The Production of Legal Norms: A Case Study of Administrative Detention in China

48 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2004

See all articles by Sarah Biddulph

Sarah Biddulph

University of Melbourne - Law School


From the mid 1970s, China's central authorities have become increasingly concerned at the rapid growth of prostitution and drug addiction, which have been characterised by the state as serious social order problems. Since introduction of the program of economic reform in 1978, a range of measures have been approved in an effort to control or eliminate these perceived problems. Amongst the measures adopted, specialist administrative detention powers of detention for education (shourong jiaoyu) of prostitutes and their clients and coercive drug rehabilitation (qiangzhi jiedu) of drug addicts have been reinvigorated.

This paper traces the reinstatement and expansion of these administrative detention powers in the reform era. It examines the ways in which the state's demand to maintain social order and stability and the policies implemented to achieve these social order objectives have influenced the development and legal form of these detention powers. Pre-reform political-administrative modes of regulation remain a dominant source of norms both in defining and exercising these powers. However, there is evidence to suggest a growing unease at the divergence between the regulatory form of these powers and the developing body of Chinese administrative law.

A study of administrative detention provides an example of how the Chinese state has managed legal reform in the context of social order. It illustrates how legal change in this sector has been influenced by what has gone before, by differing policy imperatives and by the interactions between different interested institutional actors.

Keywords: China, prostitution, drug addiction, administrative detention, Chinese administrative law

JEL Classification: K14, K19, K4, K42, K49

Suggested Citation

Biddulph, Sarah, The Production of Legal Norms: A Case Study of Administrative Detention in China. UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 217-277, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Sarah Biddulph (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010

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