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The Shifting Sands of Punishment in China in the Era of “Harmonious Society”


Susan Trevaskes, Griffith University, Griffith Asia Institute, Nathan Campus, Nathan, Brisbane, Queensland 4111, Australia. Telephone: +61 (0) 7 38498851; Fax: +61 (0) 7 3735 6766; E-mail:


This article about the politics of punishment in China today follows some of the political machinations involved in the development of a new policy called “Balancing Leniency and Severity.” It treats this new policy as an exemplar of how politics works in the Hu Jintao era to change the way crimes are addressed in judicial decision making. This paper underscores the important ways in which political ideology informs criminal justice policy and practice in China. It examines a number of stages of development within the last decade during which Balancing Leniency and Severity has emerged as a foundational criminal justice policy.