Exposing Police Corruption and Malfeasance: China's Virgin Prostitute Cases

Article excerpt

This paper examines prostitution-related police corruption and malfeasance in the People's Republic of China (PRC) during the early 2000s, as exemplified by media coverage of the story of Ma Dandan and six other "virgin prostitute cases" (chunii maiyin an (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)). At 8 p.m. on 8 January 2001, Ma Dandan, an eighteen-year-old woman from Jingyang County in Shaanxi Province, was watching television with her brother-in-law and niece in her sister's hairdressing salon. Two plainclothes police officers, Wang Haitao and Hu Anding, entered the premises and took her to the local police station for questioning about alleged involvement in the banned practice of prostitution. At the station, Wang and Hu, in the presence of chief police officer, Peng Liang, subjected Ma to 23 hours of abuse. She was slapped and kicked, sexually harassed, deprived of food, drink and sleep, and handcuffed to an outside basketball frame in the cold winter air, with the aim of forcing her to admit to engaging in prostitution. Having signed a confession under duress, Ma was released at 7 p.m. the following evening. The Jingyang County Police Department then issued a document imposing an administrative punishment fine on Ma Dandan for involvement in prostitution and sentencing her to 15 days' administrative detention. Ma eventually appealed that decision, demanding an apology from the policing authorities, restoration of her reputation and reparation of five million yuan for psychological distress, on the grounds that she was a virgin.1

The police handling of "virgin" Ma Dandan became a national scandal on 9 February 2001 when her initial request for an official apology met with no response and she disclosed the details of her case and intended appeal to the biggest local newspaper, the Chinese Business News (Huashang bao ^liíjílx). More than 100 domestic newspapers and 10 television stations, including China Central Television Station, Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily Online, Beijing Youth Daily (Beijing qingnian bao (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)) and Southern Weekend (Nanfang zhoumo (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)), covered Ma Dandan' s story and subsequent court proceedings.2 This involvement highlights the media's expanded role as avenues of citizen redress in present-day China. Since the introduction of anti-corruption measures in the mid 1990s, "China's media have become increasingly critical in their news coverage, exposing alleged wrongdoing, criticizing officials for failure to address injustice, and influencing both the outcome of individual disputes and the interpretation of existing legislation".3

Media coverage of what became known as the "virgin female whoremonger case" (chunii piaochang an (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)) focused on three arguments relating to police corruption and abuse of power. First, all citizens, including police officers, are equal before the law, and those who break the law should be punished. Second, citizens who are suspected of committing an offence have the right to be treated in accordance with the law and should be compensated by state authorities when they are not. Finally, the police emphasis on fining prostitution offenders should be altered because it encourages malfeasance in the pursuit of revenue, such as fabricating cases and failure to follow due legal process.4

The media controversy surrounding these cases raises questions about China's proclaimed reform-era adoption of a "rule of law". Rule of law refers to a system in which the law is able to impose impartial, regularized and commonly understood restraints on how governing authorities exercise power, as encapsulated in notions of the supremacy of the law and equality of all before the law. In contrast, "rule by law" refers to an instrumental conception of the law as an essentially coercive tool "to be used as the state sees fit".5 China's prostitution controls, especially police-led campaigns against prostitution, are criticized by both domestic and international commentators for highlighting the Party-state's instrumental view of law as a "weapon" that not only empowers police enforcement activities but also demonstrates, through the associated problems of corruption and malfeasance, that police officials, unlike ordinary citizens, are "above and beyond the law". …