying advises us, "harmony is the most precious." Going to court will certainly disrupt that harmony. If we can resolve family and neighbor problems through mediation, we will do our best to take that route. Our goal is to create a more peaceful, harmonious work, living, and study environment for the parties involved. If we order the defense to do something when he is still angry, then he won't voluntarily make reparations. At this point, the court stepping in to enforce the ruling can further intensify the conflict.

Therefore, as a judge, I sincerely wish that our people could avoid trials when problems can be settled out of courts. Less lawsuits implies a more harmonious society. Thank you.


laoxia from Yichang, Hubei
This is ridiculous. Is our society progressing or regressing?

julongshi from Hefei, Anhui
5 ingredients to a winning case: 1. reason is on your side; 2. connections (best if they are connections in the court); 3. a honest good lawyer; 4. the opposing side does not have a political background (belonging to the governing body); 5. get a good honest judge.

洞视者 from Changsha, Hunan
If someone has power and connections, then even when reason is not on his side, judge is biased and lawyer awful, he will still win!

淡定需要忍耐 from Shijiazhuang, Hebei
Actually, the judges are the most powerful. One judge once bragged, who cares what your lawyer says. I will issue the verdict however I like!

shanchunyeren from Anhui, Hefei
Do Chinese people even like lawsuits? We would not dare enter the court gate given any other choice.

Mobile Phone User
Can't believe such an unprofessional person is our representative

霊橒 from Shantou, Shandong
If this came from a philosopher, then okay, I agree that courtroom is not the best place to address problems. But as a jurist, he has stepped out of line. His job is not to discourage lawsuits but to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice.

开心果果4 from Tianjin, Hebei
Yes, you guys ideally just need to hold your teacups, read newspapers, have nice chats during your work time, and still get paid.

墨剑 from Jiangsu
His attitude is a little strange. Does he want everyone to follow the footsteps of Buddha, whose head is covered with bumps? (Note: the Netizen is implying that Buddha was beat up many times) We must endure everything!

Chines people never like courtrooms. Naturally, they don't like lawsuits either.

The usage of "dare to" is interesting. He obviously agrees that such a action requires courage. What, the courts dare not to resolve even the minor cases between common people? Why do I get the feeling his answer has some deeper meaning?

云鹄展 from Nanning, Guangxi
I don't think "harmony is the most precious" applies to all situations. Traditionally we value peace, but focusing solely on harmony will cover up the real problems [, leaving them to fester]. I believe that to the contrary, we should strive to be inharmonious. We have to be better at uncovering and addressing issues. We need to quickly correct those which can not be condoned.

吴玉楼 from Qingdao, Shandong
Comrade Zhang Jun:
1. Grassroot political structures, such as residential committees, have been weak for many years. And since most believe in "the less troubles, the better," many conflicts between neighbors could not be nipped in the bud. This is one major reason leading to lawsuits.

2. In some cases, one must be firm when enforcing the law. How else can you administer justice when you are worried about too many things? Effective enforcement has long been an issue, and it has not improved much.

太湖雄马 from Wuxi, Jiangsu
The fundamental problem is the lack of justice!

Double2 from Ningbo Zhejiang
This leader is definitely out of touch with common people's pain.

cenming69 from Zhuhai, Guangdong
The report made me furious the first time I read it. After some re-thinking, however, I realized that our legal environment is quite realistic. Our society is not governed by legalism. Thus, it is unsurprising to see this comment: 5 ingredients to a winning case: 1. Reason is on your side; 2. Connections (best they are connections in the court); 3. Get a honest good lawyer; 4. The opposing side does not have a political background (belonging to the governing body); 5. Get a good honest judge.

But that friend failed to mention one more thing: even when you win, our legal system does not act to protect your rights. My personal experiences confirm this.

First experience. The company I worked for lost 6 million yuan in the non-ferrous metal business due to fraud. We filed for lawsuit. With the help from police in XX province, we recovered a jeep and some real estate property. Together they valued at 1 million. Then the police kept the jeep and asked for more money to compensate for their expenses. In the end, we received 0 reparation. We never filed another lawsuit after that. The ruling cannot be enforced. Each time it is enforced, we end up losing more money. I write this to show that common people have no ability to carry out the verdicts.

Second experience. I used to work in an amusement park. We lost tons of cases, but the prosecution could never get their money back. We conducted business as usual even when the bank froze our accounts. They just had to swallow the losses.

Third experience. One of my friends lived in Dongguan. She was married with kids, but because of physical abuse, she filed for divorce and custody of her child. Although she had sufficient evidence to prove abuse, Dongguan court said men will care more for their offspring, so her ex-husband was granted guardianship (he was unemployed at the time). My friend appealed the decision (she hired a lawyer from beginning to end) at Dongguan intermediate court and finally received a favorable ruling.

The problem was not ever. The man took their child back to hometown Jiangan in Sichuan (四川老家江安). Dongguan court couldn't do anything after that. My friend took the legal papers to Jiangan. But because the man had connections in Jiangan judiciary system, Jiangan lower court forcibly overturned the Dongguan ruling. (Isn't it preposterous) My friend appealed the decision in Yibin intermediate level court, and was again granted custody. Yibin also requested that Jiangan enforce the ruling. Jiangan court said it didn't have the power.

In the end, my friend spent several hundred thousand of dollars she saved up over the years, won the case, but had no way to ensure that the verdict was carried out. She even thought about hiring gangs. It has been 3 years now. She has not seen her child for three years.

These are my own experiences. Do you think it is practical to go to the courts? It is hard to win and harder to benefit when you win.

ddgaycd from Dandong, Liaoning (probably the only comment in Judge Zhang's favor)
Why can't people speak truthfully now? Truth was what the judge said. I can't comprehend the comments on this website. Do family and neighbor disputes have to be solved in court? Lawsuits waste our own resources. They also drain society's resources. Even if you win, relationships are destroyed.
Finally, to satisfy my own curiosity, I searched for statistics on court performance.

According to this 1999 book on Google Books (I am assuming that the numbers at least stayed the same if not increased with time), the number of resolved cases per judge during 1995-1996 time frame is 168 in Germany, 178 in Hungary, 1,203 in Singapore, 1,408 for Peru, 1,233 in U.S. and a whopping 4,809 in Chile.

I then looked for data on China but was only able to find the following 2009 article: for her huge population, China's national average caseload is 45 per judge per year.


  1. As an outsider, although I taught American law for 2 1/2 years in China, (I practiced law for 40 years and did trial work,) I suspect that having a "harmonious society" is not the major reason for the Judge's comments. I think that his encouragement of private, non-court settlements
    has a more practical basis, that is, to keep the courts from being clogged with cases in a country where the population is huge and the judicial system is not robust.

    The Judge's comments seem entirely reasonable on what litigation is about, i.e., time consuming, expensive and damage to relationships and I might add the unpredictability of the outcome of a lawsuit. Mediation has found its way into the American justice system for those same reasons.

    However, when mediation or other private settlement is not possible, Chinese citizens should not be discouraged from filing lawsuits. It is one way of keeping pent up anger from an unresponsive system or people from spilling over
    into trouble as there would be no other outlet but retaliation.

    When I was teaching in China I had a number of students mention corruption in the judicial system, my students were from a half a dozen different provinces. It seems not much a changed over the past decade regarding tipping the scales of justice in ones favor as the above reader comments attest to.


  2. Hi Jaax.

    Thanks for the objective comment. As you can probably guess, the reactions online are almost all strongly emotional and all very much against the judge.


    Mediation can be a more cost-effective way to resolve conflicts, and you are right, I think that's what the judge was recommending.

    However, what puzzles me is that I had done some searching online, already posted above, and found that the average number of case load per judge per year in China is very very low. Does this not already indicate a reluctance on the citizens' part to seek the help of courts?
    And Judge Zhang is further adding fuel to fire by discouraging citizens from seeking justice through the judicial system.

    If so, the fundamental problem lies not with a litigious people but with a court system that that neither solves problems nor tries to foster legal knowledge among people. Of course, I had jumped to this conclusion partly because of some prior experience, and it can be quite wrong as my personal experience is not representative. I was wondering if you could shed some insight.

  3. 敢于打官司 does not mean "dare to litigate" nor does it mean to have the courage to do so. I really think in translating 敢于 as such really misconstrues what was actually being said.

    As Anonymous has said, this seems to be more about avoiding expensive and costly litigation rather than a shirking of judicial responsibility-- certainly the Chinese legal apparatus has many problems. Also, because 敢於 appears in the title and is translated as "do not have the courage" it colors our reading of the whole interview in a way that, I think, is unfair.

    敢於 means something very different from 敢, and your translation should reflect that.

  4. 敢于 means 有决心,有勇气(去做或去争取)...

    I think the newspaper purposefully highlighted that sentence, using it as the title, because it was a little ambiguous (and maddening). So I just left it at that. But thanks for your comment~


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