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.

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