1.21.2008

The Public Display of Criminals


In a recent post to the China Law List Otto Malmgren noted how the Procuratorial Daily has published a picture of a criminal being marched somewhere in Henan, and how his practice was condemned already in 1951 by a Supreme Court reply. (I have tried to read the reply once more, but somehow the webpage doesn´t load)

An interesting discussion is taking place on the list. Here´s something that I posted the other day.

Marchs of criminals, perp-walks and public executions are inherently
dangerous. In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault recounts various instances in which the crowds identified with the criminal. Riots, attempts to save the criminal, attacks on the executioners and the police, etc. were the result. The solution, he goes, was found in removing
executions and marches of criminals from the public's eye.

But in China we have criminals being marched, and the "masses applauding in pleasure"

Here, de-individualization of the masses is clearly at play. But it is backed up by a paralle process: dehumanization of the criminal. To me, this is what can really deprive the "masses" of their subversive potential. Having the masses look at the criminal as a de-humanized subject does the trick.

Past and current history offers plenty of examples. Once a criminal (or any other person, for what matters) has been dehumanized, then anything can be done to them. The more the criminal is humiliated and abused, the more the masses will clap their hand in approval. Is this the projection of a repressed libido on a dehumanized subject? Sure, but I believe there is more to it.

What I see when I look at the person being marched is not just a person that is humiliated in public. I see the power of the state. A display of fictitious power, to say it with Elaine Scarry. Because it doesn´t really take much to abuse and humiliate a person who has been made defenseless - either through manacling, torture or by subtler means - censorship, mobbing, ethnic discrimination, delegitimation of his views, being denied access to justice etc.

The public humiliation of this person took place to show off that state is good at fighting crime and can protect us, of course. But it has the most important effect of forcing conformity among some of the population and of instilling a subtle, vague fear in them.



Other blogs that refer to the parade:

Reference Materials

Supreme People's Court Reply: the parading and the showing of criminals are not compatible with the spirit of the people's democratic justice.

最高人民法院关于举行犯人游动展览与人民民主司法的精神不符的指复
 
时 效 性:有效  
颁布单位:最高人民法院
颁布日期:1951.12.26
实施日期:1951.12.26


辽东省人民法院:
你院法秘字第24号函送“辽阳县人民法院与有关部门密切配合携卷下乡,就地审
理反革命案件的经验介绍”的报告,已悉。采用群众路线的就地公审方式,正确惩处罪
犯,教育群众,是做得有成绩的,应予发扬。惟“游动展览”以及把犯人带着游行,这
不仅是落后的行为,违反了人民法制的严肃性和进步性,而且有发生意外事故的可能,
是不妥当的。希即指正。