Restorative Justice in Chinese Jurisdictions

Overview of “Restorative Justice in Chinese Jurisdictions” (Wong and Lui)

Dennis S.W. Wong and Wendy C.Y. Lui’s paper provides critical insights into the application of Restorative Justice (RJ) in various Chinese settings. One of the most poignant aspects of their research is how cultural-specific skills can serve as both an aid and a challenge in facilitating RJ, especially when dealing with young people and their families.

Firstly, the paper highlights the essential role of family hierarchy and Confucian values that are deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. These hierarchical structures significantly influence the dynamics of RJ sessions. For instance, the importance of elders in Chinese families cannot be overlooked. They often serve as the final arbiters in family disputes, and their words are considered almost sacrosanct. This cultural feature is so prominent that even in the absence of a patriarchal figure, the most senior woman in the family can assume that authoritative role. It implies that facilitators should be culturally sensitive and aware of these dynamics to make the RJ session effective.

Secondly, the Confucian philosophy, particularly its focus on harmony, filial piety, and collective welfare, resonates well with the core tenets of RJ, which emphasizes community healing, reparation, and reconciliation. However, these cultural norms can also be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the values of mutual respect and the focus on collective over individual well-being can help in achieving amicable resolutions. On the other hand, these same values could potentially lead to undue pressure on younger family members to conform to the wishes of their elders, thereby inhibiting a genuinely restorative process.

Thirdly, the paper underscores the need for RJ facilitators to be adept at navigating these cultural intricacies. For example, Confucian norms insist on a particular form of respect and language when younger individuals are speaking to their elders. Facilitators need to be aware of these nuances to ensure that the restorative process is not only effective but also culturally sensitive. This awareness becomes crucial when dealing with young people, as it can shape their perception of justice, fairness, and the law.

Mainland China

  1. Traditional Justice System vs. RJ Mainland China has historically been inclined towards a punitive model of justice, deeply influenced by Confucianism and the attendant social mores that emphasize hierarchy, morality, and obedience. In the past decade, however, there has been a notable shift. Researchers and legal practitioners have increasingly been considering the merits of RJ, heralded through academic articles, seminars, and minor pilot projects aimed at understanding its applicability in a Chinese context.
  2. Role of Confucianism and Collectivism Confucian philosophy prioritizes familial respect and social harmony, often emphasizing the well-being of the collective over the individual. These tenets provide a fertile ground for RJ practices, which similarly stress mutual respect, dialogue, and community involvement.
  3. Case Studies and Empirical Research The significance of RJ in Mainland China is further amplified through multiple case studies, especially those relating to juvenile delinquency and petty crimes. These case studies often demonstrate a surprising level of congruence between RJ principles and local Chinese traditions of conflict resolution.


  1. Legal Framework Taiwan has a legal system that operates independently of Mainland China. It has been more receptive to Western legal systems and, by extension, to RJ. Legislative initiatives have even started considering RJ as an alternative conflict resolution mechanism, especially in cases involving minors.
  2. Cultural Dynamics Despite its divergent legal pathway, Taiwan shares a deep cultural affinity with Mainland China. This affinity manifests in the importance accorded to family and community, elements that are critical for the successful implementation of RJ.
  3. Case Studies and Experimental Programs In Taiwan, RJ has found an application in a variety of environments including schools, local communities, and even corporations. These instances have been meticulously documented, providing valuable insights into how RJ can adapt to different social contexts.

Hong Kong

  1. Legal Heritage and Current Practice Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region with a past steeped in British colonialism, exhibits a unique amalgamation of Eastern and Western legal traditions. Although RJ has not yet been formally institutionalized in the Hong Kong legal framework, an array of scholars, NGOs, and activists are fervently advocating for its inclusion.
  2. Cultural Considerations Hong Kong shares the hierarchical family structures common to other Chinese societies. These structures have significant implications for how RJ is perceived, particularly in the role played by senior family members in the restorative process.
  3. Case Studies and Grassroots Movements Academic discourse in Hong Kong has been complemented by small-scale pilot programs and case studies, particularly focused on juvenile justice and victim-offender mediations. These initiatives serve as practical explorations of RJ principles in a unique socio-cultural setting.

Case Illustrations

Understanding the nuances of Restorative Justice (RJ) in Chinese communities calls for a practical evaluation of real-life scenarios. Two poignant case illustrations serve this purpose: The “Booger Boy” case and the “Upset dad assaulted by insulted son” incident. These cases offer a compelling glimpse into the dynamics of RJ when applied in a Chinese societal framework.

Case 1: The Booger Boy Case

The “Booger Boy” case involved a school altercation where a young boy was caught picking his nose and subsequently humiliated by his classmates. Traditional disciplinary approaches would have either punished the child for disrupting the class or the classmates for bullying, thereby likely exacerbating the animosity.

However, the school in this case opted for a restorative justice approach. A facilitator conducted a circle with the involved parties and their parents, drawing deeply from the principles of collectivism and respect for elders in Chinese culture. Here, the family’s senior members participated and offered wisdom, bridging the gap between Western RJ techniques and Chinese familial values.

Factors Underlying the Success of RJ in the Booger Boy Case
  1. Inclusion of Family Elders: In keeping with Chinese traditions, elders’ opinions were highly regarded, lending a sense of gravity and moral integrity to the RJ process.
  2. Collectivist Approach: The entire community, including the child, classmates, and their families, were part of the healing process. This aligned well with Chinese values emphasizing communal harmony.
  3. Respect for Hierarchies: Due respect was accorded to senior family members, thereby ensuring that the recommendations made were accepted and implemented.

Case 2: Upset Dad Assaulted by Insulted Son

In this disturbing domestic case, a disagreement escalated into a physical altercation between a father and his adult son. The incident was detrimental not only to both parties but also to the larger family unit. A restorative justice conference was convened involving extended family members, as is traditional in Chinese culture.

Factors Underlying the Success of RJ in this Case
  1. Importance of Face: In Chinese culture, maintaining one’s face or honor is crucial. RJ provided a confidential and respectful environment where the father could maintain his dignity while also holding the son accountable.
  2. Intermediary Role of Women: Women in senior positions within the family had an integral role in facilitating the dialogue. Their input was invaluable in navigating the traditionally patriarchal nuances of Chinese families.
  3. Traditional Values and Moral Virtues: By leveraging Confucian teachings of filial piety and respect, the RJ process in this case was uniquely aligned with the culture and therefore more successful in reaching a meaningful resolution.

Through these cases, it becomes clear that while Restorative Justice may have its roots in Western legal philosophy, its key principles are incredibly adaptable to non-Western contexts. By understanding and incorporating the deep-rooted cultural and traditional values of Chinese communities, RJ does not merely transplant a Western concept into foreign soil but becomes a harmonious blend of universal justice and local wisdom.

Cultural-Specific Skills to Heal Young People and Families

The practice of Restorative Justice (RJ) in Chinese communities brings forth an interesting amalgamation of universal RJ principles and deeply ingrained Chinese cultural norms. When dealing with young people and families, certain cultural-specific skills are instrumental in ensuring the effectiveness of the RJ process.

  1. Elders as Moral Compasses: A significant element in Chinese culture is the reverence for elderly family members, who are often brought into dispute resolution settings. Their wisdom, drawn from years of life experience and moral training, serves as a north star in guiding the RJ process. Facilitators need to recognize the influence of these figures and leverage it for constructive dialogue.
  2. Filial Piety: The Confucian value of ‘Xiao’, or filial piety, emphasizes respect and duty towards parents. In an RJ setting, this value could be invoked to encourage younger members to engage meaningfully in the process. It fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability in youth, making them more receptive to corrective actions.
  3. Collectivism Over Individualism: Unlike Western societies that lean more towards individual rights and liberties, Chinese society values the collective good. In a restorative circle, it becomes crucial to address not just how an offense affects the victim and the perpetrator but also how it disrupts the societal harmony.
  4. Role of Women: Traditionally, women in senior positions have significant sway in family matters. Ignoring this aspect in the restorative process could lead to partial solutions. Facilitators should actively engage with these powerful women figures, especially in matters involving young people and families.
  5. Face-saving (Mianzi): The Chinese concept of ‘saving face’ is crucial in any form of social interaction. A restorative justice process that allows for face-saving can enhance the willingness of parties to reconcile.


In summary, the paper “Restorative Justice in Chinese Communities: Cultural-Specific Skills and Challenges” by Dennis S.W. Wong and Wendy C.Y. Lui offers invaluable insights into the application of Restorative Justice within the unique cultural framework of Chinese communities. Through its detailed examination of case studies and cultural norms, the paper illuminates the complexities involved in implementing Restorative Justice effectively in these settings.

The case studies illustrate the flexibility and applicability of RJ in a Chinese setting, especially when practitioners are sensitive to the cultural values at play. But beyond these case studies, it’s the underlying cultural-specific skills that offer the most promise in healing young people and families. By understanding and incorporating these skills, facilitators can maximize the effectiveness of restorative justice practices.

While our understanding is still interim and subject to further research, it is clear that RJ has the potential to be an inclusive and adaptable tool for justice, even in societies with deeply entrenched traditional values. Our exploration into this has opened up a new avenue for discourse and research on the subject, filling a gap that has existed for far too long.

Restorative justice, in its essence, aims to heal and restore. When practiced in multicultural settings like Chinese communities, it doesn’t have to lose its essence; it merely learns to speak another cultural language. The final message is one of hope and adaptability, showcasing that the core principles of restorative justice can indeed be universal when adapted thoughtfully to specific cultural contexts.