[Report of the ACS2020] Plenary Session with Q&A Session_Prof. Anqi Shen
Internal Migration, Crime, and Punishment in Contemporary China: Migrant women and their involvement in criminalty
The Asian Criminological Society 12th Annual Conference (ACS2020), hosted by Ryukoku University, was held online for four days from June 18 to 21, 2021. The purpose of the conference, the second of its kind to be held in Japan after the 2014 Osaka conference, was to promote the growth of criminology in Asia and Oceania, and to promote academic exchange with advanced regions of criminology such as the United States and Europe.
>> ACS2020 Program https://acs2020.org/program.html
The overall theme of the conference is "Crime and Punishment under Asian Cultures: Tradition and Innovation in Criminology". The aim was to promote understanding of the social systems and culture and measures against crime and delinquency in Japan, which is said to be "the country with the least crime in the world".
The following is a summary of the Plenary Session with Q&A Session, which was held live streaming at the conference.
Summary of the Q&A Session
Question 1: The fact that you have interviewed prisoners in China is surprising in itself. Interviewing prisoners is not an easy task even in a country with a low authoritarian character. I would like you to explain how you gained access.
Answer 1: It was indeed a difficult survey and required a great deal of commitment, determination, hard work, and luck. I was a member of the Center for the Rule of Law organized by the local government in the study area, and this study was part of a larger one on the situation of migrant workers, which was funded by the local government. In addition, I had been involved in criminal justice for more than ten years before coming to the UK, and I was also a lawyer, so I had contacts and was trusted. Also, the prison had a women's facility, which was ideal for the research. However, the sample size had to be reduced, and the interviews were always tense because of the possibility that they might be stopped at any moment. Moreover, the prison was located in a remote mountainous area, and it was difficult to drive there at night when there was no lighting.
Question 2: You state that the pyramid scheme crimes of the two female inmates you interviewed were "investment activities". What were they investing in? Who created the organization? Were they punished?
Answer 2: The investment targets could be as diverse as health-related products, real estate, or even an island somewhere, but in reality, there was no investment activity going on, and the only purpose was to collect funds from new members. However, it was a normal company in appearance and internal organization, with a receptionist, marketing department, legal department, etc., and the female inmates were not aware that they were operating in an illegal organization at all. There is no established legal interpretation as to what kind of behavior is punishable, and if they engaged in any kind of managerial activity, they could be punished as organizers. Those at the top of the organization have been punished for fraud as well.
Question 3: The female inmates were not aware that their pyramid scheme activity was a crime, but is it possible that they chose this crime over other criminal activities?
Answer 3: The female inmates are first-time offenders, and their participation in the pyramid scheme was not a choice they made in comparison to other crimes, since they believed they had joined a normal company. They may have been aware that they had crossed some boundaries, but they were not aware that they had chosen to commit criminal acts.
Question 4: The two women have been convicted of recruiting new members into the organization, but how long is the sentence? In Japan, the penalty is imprisonment for not more than 3 years or a fine of not more than 3 million yen, or both, for those who established and operated the organization; imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than 300,000 yen for those who recruited as a business; and a fine of not more than 200,000 yen for those who simply recruited. Have they already been released? If they have been released, have they returned to their hometowns?
Answer 4: Under Chinese law, a person who organizes a pyramid scheme organization that results in serious circumstances, such as confinement or suicide, can be sentenced to a fixed term of five years or more and fined, while a person who merely solicited without such serious results can be sentenced to a fixed term of five years or less and fined. One of the women I interviewed was sentenced to six months, and the other to one year. I believe they have already been released, but I cannot get any information about them after their release. However, according to the interviews, they were very confident in their abilities and wanted to take a chance in the city instead of going back home. One in particular had even become a certified public accountant while working for her organization. The idea that one must succeed on one's own is truly neoliberal.
Question 5: It seems clear that the root of the problem lies in the family registration system. Japan also has a family registration system, but it is not a system that restricts social welfare or economic and social opportunities as in China. Has the Chinese government taken any measures to address this situation?
Answer 5: The Chinese government is aware of the problem, but since it does not have the power to help all migrant workers from rural areas, it only takes measures for those with a certain level of education and economic power. It does not cover the less-educated like these women or those from lower-ranked universities.
Question 6: Their behavior could be explained by strain theory, but if they learned the modus operandi, etc., after joining the organization, then differential association theory could also apply.
Answer 6: I think strain theory is more appropriate because these women were not aware that they were doing anything illegal at all. They thought that they were conducting the business of a legitimate company and had no knowledge of the criminal behavior.
Question 7: The reason for their actions might not be neoliberalism, but rather traditional Chinese culture.
Answer 7: The idea that economic success takes precedence over everything else is a product of post-1970’s reforms, and is not at all based on traditional culture. Today, neoliberal ideas are widely shared by the socially disadvantaged, who generally believe that it is their responsibility to improve their own situation and that they should not burden the government, and that they should accept their own unfavorable situation. It is highly unlikely that such a social structure will change in the near future.