Crime, Punishment and the Prison in Modern China


Frank Dikötter

ISBN : 978-962-209-565-6

Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology

April 2002

476 pages, 6″ x 9″, 42 b&w illus.

For sale in the Greater China area (Hong Kong, the Mainland, Macao, Taiwan) and Japan only

  • HK$375.00

Based on extensive research and many newly discovered sources, Crime, Punishment and the Prison in Modern China examines the radical changes in Chinese society during the first half of the twentieth century through the lens of the Chinese prison system. More than a simple history of prison rules or penal administration, this book explores the profound effects and lasting repercussions of the superimposition of Western-derived models of repentance and rehabilitation on traditional Chinese categories of crime and punishment. A society’s prisons reflect much about its notions not only of law and order and the rights of the individual but of human nature itself, its tractability and capacity to change. In China during the tumultuous years from 1895 to 1949, these notions were transformed in dramatic ways.

Frank Dikötter identifies penal reform as radical modern tool to achieve an indigenous Chinese vision of social cohesion and the rule of virtue. Modernizing elites in China viewed the reformation of criminals as a constitutive part of a project of a national regeneration in which good order, economic development, and state power could only be obtained by shaping obedient subjects. This groundbreaking account of the evolution of Chinese penal theory is combined with a richly textured portrait of daily life behind bars. Petty villains, abusive guards, ambitious wardens, and idealist reformers people its pages and live out China’s complicated movement from empire to republic to communist state.

“Modernity and tradition, political order and chaos, violence and hope—all the themes of China’s reform impulse found expression in the rapidly changing prison system of the first half of the twentieth century. Dikötter’s thoughtful and deeply informed study opens up this neglected subject with fascinating results.” —Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

“Dikötter adds a whole new dimension to the history of the prison. He alerts us to the extended reach of American and European ideas on prison reform and how they fit ever so neatly with indigenous Chinese theories. This is a fascinating study in the transfer of ideas and practices.” —David J Rothman, Columbia University