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Village Dispute Mediation in China, 2002–10: An Enduring Institution amid Rural Change

  • Benjamin L. READ (a1) and Ethan MICHELSON (a2)

The mediation of disputes by community leaders in China has deep historical roots and has long been among the responsibilities of neighbourhoods and villages. While most research on the topic has looked at cities, mediation is in fact more common in the countryside. This paper draws on a survey conducted in 2002 (n=2,164) and repeated in 2010 (n=2,659), covering 23 villages in five provinces, which provides detailed data on conflict from disputants themselves. We examine the evolution of this much-debated mode of conflict resolution and assess its prevalence and effectiveness relative to alternatives. We find that, even as overall rates of disputing declined, seeking intervention by village authorities remained as common a response to disputes in 2010 as it was eight years prior. The paper thus sheds light on a primary means through which the party-state has tried to maintain stability, tamp down strife, and assert its primacy at the community level.

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Benjamin L. Read is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


Ethan Michelson is Associate Professor of Sociology and East Asian Languages & Cultures at Indiana University, Bloomington and an Associate Professor of Sociology and Law at the Maurer School of Law. The authors thank the US Department of Education (Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Program) and the Ford Foundation for funding the surveys on which this paper is based. They would also like to thank Ira Belkin of the Ford Foundation’s Beijing office; Professors Li Lulu, Guo Xinghua, Feng Shizheng, and Lu Yilong of Renmin University; Professor Liu Jingming of Tsinghua University; Professor Han Heng of Zhengzhou University; and Weiwei Shen of Stanford University for their support and participation in the surveys. Authors express their sincere appreciation to the participants of the workshop on “Stability Maintenance and the Chinese State’s Response to Social Conflict,” 21–22 August 2014, UC San Diego; Professor Wang Yuhua and other commentators at the panel on “Building Rule of Law Under Authoritarianism: The Case of China,” 2 September 2017, APSA Annual Meeting, San Francisco; and an anonymous reviewer for this Journal. Correspondence to Benjamin L. Read, Politics Department, Merrill Faculty Services, University of California, 1156 High St, Santa Cruz, California, USA. E-mail address:

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Asian Journal of Law and Society
  • ISSN: 2052-9015
  • EISSN: 2052-9023
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