The Chinese Juvenile Justice System

Subject: Law
Pages: 7
Words: 1714
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


Nowadays, the existence and operation of a juvenile justice system is an inseparable constituent of the state. However, it is a relatively recent legal invention because up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, young criminals were judged under the same system as adults. In the late 1800s, the system of delinquent behavior was designed to become the foundation of the juvenile justice system (Whitehead & Lab, 2015).

The specificities of determining the term “delinquency” and designing justice systems vary across countries about the historical development of different countries and the primary features of their legal environments. This paper will investigate the development and special aspects of the juvenile justice system adopted and operating in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Specific attention will be paid to studying its emergence and the alterations it witnessed over time as well as comparing it to the American system.

Historical Makeup

The concept of juvenile justice was introduced to China relatively recently. The primary reason for the short history of its development is the fact that the Republic was created in 1949. Before the establishment of the PRC, the first reference to juvenile justice dates back to the 1936 Department of Justice order, which highlighted differences between adult and juvenile criminals. However, this document did not require creating a special system for judging them. Instead, it mentioned the necessity to involve experienced judges to work with juvenile cases. In 1946 the Prison Law ruled the requirement to keep children younger than 18 years old in separate cells (Winterdyk, 2015).

Once the new country, the PRC, was founded, the new era referred to as the Cultural Revolution began. For the next 25 years, juvenile crimes were hardly a problem because crime rates across China were extremely low. However, as they started growing in the 1980s, it required vigorous actions. The growth of juvenile crimes’ share in the general crime rate led to the foundation of the Chinese Juvenile Delinquency Association in 1981 and declaring the creation of the Chinese juvenile justice system in 1984. Since then, it has experienced numerous changes and improvements. Nowadays, there are more than 180 juvenile judges and clerks representing 17 pilot courts (Cao, Sun, & Hebenton, 2014).

Legal System and Traditions

The Chinese juvenile system is closely connected to traditions and religion. Because Confucianism has a significant impact on the development of society, it could not but influence the operation of this area of social relations. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of family ties and the interconnectedness of groups and rulers. It also focuses on the critical role of education. These aspects were transferred to the Chinese juvenile system based on reinforcing participation (i.e., promoting the involvement of society in juvenile cases), which results in the number of judges and clerks involved (Winterdyk, 2015).

In addition to this, the system is characterized by educational doctrine, implying the significance of educating young people on the negative consequences of committing crimes and giving them the chance to change their lives. It means that they are strictly punished only after they have been allowed to atone for their crimes. This aspect of the Chinese juvenile system resembles family relations and the process of bringing up children, which is a common feature of Confucianism.


The Chinese Juvenile System is based on several types of sanctions and punishment depending on the criminal’s age and the severity of the committed crime. Moreover, they are determined by the area of law infringed: administrative or criminal. Some administrative punishments include warnings, fines, detentions, correction through work, and rehabilitation. If a criminal is younger than 15 years old, administrative responsibility is transferred to parents or guardians. As for criminal responsibility, it involves pre-trial detention and sentencing to imprisonment. The most severe cases end up in life-long confinement (Winterdyk, 2015).

If a criminal was sentenced to prison confinement, keeping him or her with other young people is required (i.e., prison cells are divided between youngsters and adults). That said, there are two levels of corrections determined by the Chinese legislation: community and institutional. Community corrections include penal detention, probation, and public surveillance. Speaking of institutional corrections, these are either fixed-term or life-term imprisonment.

Juvenile Justice System

The system operates under the provisions of the 1999 Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Law, 2012 Criminal Procedure Code, 2011 Criminal Code, and 1982 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. The juvenile justice system functioning in the PRC is made up of several constituents. The first element is the police department. Its primary role is to determine the area of responsibility by pointing to the breach of administrative or criminal law.

The police department is free to choose whether to arrest a juvenile or release him or her with a warning. The second element of the system is procuratorate. It is given the role of finding out the details of law violation and proving or disproving that it had elements of a crime. If prosecutors rule that a crime was committed, the case is transferred to the juvenile court for judicial considerations. If the court denies dismissal, a criminal becomes a subject of juvenile correction, including whether community or institutional corrections.

Juvenile Court System

In the PRC juvenile court system, there are two types of juvenile courts: juvenile collegial panels and juvenile tribunals (Winterdyk, 2015). Juvenile tribunals are divided into tribunals of general jurisdiction and criminal ones. The only difference between the two is specialization in cases under judicial consideration because juvenile criminal tribunals deal with criminal cases only. As for juvenile collegial panels, they are characterized by the absence of an independent organizational system. It means that they operate under the regulations of criminal tribunals and cannot review cases without the participation of tribunals.

There are several working practices in the Chinese juvenile court system. They include round-table trial, social inquiry investigation, appearance with eligible adults, conditional non-prosecution, suspended judgment, mitigation, and standardization of penalty, psychological correction and treatment, different forms of education and relief, and sealed criminal records for minors (Cao, Sun, & Hebenton, 2014).

A round-table trial is a special form of judicial consideration characterized by reviewing a case as a discussion instead of holding a traditional court hearing. Social inquiry investigations focus on identifying social factors that might have led to delinquent behavior and violating rules. These forces are upbringing, family environment, and some personal character traits of a juvenile. Appearance with eligible adults is required if adults are the juvenile’s accomplices. Conditional non-prosecution is pre-trial detention permitted if the time for questions has expired but the decision to prosecute has not been reached and procuratorates need more time for considering the case.

Suspended judgment is a dismissal of a juvenile with the further monitoring of his or her behavior. Mitigation and standardization of penalty aim at avoiding sentencing imbalances and imply the establishment of the universal system of penalties. The juvenile justice system is also characterized by different forms of psychological corrections and education, which derive from the influence of Confucianism and the promotion of family values mentioned above. Finally, sealed criminal records is a practice stipulating the abolition of cases involving those that served less than five years with the purpose of protecting them.

Rehabilitation System for Juvenile Delinquents

Rehabilitation is a critical milestone of reintegrating juveniles that committed crimes into society. The focus is made on education and psychological methods instead of severe punishment. They work not only with those that are dismissed but also with juveniles that are sentenced to fixed-term or life-term confinement. There are a number of rehabilitation institutions across China. Educative instructions can be provided by parents and guardians in case of minor violations (Winterdyk, 2015).

Reasoning Behind Juvenile Delinquency

The reasoning behind juvenile delinquency is simple. There are two types of behavior falling under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system. Illegal acts are either criminal offenses or violations of the law. The first ones lead to criminal responsibility, while the second ones entail administrative punishment. Social factors stimulating delinquent behavior as well as recurrence of illegal acts are also taken into consideration during case consideration (Winterdyk, 2015).

Comparison of the Chinese and U.S. Juvenile Justice Systems

Juvenile justice systems adopted in the PRC and USA share numerous similarities. Evidently, it is caused by the fact that the Chinese regulations were borrowed from Western counterparts even though they have many peculiar aspects. Both systems recognize the difference between judging adults and juveniles as well as the necessity for establishing different rehabilitation and correctional institutions for crimes of different ages.

Moreover, both acknowledge that juveniles are people under 18 years old. Both were established relatively recently. However, it is paramount to note that some states of the USA judge those younger than 21 years old as juveniles (Bartollas & Clemens, 2014). Other differences derive from the consequences of illegal acts. In the USA, probation, incarceration, alternative schooling, and community service are practiced.

Furthermore, the focus is made on punishment instead of education, while the situation is antipode in China, emphasizing the significance of education and granting a second chance. In addition to this, one of the most critical distinctions between the two systems is the fact that the American system is not universal because each state is free to develop its own juvenile legislation, while the Chinese legal environment is homogenous. Finally, the role of religion in the development of the American juvenile justice system is less influential as compared to China.


The juvenile justice system operating in the People’s Republic of China is a new phenomenon because, for most of China’s history, juveniles were judges under the same legislation as adults. The development of the modern system began in the 1980s. Even though it was established based on numerous borrowings from the Western systems, there is a significant distinction between the two because Chinese legal institutions emphasize the role of religion and education, focusing on the participatory model of justice.

Still, the system faces numerous challenges because, in most cases, running a system resembling a family unit does not achieve the desired objectives (i.e., does not lead to the decrease of juvenile crimes). That is why it is in a process of continuous reforms concentrating on shifting the emphasis from educational instruction to punishment as the primary tool for making it more effective.


Bartollas, C., & Clemens, S. (2014). Juvenile justice in America (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Cao, L., Sun, I. Y., & Hebenton, B. (2014). The Routledge handbook of Chinese criminology. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Whitehead, J. T., & Lab, S. P. (2015). Juvenile justice: An introduction (8th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Winterdyk, J. A. (2015). Juvenile justice: International perspectives, models, and trends. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.