Primetime dispute resolution: Reality TV mediation shows in china's "harmonious society"

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Law and Society Review, 2013, 47 (4), pp. 739 - 770
Issue Date:
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Through a case study of reality TV mediation shows, this article joins the debate about the recent promotion of formal and informal mediation by the Chinese government, what some scholars have called a "turn against law" (Minzner 2011). We identify three converging reasons for the sudden popularity of mediation shows on Chinese primetime television: (1) the desire of TV producers to commercially exploit interpersonal conflicts without fanning the flames of social instability; (2) the demands of official censors for TV programming promoting a "harmonious society"; and (3) the requirement for courts and other government institutions to publicly demonstrate their support for mediation as the most "appropriate" method for resolving interpersonal and neighborhood disputes. Cases drawn from two top-rated mediation shows demonstrate how they privilege morality and "human feeling" (ganqing) over narrow application of the law. Such shows could be viewed merely as a form of propaganda, what Nader has called a "harmony ideology"-an attempt by the government to suppress the legitimate expression of social conflict. Yet while recognizing that further political, social, and legal reforms are necessary to address the root causes of social conflict in China, we conclude that TV mediation shows can help to educate viewers about the benefits and drawbacks of mediation for resolving certain narrow kinds of domestic and neighborhood disputes. © 2013 Law and Society Association.
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