Grassroots mediation in China

Mediation has and continues to be, a very popular form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) used within the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

China has a historical cultural preference for the use of mediation (调解) as a tool to resolve disputes. It is recognized that this preference originates from Confucian thought which encourages a constant drive towards a harmonious society. The idea be­ing that a legal dispute might disrupt the natural harmony, which was thought to exist around human affairs and the community as a whole.[1] These ideals are seen through the astonishing number of civil mediations which take place in China every year. For example, according to the China Statistical Yearbook (CSY), the figure for the number of civil disputes mediated in 2017 was 8,740.000, as compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics of China. The CSY also found that the number of recorded mediators in 2017 was 3,620,000.[2] In terms of success rate, the number of successful mediations in China is high, with data indicating that the years 2007-2012 saw a mediation success rate of approximately 96%’.[4]

The tremendous number of annual mediations in China can be attributed to the Chinese government’s policy of a ‘Grand Mediation’ (大调解)system, which was launched in the White Paper on Judicial Reform in 2012. This policy was adopted to encourage mediation to lower the number of civil disputes proceeding to court determination. The Grand Mediation system was a clear response to China’s rapid economic development attempting to highlight ‘the role of the people’s mediation organisations, social groups, lawyers and experts’[5] whilst establishing a mediation system which integrates civil, commercial and administrative disputes’.[6] China’s Grand Mediation system has helped to promote the use of mediation and ADR more generally, by promoting the work of the People’s Mediation Committees (PMC’s), something I will expand upon in the following section.

Grassroots Mediation

The PRC has a multitiered system of government with several layers, ranging from a local village all the way up to provincial level. For the purposes of this blog, grassroots mediation refers to mediations conducted at the Township (乡镇) and Village (村) levels.

Grassroots mediation occurs regularly in towns and villages within China. The mediators play an important role, they help maintain the balancing act between the number of disputes which arise, and the capacity for the local judiciary to deal with cases. At village level, highly respected members within the community such as village elders(村长)resolve conflicts whilst educating the people on what the law is, and the role it plays in society.[7] These mediators assist the parties in reaching a settlement, taking the heat out of the dispute, in turn assisting in upholding stability within China’s rural population of over 500 million people.[8]

Mediation in China’s grassroots level is organised by the People’s Mediation Committees (PMC’s). The role these Committees play in society is expressly mandated under Chapter 2 of the 2010 PRC Mediation Law (中华人民共和国人民调解法) which states that these Committees shall: ‘establish and strengthen all types of mediation working systems, listen to the opinions of the general public and be subject to the general supervision of the general public’.[9] As of 2017, there were over 750,000 of these committees across the PRC.[10]

These Committees are regulated by the government at the county level, which then reports on the work done by the Committee, alongside the composition of the staff who form these Committees. At the village level, Committee members are elected by the people, and they serve three-year terms with an option to seek re-election. The Committee members can act as mediators and can also appoint individuals as mediators.

At grass roots level, it is thought that most of the disputes dealt with by these Committees are family related, followed by neighbourhood disagreements, housing disputes and overcompensation for damages.[11]

Where to next?

In conclusion, mediation plays a significant role within China’s civil justice system, large numbers of mediations take place every year, and mediations are dealt with by a regulated authority. China’s grassroots mediators educate the community and prevent disputes from putting pressure on the local judiciary, they play an invaluable role in Chinese society.

Aside from grassroots mediation, international commercial mediation is constantly developing in China.

China is not only a signatory of the Singapore Convention, but it has also promoted the use of mediation through the establishment of its own International Commercial Courts. These courts have been marketed as a ‘one stop shop’ for commercial disputes by integrating arbitration, litigation and mediation, to tailor-make a dispute resolution process.

Overall, China is a country with a rich history of mediation practice which continues to adapt to changes within society.

[1] Judy Winn, “The Ancient Chinese Secret: A Comparative Analysis of Chinese and American Domestic Relations Mediation” Indiana International and Comparative Law Review vol.1, no.151 (1991): 154.

[2] China Statistical Yearbook, Number of Civil Disputes Mediated accessed March 20, 2020.

[4] Hongwei Zhang, “Revisiting people’s mediation in China: practice, performance and challenges” Restorative Justice vol.1, no.2(2013):250.

[5] White Paper on China’s Judicial Reform issued by the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China in October 2012, in Beijing. accessed March 23.

[6] P.C.H Chan, “The position of mediation in contemporary Chinese civil justice”, Doctoral Thesis – Maastricht University (2016): 66

[7] Ding Wei, “The Reform of Grass Roots Tribunals and the Application of the Law in Rural China” China Perspectives vol.61 (2005):7.

[8] World Bank Data – China’s Rural Population

[9] 2010 PRC Mediation Law[en]guojifalvwenjian/PeoplesMediationLawofthePeoplesRepublicofChina.pdf accessed March 23.

[10] China Statistical Yearbook, Number of Civil Disputes Mediated accessed March 20, 2020.

[11] Hongwei Zhang, “Revisiting people’s mediation in China: practice, performance and challenges” Restorative Justice vol.1, no.2(2013):250.

About The Author

1 thought on “Grassroots mediation in China”

  1. Very insightful read about mediation in China especially the grassroots Mediation in China .Mediation play a significant role in my Country Nigeria also.l am an Accredited mediator ,Mediation Advocate and a trainer.l love mediation l love to help people resolve their disputes online or face to face .lt gives me great satisfaction because it brings parties peace of mind and everyone is relieved and happy to be able to put the dispute behind them .Mediation is cheaper,faster,fairer and better

    Uwala Esther Murphy-Akpieyi
    [email protected]

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