Country Listing

China Table of Contents


Public Security Forces

In 1987 the Ministry of Public Security was the principal police authority. The ministry had functional departments for areas such as intelligence, police operations, prisons, and political, economic, and communications security. Subordinate to the ministry were provincial-level public security departments; public security bureaus and subbureaus at the county level (the bureaus located in the prefectures and large cities, the subbureaus in counties and municipal districts); and public security stations at the township level (see fig. 22). While public security considerations had a strong influence at all levels of administration, the police appeared to wield progressively greater influence at the lower levels of government.

The organization of local public security stations could be inferred from the tasks with which the police were charged. Generally, each station had sections for population control, pretrial investigations, welfare, traffic control, a detention center, and other activities.

In the 1980s the public security station--the police element in closest contact with the people--was supervised by the public security subbureau as well as by local governments and procuratorates. The procuratorate could assume direct responsibility for handling any case it chose, and it supervised investigations in those cases it allowed the public security station to conduct. A great deal of coordination occurred among the public security organs, the procuratorates, and the courts, so that a trial was unlikely to produce a surprise outcome.

The public security station generally had considerably broader responsibilities than a police station in the West, involving itself in every aspect of the district people's lives. In a rural area it had a chief, a deputy chief, a small administrative staff, and a small police force. In an urban area it had a greater number of administrative staff members and seven to eighteen patrolmen. Its criminal law activities included investigation, apprehension, interrogation, and temporary detention. The station's household section maintained a registry of all persons living in the area. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces were recorded and confirmed through random household checks. The station regulated all hotels and required visitors who remained beyond a certain number of days to register. All theaters, cinemas, radio equipment, and printing presses also were registered with the local public security station, permitting it to regulate gatherings and censor information effectively. It also regulated the possession, transportation, and use of all explosives, guns, ammunition, and poisons.

Another important police function was controlling change of residence. Without such controls, large numbers of rural residents undoubtedly would move to the overcrowded cities in search of better living standards, work, or education (see Migration , ch. 2; Urban Society , ch. 3). In April 1984 the State Council issued the Tentative Regulations Governing People's Republic of China Resident Identity. The regulations, to be implemented over a period of years, required all residents over sixteen years of age, except active-duty members of the PLA and the People's Armed Police Force and inmates serving sentences, to be issued resident identity cards by the Ministry of Public Security. The picture cards indicated the name, sex, nationality, date of birth, and address of the bearer. Cards for persons sixteen to twenty-five years of age were valid for ten years; those for persons between twenty-five and forty-five were valid for twenty years; and persons over forty-five were issued permanent cards. As of early 1987, only 70 million people had been issued identity cards, well below the national goal. Also, even those with resident identity cards preferred to use other forms of identification.

In the 1980s secret police operations employed agents, informers, and "roving spies." Police surveillance apparently was restricted to probation and parole. Plainclothes agents were posted at bus and railroad stations and other public places. Police informers denounced "bad elements" and assisted in surveillance of suspected political criminals. Roving spies were a special category of informant in the factories and work units and were ever watchful for dissidence or sabotage. Youths aspiring to be Communist Youth League members, or league members aspiring to be party members, sometimes cooperated as informants and agents for the police.

Public security officials also made extensive use of the authority granted them to impose administrative sanctions by two sets of documents. These were the 1957 Regulations on Reeducation Through Labor, which were reissued in 1979 with amendments, and the 1957 Regulations Governing Offenses Against Public Order, which were rescinded and replaced in 1986 by regulations of the same name. Offenders under the Regulations on Reeducation Through Labor might include "vagabonds, people who have no proper occupation, and people who repeatedly breach public order." The police could apprehend such individuals and sentence them to reeducation through labor with the approval of local labor-training administration committees. The 1957 regulations placed no limit on the length of sentences, but beginning in the early 1960s three or four years was the norm. The 1979 amended regulations, however, limited the length of reeducation through labor to three years with possible extension for extraordinary cases. The Regulations Governing Offenses Against Public Order empowered the police to admonish, fine, or detain people for up to fifteen days. Goods illegally in the possession of an offender were to be confiscated, and payment was imposed for damages or hospital fees in the event injury had been caused.

The criminal laws in force after January 1, 1980, restricted police powers regarding arrests, investigations, and searches. A public security official or a citizen could apprehend a suspect under emergency conditions, but a court or procuratorate was required to approve the arrest. The accused had to be questioned within twenty-four hours and his or her family or work unit notified of the detention "except in circumstances where notification would hinder the investigation or there was no way to notify them." Any premeditated arrest required a court or procuratorate warrant. The time that an accused could be held pending investigation was limited to three to seven days, and incarceration without due process was illegal.

Two officials were needed to conduct a criminal investigation. They were required to show identification and, apparently, to inform the accused of the crime allegedly committed before he or she was questioned. The suspect could refuse to answer only those questions irrelevant to the case. Torture was illegal.

The 1980 laws also provided that in conjunction with an arrest the police could conduct an emergency search; otherwise, a warrant was required. They had the right to search the person, property, and residence of an accused and the person of any injured party. They could intercept mail belonging to the accused and order an autopsy whenever cause of death was unclear.

In July 1980 the government approved new regulations governing police use of weapons and force. Police personnel could use their batons only in self-defense or when necessary to subdue or prevent the escape of violent criminals or rioters. Lethal weapons, such as pistols, could be used if necessary to stop violent riots, to lessen the overall loss of life, or to subdue surrounded but still resisting criminals. The regulations even governed use of sirens, police lights, and whistles.

The relationship between the police officers assigned to neighborhood patrols and the people was close. Police officers lived in a neighborhood on a long-term assignment and were expected to know all the residents personally. Their task was not only to prevent and punish crime but to promote desirable behavior by counseling and acting as role models. This positive side of the police officer's duties was a constant responsibility, but the bond between the public security units and the people was strengthened annually by means of "cherish-the-people" months, during which the police officer made a special effort to be of help, especially to the aged and the infirm.

Police were drawn from every segment of the population without restriction as to sex or ethnic origin. Selection was based on political loyalty, intelligence, and health, as it was for the PLA. Most recruits had Communist Youth League backgrounds or were former PLA personnel. There was at least one police school in every provincial-level unit, and others were operated by municipalities. Usually those police designated for leadership positions attended the police schools, and patrolmen were trained at the unit and on the job. Legal training was emphasized as a method of improving the quality of the police forces. In 1985 three institutions of higher learning for police personnel--the University of Public Security, the University of Police Officers, and the Institute of Criminal Police--offered more than twenty special courses. Students were recruited from senior-middle-school graduates under twenty-two years of age, with a waiver to twenty-five years of age for those having a minimum of two years' experience in public security work.

Data as of July 1987

Country Listing

China Table of Contents