In the Midst of Law and Politics: Legal Consciousness in Chinese Court-related Petitioning


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Yuqing FENG

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Awarding Institution
Award date24 Sep 2015


Repeated petitions have become a social phenomenon in contemporary China. Based on empirical investigations and extensive interviews, this dissertation studies how the legal consciousness of court-related petitioners, which is manipulated by law and politics, contributes to their persistence over petitioning.
Unlike many oppressed people who are against or beneath the law, the petitioners deem themselves as with the law. In order to compete against judicial interpretation of the law, the petitioners have acquired legal knowledge through limited and defective channels and developed their deviated interpretation of the law. As they lodge complaints with reference to legal norms, their dispute paradigm is mismatched with the paradigm employed by the officials, whose pragmatic responses are organized with reference to the political goal of relieving petitions. Since the petitioners’ complaints are not seriously contested, the mismatched dispute paradigms reinforce the petitioners’ perception of with the law and reproduce the disputes. Having received no meaningful response, the petitioners are obliged to petition repeatedly.
Politics have also penetrated into the petitioners’ legal consciousness. An emerging trend is found on the veteran petitioners: in order to compel the petition officials into compromise settlements and get monetary compensation as a temporary relief, some veterans start to define their complaints as potential risks for social stability, which deserves official attention. The monetary compensation paid through the State’s stability maintenance budget has provided petitioners with economic incentives to petition repeatedly. The legal consciousness of the veterans thus transit from “with the law” to “with the politics.”
This dissertation enriches legal consciousness studies of marginalized people in several aspects. First, it pinpoints how formal law is deployed in the mobilization of powerless individuals. Second, it details how legal consciousness is imbedded in institutional environment. Third, it singles out politics as an independent variable that contributes to the cultivation and manipulation of legal consciousness.