Domestic Violence and Mediation in Contemporary China

34 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2017

See all articles by Michael Palmer

Michael Palmer

University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Date Written: March 31, 2017


Domestic violence, and how best to respond to incidents of domestic violence, has been a slowly surfacing but increasingly contested issue over the past two decades in China. In one of my earliest published essays on family and law in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) I drew attention to a disturbing case in which a court had rejected a battered wife’s application for divorce against a violent schizophrenic on the ground that it was her duty as a wife to provide care for her husband despite his persisting violence against her. It clear that in the contemporary China, concern for this issue has grown in importance, domestic abuse is a now matter of public disquiet, and is increasingly a problem with which the courts are confronted with (and now sometimes willing to deal with in a more robust manner that in the past). One area that is especially problematic, however, is the role that mediatory intervention is expected to play in responses to incidents of domestic violence. After more than a decade of debate, a full Law of Anti-Family Violence was introduced towards the end of 2015, a legislative development that CEDAW has explicitly encouraged from the late 1990s onwards.

In other earlier articles, I suggested that in China the journey to effective legal regulation of, and institutional safeguards against, domestic violence has been slow and extremely difficult, and that this ‘long march’ would continue to face serious obstacles in the world of ‘patriarchal socialism’ that is still found in many parts of the PRC today. Patriarchal socialism was created in large part by the Chinese Communist Party’s willingness to sacrifice socialist goals of gender equality and women’s release from family patriarchal authority structures in exchange for the political support that would be generated by tolerating rather than attacking traditional family values, with their presumptions that partner violence in the home was a natural and private matter, and that women are inferior beings. Resistance to more enlightened understanding of the issue of domestic violence even in the post-Mao reform period was also fortified by unsympathetic and conservative attitudes within the judiciary, lack of an independent woman’s movement, changes in the economy in which women were often the principal target of extensive redundancy programs and scapegoated within the family for their declining contributions to household fortunes, the family planning regime which often trapped women between a husband’s demands for the birth of a son and the party-state demand for single-child families, and the declining effectiveness—stemming in large part from the economic reforms—of local forms and institutions of social control (despite the efforts over the past decade and more, described elsewhere in this volume, to create locally integrated systems of ‘Grand Mediation’ (da tiaojie) that buttress local social control processes).

Keywords: domestic violence, People's Republic of China, family law, women, abuse, court, mediatory intervention

Suggested Citation

Palmer, Michael, Domestic Violence and Mediation in Contemporary China (March 31, 2017). UCD Working Papers in Law, Criminology & Socio-Legal Studies Research Paper No. 02/2017. Available at SSRN: or

Michael Palmer (Contact Author)

University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) ( email )

Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square: College Buildings 541
London, WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom

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