Climbing the Dispute Pagoda: Grievances and Appeals to the Official Justice System in Rural China
American Sociological Review, Vol. 72, No. 3 pp. 459-485, June 2007
Posted: 10 Nov 2006
In the wake of heightened scholarly and media attention to the growing volume of conflict in rural China, this article represents the first effort to use survey data to identify the causes both of popular grievances and of popular actions taken to resolve them in the Chinese countryside. An analysis of data collected in 2002 from almost 3,000 households across six provinces shows that the volume and character of grievances, as well as the volume of appeals to the official justice system, exhibited substantial variation both by macrolevel regional conditions and by microlevel family resources. With respect to regional variation, in contrast to classical theoretical expectations of a positive correlation between law and economic development, the data reveal that law was mobilized with greatest frequency in the most economically distressed parts of China where grievances were the most prevalent. Additional variation in the volume of legal mobilization between similarly aggrieved regions of similar economic character is explained by contextually-specific historical conditions. With respect to family resources, the survey evidence reveals that families with social connections to local government officials were relatively sheltered from grievances and relatively more likely to mobilize the official justice system when they did experience grievances.
Keywords: China, dispute resolution, litigation, access to justice
JEL Classification: J52, K00, P30, P36, O18, N45, N55
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