Official Status and the Switness of Criminal Arrest: A Chinese Case of the Impact of Social Position on Criminal Justice

Lening Zhang, Saint Francis College
Jianhong Liu, Rhode Island College

The impact of an offender's social position on the response of criminal justice system has been a classic issue in the Western criminological literature. This issue is derived from the conflict paradigm which assumes that political and economic structures significantly influence the structure and function of the criminal justice system, such as police arrests, court disposition, and correctional decisions. Western research adhering to the paradigm usually focuses on the effect of social class, race, or gender on criminal justice. However, the nature of social position and its impact may depend on political, cultural, and economic systems, as a few studies have argued.

This study argues that cadre (official status) is one of the most privileged and powerful social positions in Chinese society because of the official-centered culture and system. The hypothesis is that official status as a powerful social position may have a significant negative effect on the swiftness of criminal arrest, because people who hold official status have more resources to cover up their criminal activities and interfere with the criminal justice process than the general population. Their official power and social privileges themselves may pose difficulties toward police actions. Further, it is argued that friends' official statuses may reinforce the effect because of the important role of personal networks (guanxi) in Chinese life. Using data from a survey of inmates in Tianjin, China, 1991, the study assessed the hypothesis and the interactive effect. The data indicate a significant negative effect of official status on the swiftness of criminal arrest when important legal and other extra-legal factors were held constant, which supports the hypothesis. The data also reveal a significant interactive effect of an offender's own and friends' official statuses on the swiftness of criminal arrest, implying that a criminal arrest of a cadre who has friends with official statuses was more likely to be delayed than one who had no friends holding official statuses.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006