The Promise of Repentance. Prison Reform in Modern China
AbstractThis article draws on a number of themes from my research on the social history of prisons in modern China (1895–1949). It shows that before the advent of a communist regime, modern penological principles were widespread and a relatively sophisticated network of prisons was built according to international standards. However, prisons were not simply a transplant from the West. Prison reform was a multifaceted process linked to existing notions of crime, punishment and repentance. It was constrained by financial difficulties and had to adjust to complex institutional, political and ideological configurations. Although the language of reform was widely shared across the globe, the discourse and practice of the prison in China was characterized by specific local ideas and conditions: in particular, the prison was viewed as a new tool to pursue a Confucian notion of an ordered and cohesive social body governed by the rule of virtue.