China's Unhappy Police

Asian Survey, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 225-42, 2016

32 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2015 Last revised: 6 May 2016

See all articles by Suzanne E. Scoggins

Suzanne E. Scoggins

Clark University

Kevin J. O'Brien

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science

Date Written: May 4, 2016


China’s street-level police are frustrated. Facing heavy caseloads, administrative drudgery, and low pay, front-line officers find it difficult to focus on tasks they find worthwhile. Discontent often sets in when young recruits’ dreams of being respected and powerful run up against the realities of life on patrol and does not disappear after they advance to station leadership positions, where they cannot easily make changes that improve operations or ease the pressures of the job. Even older officers are dissatisfied with recent procedural reforms and their inability to command the respect they once did. These grievances lead to low morale and much more. In interviews conducted in Hunan, Hebei, Shaanxi, and Beijing from 2010-2013, local police report that discontent encourages shirking, corruption, and waste. Although the Ministry of Public Security has acknowledged police dissatisfaction and the low productivity it causes, reforms so far do little more than treat symptoms and, in some cases, make the situation worse. Interviewing disgruntled cops reveals a life filled with uncertainty, hardship and feelings of powerlessness. It also explains why officers are often seen as lazy and corrupt, and gives us cause to rethink the image of police as effective arms of a highly securitized state.

Keywords: Police Frustration, Street-Level Bureaucrats, Ministry of Public Security, Police Reform, Stability Maintenance, China

JEL Classification: N45, P30

Suggested Citation

Scoggins, Suzanne E. and O'Brien, Kevin J., China's Unhappy Police (May 4, 2016). Asian Survey, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 225-42, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Suzanne E. Scoggins

Clark University ( email )

950 Main St
Worcester, MA 01610
United States

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Kevin J. O'Brien (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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