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Subterranean Sources of Juvenile Delinquency in China: Evidence from Birth Cohort Surveys
# Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007
Abstract This article examines possible reasons for the dramatic rise in Chinese juvenile delinquency rates that have occurred since the start of economic reform. The article focuses on the degree to which relatively recent modifications in the ideology and practice of Chinese communism have engendered new social pressures and strains on young people. Delinquents’ social values are compared with those of non-delinquent youth, drawing heavily from data collected in a longitudinal birth cohort study. The dataset is assessed for evidence of subterranean values; i.e., subculture-based reflections of principles found within the dominant political culture; based on the theory that youthful deviance and delinquency in China are fueled primarily by the relatively rapid diffusion of oftencontradictory market-based precepts. The lingering impact of Maoism is also assessed, particularly with regard to incongruous ideological influences on youth. Keywords Juvenile delinquency . Subterranean values . Maoism . Chinese communism . Youth subcultures . Birth cohort . Economic reform
1 Introduction In the years following the advent of economic reform in the People’s Republic of China, juvenile delinquency rates began skyrocketing, while youth subcultures became increasingly commonplace. Previously forbidden and repressed by communist authorities, identifiable youth subcultures began appearing soon after China’s opening to the West in the late 1970s. Though Chinese officials have instituted substantive reforms in the economy, they have remained unwilling to fully acknowledge the social, cultural, and political implications of those reforms. While the communist party has substantially loosened its totalitarian grip and orchestrated Western-style modernization from above, anachronistic institutions and structures have continued to play a significant role in shaping society and influencing public policy. Mao Zedong’s egalitarian exhortations are still
D. Drissel (*) Iowa Central Community College, 330 Ave. M, Fort Dodge, IA 50501, USA e-mail: email@example.com
espoused in schools and within various government agencies, as economic efficiency and entrepreneurship are extolled in the latest party propaganda. Markets are celebrated and wealth accumulation is encouraged, even as capitalism is officially denounced and socialism praised. This article grapples with such inherent contradictions, investigating the degree to which modifications in the ideology and practice of Chinese communism have engendered new social pressures and strains on young people, potentially contributing to substantially higher rates of juvenile delinquency. Though official statistics indicate that China has a relatively low rate of crime and delinquency compared to other countries,1 the growing incidence of criminal and delinquent behavior in China has generated alarm and fueled official crackdowns. Meanwhile, growing numbers of Chinese young people - particularly those who live in major cities - have adopted the iconoclastic style and nonconformist demeanor of various Western-influenced youth subcultures (e.g., punk rockers, hip-hoppers, head bangers, goths, hippies, skateboarders, ravers, and club kids), apparently spurning the traditional social values and norms of their parents. Such rebellious Chinese youth are often referred to simply as linglei (i.e., “alternative lifestyle”); which was formerly a term of societal derision that in recent years has been redefined as a mostly positive appellation by China’s youth.2 What is the connection, if any, between such emerging youth subcultures and rising rates of juvenile delinquency in post-Mao China? Has the influx of Western ideas and popular culture somehow fueled the precipitous growth of delinquent behavior? Has the introduction of more “pragmatic” communist values tied to economic reform in some way encouraged this trend? What role does the highly competitive and cutthroat economic environment of post-Mao China play in this regard? These questions will be addressed by comparing the social values of Chinese delinquents with those of non-delinquent youth, drawing heavily on data taken from a longitudinal birth cohort study of Chinese juveniles. The dataset includes responses from interviews with young people conducted in the early 1990s by Marvin Wolfgang and updated several years later by Friday, Ren, Weitekamp, and Leuven (2003).3 The respondents include both offenders and non-offenders born in 1973 in the Wuchang district of Wuhan - a populous commercial and residential city located in central China.4 As a replication of an earlier birth cohort study conducted by Wolfgang, Ferracuti, and Sellin (1972) in Philadelphia, the dataset features interviews with all known delinquents as of 1990 when the cohort reached age 17. In the aftermath of Wolfgang’s death in 1998, Friday et al. revised and reconfigured the cohort data, conducted follow-up interviews, and collected additional residential, demographic, and criminal history data on offenders and non-offenders identified.
According to recent Interpol figures, China was ranked 111 out of 113 countries surveyed for the incidence of crime (Jensen, 2003:21).
During my most recent trip to China in June-July 2005, I talked to over 50 teenagers and young adults about linglei and related youth subcultures. The vast majority of youths described linglei in relatively positive terms. Several even described themselves as linglei or panni (“rebel”). Many young people told me that linglei is not simply external (e.g., bizarre clothes, piercings, tattoos, dyed hair) but also internal. Linglei were said to be independent thinkers and individualists, living their lives as they see fit within an otherwise highly collectivist and conformist society. The Wolfgang-Friday cohort study was the first of its kind to be conducted in a developing country and apparently the only one to ever focus on a nation-state currently governed by a communist party. The capital of Hubei province, Wuhan has a population of 6,532,563 and the Wuchang district is the most populous area of Wuhan.
Included in the dataset is a summary of respondents’ educational ambitions and school graduation rates, family socioeconomic status, incidence of family quarrelling and domestic disputes, number and type of delinquent acts, reasons for committing delinquent acts, opinions about labor, personal interests and priorities, rates of chronic offending and desistence, and other pertinent information. This article will examine the Wuhan cohort database for specific evidence of subterranean values; i.e., subcultural reflections of principles found within the dominant political culture; based on the theory that youthful deviance and delinquency in China are fueled primarily by the relatively rapid diffusion and elaboration of new values associated with de facto capitalization (e.g., hierarchic self-interest, entrepreneurship, materialism, consumerism, personal enrichment). Perspectives of respondents concerning the acquisition of money and power, type of ideal job, work ethic, educational ambitions, leisure pursuits, reasons for committing delinquent acts, popular culture and literary interests, and peer group influences and subcultural affiliations are analyzed. The lingering impact of Maoism and related orthodox communist values are assessed, particularly with regard to contradictory ideological influences on teens and young adults.
2 Economic Reform and Delinquency As the first generation to come of age in the post-Mao era, members of the 1973 Wuhan cohort presumably experienced the full impact of reforms in Chinese business and industry, foreign trade, agriculture, and technology. Since the dawn of economic reform in the late 1970s, China has witnessed unprecedented levels of economic expansion, averaging GDP growth rates of nine percent annually from 1978 to 2003. The ongoing transformation of numerous collective enterprises into share-holding companies, joint ventures, and private firms has transformed the economy and culture, and helped spur this growth. Reversing decades of egalitarian leveling, over a million Chinese millionaires have emerged in recent years while poverty has become widespread (Levy, 2002:52).5 China now has more income polarization than does the U.S., with the top 20 percent of Chinese households controlling 50.2 percent of national income, in contrast to 44.3 percent possessed by the wealthiest fifth in the U.S. (Cao & Dai, 2001:78). Undoubtedly, there have been clear “winners” and “losers” in post-Mao China, with marginalized groups (e.g., laid-off workers, informal workers lacking ties to established enterprises, rural migrants living in the cities, retired workers) becoming increasingly vulnerable to the negative externalities of economic reform (Wu, 2004: 401–2). Significantly, there has been a relatively large increase in the number of young people “waiting for jobs” (daiye qingnian), to use the common Chinese euphemism for unemployment. More than 80 percent of all jobless in China are young people, compared to 47 percent in 1978 (Bakken, 1995:12). Coinciding with dramatic changes in the economy have been unprecedented increases in crime rates, contributing to widespread speculation that the two phenomena are somehow linked. Chinese scholars such as Jianming Xiao have argued, for instance that “modernization inevitably causes crime to increase” (paraphrased by Liu & Messner, 2001:3). The growing gap between the rich and poor coupled with other forms of inequality in China are often cited as factors leading to higher rates of crime. The fact that China’s
The official Chinese poverty rate is 7 percent, but the World Bank estimates it to be around 33 percent.
overall crime rate first began increasing in the late 1970s and accelerated as economic reform gained momentum has further fueled such speculation. In recent decades, the Chinese communist government has strongly asserted the need for maintaining law and order, justifying this goal by invoking the specter of impending “social chaos.” Though China has maintained relatively low crime rates in comparison with other countries, the nation has indeed experienced a “crime wave” of sorts, with dramatic increases in such rates from the late 1970s through at least the early 1990s (Jensen, 2003:20). Official records reveal that China’s criminal case rate increased from 56/100,000 in 1978 to 200/100,000 in 1991,6 with a quadrupling of the rate from 1988 to 1991. In the decade of the 1980s alone, crime increased in China by 160 percent (approximately 20 percent annually) and remained at relatively high levels from the 1990s to present (Friday et al., 2003:10; Rojek, 2001:99).7 Similarly, juvenile delinquency rates have jumped significantly in recent years, though remaining well below those of most other countries. For more than two decades after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the country maintained extremely low rates of juvenile delinquency. However, soon after China’s reform policies began in 1978, such rates began to increase dramatically. The number of reported delinquent perpetrators younger than 18 years of age increased from 112,063 in 1985 to a high of 205,046 in 1989. Though such perpetrators had decreased to 152,755 by 1995, this figure was still a great deal higher than that found in the pre-reform period (Xiang, 1999:61–63). A 1992 report on juvenile delinquency estimated that only 0.3% of teens and young adults under the age of 25 had committed a criminal or delinquent offense (Curran & Cook, 1993:296); though juveniles aged 14 to 258 commit a relatively large percentage of crime in China (Gang, 1992:23).9 Moreover, China’s rate of juvenile delinquency as a percentage of overall criminal activity ranked very high in comparison to other countries. Bakken (1995) notes that Chinese juveniles aged 14 to 18 commit offenses at two to three times the ratio of youth in other countries surveyed. Recent figures indicate that the ratio of cases involving juvenile delinquents compared to the number of criminal cases in society at large has jumped from 11.8 percent in 2000 to 18.9 percent in 2003.10 Authorities arrested 69,780 youthful offenders in 2003, which was an increase of 12.7 percent over 2002.11 Such increases in China’s crime and juvenile delinquency rates are startling, particularly given the fact that serious crimes such as robbery, rape, homicide, aggravated assault, theft, and fraud increased tenfold from 1979 to 1990. According to recent reports,
This rate is considerably lower than that found in many Western countries, with Germany, for instance, having a rate of 7,625 out of 100,000 and the U.S. registering 4,266.8 out of 100,000 according to 1999 figures (Friday et al., 2003:10). Chinese crime and delinquency figures may be somewhat misleading and artificially low due to the fact that many offenses go unreported, while Chinese police have substantial leeway in handling public safety violations informally. The Chinese juvenile justice system has jurisdiction over offenders between the ages of 13 to 25. Gang (1992:23) notes, “Adolescent crimes committed in China went up as the average age of the criminals dropped. Investigations show that the average age of youngsters who violated laws for the first time is now about 14 years old compared with 16.7 prior to 1990 and the number of teenage criminals continued to increase each year.”
Figures provided by Huang Jingjun, National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member. From 2000 to 2003, the yearly figures were 11.8 percent, 12 percent, 13.4 percent, and 18.9 percent respectively (News Guangdong, March 11, 2005).
11 The same report indicates that 317,925 juveniles were arrested from 1998 to 2003, accounting for 7.3 percent of the total number of criminal suspects arrested in that period (China Daily May 29, 2004).
96.8 percent of juvenile delinquents arrested and incarcerated since the early 1990s have been held on charges of robbery, murder, sexual assault, and personal abuse (China Daily, June 6, 2004). Drug-related offenses have likewise shown a marked increase, especially among youthful offenders (Travis, 2004:1). Prostitution has become increasingly common in urban areas, with massage parlors, karaoke bars, and hair salons often serving as daytime fronts for illicit nighttime activities. Youth gangs have proliferated also, with a growing proportion of offenders identifying themselves as gang members. Though Chinese gangs are mostly informal cliques, others have developed with clearly defined leaders, membership rosters, territorial turf, and esoteric initiation rites (Zhang, Messner, Lu, & Deng, 1997:292–294). In general, crime and delinquency are concentrated in urban centers and particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Major cities such as Wuhan, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou have witnessed much higher jumps in crime and delinquency rates than the national average.12 A related demographic trend has been the mass migration of teens and young adults from the countryside to major cities, often working for relatively meager wages.13 As a result, many migrating youth leave home at an earlier age than in the past and are much less influenced by their families due to physical separation. Many Chinese sociologists have speculated that this trend has seriously weakened the socializing role of the family and contributed to soaring rates of delinquency and other forms of deviance (Curran & Cook, 1993:306). Such social phenomena apparently have fueled the ranks of emerging subcultures, as well as street gangs, by providing a steady pool of potential “recruits” from the new “army” of impoverished and migrating youths. Many other factors have apparently contributed to spiraling rates of delinquency, including a dramatic demographic shift for China that began in the early 1980s due to a sudden increase in the youth population. Baby boomers born during the Cultural Revolution period had finally reached adolescence and young adulthood, leading to a major generational shift. This trend peaked in 1988 when young people accounted for 75.7 percent of all criminal offenders.14 The figures have declined slightly every year since that time, as the number of Chinese youths entering their teen years has steadily decreased in number,15 though the rates remain very high compared to the pre-reform period (Bakken, 1995:6, 11–12). However, such demographic explanations alone appear insufficient to explain such a massive increase in delinquency rates, particularly when such illicit behavior is occurring within a highly punitive and authoritarian setting.
3 The Social Values of Youth Subcultures Youth subcultures in China, as in the West, can be defined as groups of teenagers and young adults sharing certain common cultural features and appearing to have collective values, norms and roles that differ substantially from the larger culture (Johnston & Snow,
Crime has increased most rapidly in so-called Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that have maintained the least government oversight of industry and the most open foreign trade policies (Curran & Cook, 1993:308). Solinger (1999:21) notes that the overwhelming majority of migrants are young to middle-aged, and mostly male. In contrast, Chinese juveniles reportedly committed approximately 10–20 percent of all offenses in the 1950s and 30 percent in the 1960s (Feng, 2001:125).
More recent estimates place the proportion of criminal offenders under age 25 at 65 to 70 percent (Du, 1995).
1998:474). Those who identify with certain subcultures tend to have a distinct appearance, demeanor, argot, slang, and slogans. Other common traits include shared symbols, myths, behaviors, networks, rituals, and collective identities. Western and Western-influenced (hybridized) youth subcultures tend to embrace particular musical genres and other verbal and written communication forms, with a primary reliance on alternative methods of information dissemination (e.g., amateur publications and pamphlets, posters, graffiti, independent and bootleg recordings of music, tattoos and other body modifications, web sites) that tend to circumvent centralized social control or bureaucratic oversight. For years, criminologists in the West have debated the demographic (i.e., social class) origins of seemingly distinctive social values embraced by adherents of various youth subcultures. Some have argued that such values develop primarily within the subculture (e.g., Cohen, 1955, Miller, 1958, Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967); while others have maintained that they are actually subterranean reflections of core values originating within the dominant culture (e.g., Hagan, 1991; Matza & Sykes, 1961). The former viewpoint depicts delinquent values (e.g., distain for education, glorification of violence) as emanating from the lower classes and in direct opposition to the values and norms of middle class life (e.g., the ethic of hard work and educational achievement), while the later viewpoint essentially blames delinquent behavior on inherent contradictions and normative inconsistencies within the dominant culture or strata. In enunciating the first viewpoint, Cohen (1955) contends that delinquents from working class backgrounds typically reject prevailing middle class standards promoted by educational institutions and family life. Delinquents adjust to their environment through “a process of reaction formation, in which the academic success typically denied working-class boys is contemptuously redefined as the ‘bookish knowledge’ of ‘sissies’; whereas ‘street knowledge,’ which is learned from friends in the delinquent gang, is regarded as superior to other forms of knowledge” (cited in Beirne and Messerschmidt 1991:440–44). Miller (1958) reports that delinquents typically reflect the “focal concerns” of the working and lower classes (e.g., “trouble, toughness, smartness, excitement, fate, and autonomy”) that differ greatly from those of the middle class. Such distinct values are derived from the “structural position” and social class origins of delinquents (Beirne and Messerschmidt, 444–445). Elaborating on this thesis, Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967) argue that distinct values associated with a “subculture of violence” are particularly widespread among crime-prone, impoverished groups. In contrast, Matza and Sykes (1961) postulate that the dominant culture contains conflicting “edge” (a.k.a. “subterranean”) values that exist side by side with more cautious and austere “mainstream” values. The authors theorize that the U.S. and other capitalist societies primarily promote conforming-producing values such as stability, predictability, austerity, and security. But such societies also encourage people to seek the accumulation of “big money,” as well as to engage in periodic recreational activities that lead to the reinforcement of risk-oriented values such as adventure, excitement, hedonism, and thrill seeking. For the most part, such values are permitted by the dominant culture only during ephemeral periods of leisure that are largely demarcated from the workplace. The authors argue that the delinquent tends to blur such leisure/work distinctions. As Matza and Sykes note: “The delinquent has picked up and emphasized one part of the dominant value system, namely, the subterranean values that coexist with the other, publicly proclaimed values possessing a more respectable air” (717).
Rather than being in direct opposition to middle class standards, such subterranean values are “familiar and within limits tolerated by broad segments of the adult population” (quoted by Hagan et al., 312). Delinquent youth therefore do not actually violate the values of the dominant culture per se but instead go beyond the acceptable parameters normally tolerated within a given setting. They then attempt to free themselves from social controls that typically impose limits by rationalizing and justifying such behavior. Such “neutralization” techniques effectively shield delinquent youth from experiencing shame or guilt when their activities are detected (Sykes and Matza cited in Beirne and Messerschmidt 453–454). When apprehended or discovered, delinquents typically seek to blame others for their infractions (e.g., peers, family, and school) and engage in various forms of neutralization. Such neutralization tactics as “denial of responsibility,” “denial of injury,” “denial of victim,” “condemnation of condemners,” and “appeal to higher loyalties” are fairly common among delinquents. Hagan (1991) applies this theory more specifically to subcultures, concluding that subterranean values permeate popular culture and are transmitted to subcultures primarily through movies, television, magazines, music, and other media. Hagan maintains that the presence of such values indirectly encourages the coalescence and development of deviant yet relatively harmless “party subcultures” which are prevalent in society and overlap with smaller and potentially more dangerous “delinquent subcultures.” In a more recent study involving the role of subterranean values in shaping German delinquent subcultures, Hagan, Hefler, Classen, Boehnke, and Merkens (1998) found that such values are particularly pronounced in countries where market principles are introduced rapidly. The authors determined that youth in the former (communistdominated) East Germany were much more likely than their West German counterparts to express “hierarchic self-interest” and other subterranean values tied to economic competition and individualism. The authors conclude that the globalization of market forces had engendered new value contradictions and a heightened potential for “anomic amorality” among youth within transitional societies. Under these conditions, subterranean values associated with capitalism such as egocentrism, materialism, and greed became particularly pronounced. The authors report that East Berlin youth were “more vulnerable” than their West Berlin counterparts to “the accentuation, exaggeration, and distortion of these market-driven values,” thus providing fertile ground for escalating rates of delinquent behavior (321–323). This finding adds weight to the contention that delinquent youth subcultures are not only more likely to develop in complex modern societies, but are also more apt to emerge in countries that are undergoing profound socioeconomic, systemic transformations. China - which is evolving from a totalitarian, economically centralized, and predominately rural society to an authoritarian, decentralized, and increasingly urban society seems to fit this description. In fact, China had “moved from the ranks of the world’s most egalitarian societies to one of the most unequal in its distribution of income, wealth, and opportunity” by the early 1990s (Perry and Selden 2001:5). In contrast to the former East Germany, the communist party remains in charge of China and is orchestrating market reforms from above while continuing to promote seemingly conflicting values and policies in other respects. One could therefore theorize that contemporary China with its evident ideological disjuncture - is more prone to experience exaggerated contradictions between “mainstream” and “edge” values than the former East Germany, thereby engendering an even stronger impact on delinquent behavior among youth.
4 Paradigm Shift in Chinese Values Prior to the launching of economic reform, the social integration process in communistdominated China unequivocally emphasized utopian or “proletarian” values such as ideological purity, self-sacrifice, communalism, benevolence, heroism, conformity, equality, frugality, generosity, and eagerness to work for the collective good (Liu & Messner, 2001:7). Since that time, antithetical “bourgeois” values more in line with a market economy have been introduced such as pragmatism, individualism, self-sufficiency, consumerism, entrepreneurship, efficiency, financial enrichment, upward mobility, authenticity, and an eagerness to work for oneself. Government slogans exhorting people to make money through hard work (e.g., “getting rich is glorious”) have seemingly supplanted altruistic admonitions of the past (e.g., “to serve the people”). The “new” China, as Rojek (2001) observes, “seems to be predicated on an individualism that counters communalism, and on a frenzied striving for wealth and material goods that weakens, if not destroys, the very essence of interpersonal obligations” (96). Hanser (2002:190) notes that competition has always existed in China, but “the paradigm has clearly shifted from one in which competition was characterized by an explicitly political, virtuocratic set of criteria to an increasingly profit-seeking framework in which success or failure is built on autonomous choices and individual ability, initiative, and effort”. Subterranean values that are indirectly linked to economic reform such as domination, hedonism, narcissism, thrill seeking, risk-taking, immediate gratification, fatalism, and toughness have become visibly apparent in China as well, most obviously via the Internet and Western-influenced movies, novels, magazines, TV shows, popular music, and newspaper tabloids.16 This apparent paradigm shift in values has generated a great deal of controversy and concern within China. In recent years, many Chinese criminologists and other social scientists have referred to an “ideological crisis among China’s youths,” lamenting that many - if not most - young people no longer share their traditional ideals and values. The strong inference of such a viewpoint is that the communist party has allowed Maoism to be supplanted by a new set of Western-influenced values, leading many young people to abandon the traditional foundation of Chinese communist society.17 Kwong (1994) questions this widely held assertion, noting instead that the origin of the so-called “youth ideological crisis” was sparked by conflicting values and ideals existing within China’s political culture. She contends that the egalitarian Maoist values of years past constituted an “official utopian ideology” that in some respects was minimized but not discarded after Deng Xiaoping and other reformers assumed the reigns of power. Rather than completely breaking with the past, economic reformers enunciated new market-based values while clinging to the Maoist mantle in order to maintain political legitimacy. The Dengist pragmatic values constitute what Kwong terms the “advertised official ideology.” Many new problems in Chinese society are related to conflicts and contradictions that have emerged between the values of the new advertised official ideology and those of the older utopian ideology. Rather than presenting their revamped positions on the market and private
For a discussion of media sensationalism of crime in tabloid newspapers and other periodicals, see Zhao (2002).
For example, Cheng Zhiang has argued that the values of socialism have been systematically discarded and are in danger of being replaced by “philistinism,” “egoism,” “money worship,” “hedonism,” and other Western-influenced beliefs and practices (1999:48–53).
property within a completely different ideological context, the reformers portray themselves as good communists in the tradition of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. As Kwong contends: (The reformers) ignored the contradictions. Instead they emphasized the pragmatic benefits and called themselves socialists. Continuing to label themselves socialists, however, introduced elements of tension and hypocrisy in the official culture (249). Such contradictory messages are particularly evident in the ideal youth culture promulgated by the Chinese educational system. Chinese youth are taught at a very early age to believe in such utopian Maoist ideals as self-sacrifice, heroism, conformity, and austerity, but are simultaneously exposed in other ways to the newer values of the “advertised” ideology. Such reformist values such as individualism, entrepreneurship, and materialism are touted by the regime, despite relatively obvious contradictions with certain utopian values. New market-oriented policies have given rise to corruption and malfeasance, which further undermine the official utopian ideology.18 As Kwong explains, young people are thereby compelled to selectively filter, modify, reject, and internalize aspects of both official ideologies (251).
5 Evidence of Subcultures in Birth Cohort Surveys Within the original Wuhan birth cohort identified by Wolfgang, 81 out of 5,341 people studied had acquired criminal records by the time of the first interview.19 This was a relatively small number of offenders when compared to longitudinal studies of delinquents in other countries, with the Wuhan sample representing only 1.5% of the population. Gender was an obvious factor in the cohort sample with 76 males (2.8 percent) and only five women (0.2 percent) designated as offenders. The researchers matched a control sample of 81 respondents that had similar parental economic status and occupation, demographic background, and lived in comparable neighborhood school districts. The sample of offenders was labeled “Group A,” while the non-offending control sample was designated “Group B.” Interviews were conducted with all 162 persons between 1991 and 1992 while the respondents were 18 years old, defined as juveniles under Chinese law.20 The most frequent crimes committed by offenders in the sample were as follows: 61.8 percent committed burglaries or thefts, 20.6 percent were arrested for fights and injuries, and 17.6 percent were involved in hooliganism or other altercations. The vast majority of the offenders (97.1 percent) were arrested for the first time between the ages of 15 to 17, with 12.3 percent of the sample being repeat offenders with at least two arrests. It is important to note that none of the offenders violated the law single-handedly (at least at the time of arrest); 52.9 percent acted with two to five other people while 47.1 percent acted with at least six others.
According to Transparency International, China has one of the most corrupt economies in the world (cited in Link et al. 2002:7).
It is important to note that this 1973 birth cohort did not include any representatives of the so-called “floating population.” The mass exodus of rural peasants to the cities did not begin until after 1978, thereby precluding a presence in this particular urban cohort. For this reason, the incidence of offending among those living in Wuhan of the same age as the original cohort may be underrepresented. Friday et al. (2003) later revised the cohort sample in 2000 and made projections concerning offending rates for those at age 18 and 27.
Though the Wuhan study did not focus on the existence of delinquent subcultures per se, a number of factors examined by the researchers indicate the existence of differential association, distinct peer influences, and other demographic affinities. To begin with, the study states that none of the offenders acted alone. This fact effectively demonstrates the saliency of peers and the probable presence of subcultural or gang formations. Important demographic data also point to the presence of dysfunctional family and educational environments shared by many offenders. For instance, the study found that the parents of offenders tend to have substantially lower educational levels than the non-offending sample. This factor was statistically significant for the offenders’ fathers in particular. While many of the offending sample’s fathers (40.7 percent) completed middle school but advanced no further, a much smaller percentage (17.3 percent) completed college. Conversely, only 24.7 percent of the non-offenders’ fathers completed middle school, while 30.9 percent finished college. Seeming to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, a majority of offenders obtained lower levels of education than those in the control group. Only 11.1 percent of offenders graduated from senior middle school (i.e., equivalent to American high school) and none completed college.21 In contrast, 50.6 percent of non-offenders received senior middle school diplomas while 16 percent completed a higher education degree. Offenders reported much lower expectations for education, with 50 percent even stating that they had no educational goals or plans whatsoever. Dropping out or being expelled from school was likewise more common for offenders than non-offenders. While 23 percent of offenders left school prior to graduation, only 4.5 percent of non-offenders dropped out. Not a single nonoffender in the sample was expelled from school, in contrast to 17.3 percent of offenders. Putting these figures in context with the larger population, only one in four Chinese students gains admittance to college; due in part to intense competition for a very limited number of places. The so-called “narrowing gate” phenomenon,22 or winnowing of students through competitive placement as they progress through the school system, effectively limits educational opportunities for the majority. The potential strain of dishonor and family stigmatization can be enormous and devastating for those who are shut out of the system (Curran & Cook, 1993:304–305). Job prospects are seriously compromised for young people lacking adequate education. Even when employed, such undereducated young people become particularly vulnerable to the “vagaries of the labor market” and are typically the first to be laid off (Hansen, 2002:198). Family and socioeconomic background appears to be important in other respects as well, with the fathers of offenders in the cohort sample most likely to be employed as industrial workers (43.8 percent) or self-employed business operators (28.8 percent). In contrast, nonoffenders’ fathers most often worked as technicians, teachers, or in other white-collar professions (44.5 percent total). Though 8.8 percent of the offenders’ fathers were unemployed at the time of the interview, none of the control group’s fathers were out of work. Delinquents were more likely than non-delinquents to identify their “ideal job” as being a blue-collar worker or private businessman. This data seems to confirm Miller’s theory, cited earlier, that a lower or working class background is a common precondition for delinquent behavior.
21 Gang (1992:23–24) cited comparable figures, noting that approximately 80 percent of juvenile delinquents in China do not graduate from senior middle school. 22
This term was coined in Taiwan where competition with other students intensifies as each grade is completed, with opportunities to attend the “better schools” seriously contested from a young age.
In addition, newspapers and books were much less common in the households of offenders than non-offenders. Corporal punishment was more frequently administered for delinquents than the control group. Advanced technological devices and appliances were less common in the offenders’ homes and positive interactions with parents were less common as well. Significantly, divorced or frequently quarreling parents were almost twice as likely to be found in the homes of offenders (59.3 percent) as non-offenders (35.1 percent).
6 Evidence of Subcultures Related to Peers and Pop Culture Family, educational, and socioeconomic factors combined would seem to indicate a common, at-risk, offender profile;23 one that was more inclined to be influenced by other like-minded offenders. According to the Wuhan study, exposure to negative peer influences was particularly pronounced for offenders (83.7 percent) compared to non-offenders (only 20.5 percent). Delinquent respondents, in contrast to the control group, generally spent more time with their peers and claimed that their friends were especially prone to fighting, truancy, trouble-making, and missing work. Most noteworthy in this regard was the finding that “respondents who indicated that they were exposed to delinquent peers were nearly seven times more likely to be offenders than those who were not exposed to delinquent peers, controlling for the importance of friends as role models” (Friday et al., 2003:66). Delinquents, in contrast to non-delinquents, were much more likely to have a friend (“capable buddy”) who served as an informal role model.24 When asked for the “main reasons” why they committed crimes, offenders most often blamed “the influence of friends” (37 percent). Other important reasons cited (in rank order) include the influence of TV and film (21 percent), being loyal to one’s friends (17.3 percent), and being fond of dressing up, playing, and accumulating money (16 percent). In many respects, the Wuhan cohort data seem to reflect Cohen’s observations involving the so-called “street knowledge” of offenders contrasted to the “bookish knowledge” of non-offenders. This was particularly evident in divergent responses to questions involving offenders’ and non-offenders’ reading and television viewing preferences. Offenders’ primary interests (in rank order) included war stories, detective stories, martial arts and fairy tales, comedy, historical stories, and scientific knowledge. Such stories of war, crime, and martial arts often glamorize violence and reward brute strength and individual fighting skills. Non-offenders selected more highbrow pursuits such as scientific knowledge and philosophy of life, followed by war stories and fairy tales, historical stories, and detective stories. Several Chinese criminologists have noted the disproportionate interest of delinquents for Western-influenced popular culture and have blamed related music, movies and books for inciting crime and inspiring street gangs. Rock and roll (yaogun)25 and related fashion
Friday et al. (2003:85) note that the delinquent sample is defined as “being at risk” due to the “absence of bonds or rather loose bonds to conventional societal norms.
Significantly, a “capable buddy” was selected by 58 percent of offenders as a role model, but by only 29.6 percent of non-offenders. During the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath, rock and roll was officially banned in China. Beginning in the early 1980s, rock music tapes were smuggled into China from the West and disseminated widely, leading eventually to the de facto decriminalization of the genre by communist authorities in the early 1990s. For more on the evolution of rock music in China see Jones (1992).
trends are often cited as negative influences in this regard. For instance, Xincai (1995:79– 81) postulates that when young people “follow the fashion” by embracing the latest clothing, recreation, and music trends they are much more prone to adopt inappropriate social values as a consequence. In particular, he expressed his deepest concern for youth who copy “the hair-styles and clothes of movie stars and pop singers,” noting that “the desire to be trendy” inevitably leads to delinquent behavior. A number of Chinese criminologists also cite martial arts movies as an important factor fueling delinquent behavior (e.g., Ge, 1986; Du, 1995; Qiancheng, 1987; Xincai, 1988; Zhiang, 1999; Zimu, 1999). Dong (1995) surveyed 322 youthful offenders incarcerated in detention centers during 1988 and found that martial arts was the most popular genre of television programming, novels, and movies, according to 33.5 percent of respondents. Ironically, martial arts movies - often imported from the US, Hong Kong, and Taiwan - have apparently helped generate a resurgence of traditional, pre-communist, “secret societies” (Dutton, 1998: 180). An increasing percentage of juvenile delinquency in China is gang related, with recent surveys indicating as high a rate as 70 percent (Xiang, 1999:64). Many youthful adherents of such gangs have adorned themselves with various tattoos, worn as subcultural badges of honor. As a form of “ink punishment” meted out in traditional China to shame the offender and warn fellow residents in the community of potential danger, the tattoo has been rehabilitated as a ritual of rebellion for many youth (Dutton, 1998:180).26 In sum, offenders in the Wuhan cohort, in contrast to the non-offending sample, were more likely to come from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, achieve less education, have more limited educational and occupational aspirations, grow up in dysfunctional families, gain heightened exposure to negative peer influences and role modeling, and develop a strong interest in Western-influenced (and often violent-laden) genres of popular culture and related rituals.
7 Evidence of Subterranean Values held by Offenders Even though there are many distinct subcultural attributes that distinguish offenders from non-offenders in the cohort group studied, there is also evidence that many values of the delinquents surveyed reflect the “advertised” pragmatic ideology of post-Mao China. When asked to list “the most important things in life,” offenders responded by answering “money” (86.4 percent), “power and influence” (75.3 percent), “freedom and enjoyment” (61.7 percent), “position” (35.8 percent), and “happiness in social contacts” (14.8 percent).27 Non-offenders responded to the same question with somewhat different priorities, listing “knowledge” (50.6 percent), “position” (39.5 percent), “money” (38.3 percent), “a stable life” (30.9 percent), and “achievement in career” (29.6 percent) as their top choices. Some of the values embraced by offenders had significantly less support among the control group, such as “power and influence” and “freedom and enjoyment.” Even more significant was
A recent survey conducted among teens at educational institutions in China found that 7.6 percent had tattoos. The study also revealed that tattooed youth are more likely to have been arrested than those without tattoos (Jian, 1998:183).
According to Gang (1992:23), a survey conducted in Zhejiang Teenager Education Center (a reformatory for juveniles under age 18) found that “all of the youngsters wanted to satisfy their strong desire for money, ease and comfort by hook or by crook. Their pursuit of these things was influenced by the idea that ‘money is all powerful and ease and comfort come first’ in society.” This survey also found that 72.3 percent of offenders had “a strong sense of independence.”
the finding that many of the values embraced by non-offenders had little or no support among the delinquent group, including “maintaining a stable life,” “achievement in career,” “reputation,” and “good behavior.” Without exception, the top values listed by a majority of offenders are subterranean reflections of the reformist regime’s agenda, i.e., they are tied to the de facto capitalization of China. The egocentric and megalomaniac accumulation of “big money” is tacitly encouraged by economic reform. Wielding power and influence over subordinates is tied to upward mobility, inequality, and a post-socialist stratification system that has emerged in recent decades. Economic freedom and enjoyment, spurred on by trade liberalization and higher levels of disposable income for young people, is inadvertently fueling conspicuous consumption, narcissism, profligacy, greed, hedonism, and even intolerance. Such values are on the fringe of the new official ideology; emerging as market-driven reforms and platitudes are taken to the amoral extreme. As Matza and Sykes (1961) contend, most societies normally tolerate narcissistic and hedonistic behavior during intermittent periods of leisure and recreation, but not otherwise. Chinese delinquents are blurring this distinction and essentially incorporating selected reform-related subterranean values into their everyday lives. Meanwhile, the official utopian ideology continues to reverberate throughout Chinese society, as evidenced by the preferred values of the non-offending sample. Acquiring knowledge and a stable life are traditional Confucian values and decidedly nonmaterialistic; therefore essentially Maoist when combined with proletarian exhortations. Frugality and self-sacrifice are prerequisites for achieving knowledge through education and continue to be stressed by the government and other institutions of society. Though accumulating money was listed as important to non-delinquent respondents, it was more than two times as important to offenders. The control group was more likely to report that they were involved in “social activities of public interest;” i.e., altruistic community service and volunteerism. Rather than focusing on financial remuneration as a motive for such work, non-offenders participated because they believed that these “activities were rewarding in terms of broadening one’s knowledge” and developing societal awareness (Friday et al., 2003: 44, 71). Evidently, the traditional Maoist exhortation to “serve the people” was valued by non-offenders but not by most offenders. Conformist values in line with Maoism were also evident in the relatively strong emphasis that non-offenders placed on maintaining a good reputation and obeying the rules. It is instructive to note that while 12.3 percent of non-offenders had listed “good behavior” as important in life, none of the offenders selected this value as important. The responding groups had major differences in the value placed on work and labor, with offenders being much more likely than non-offenders to state that “labor is tiresome and they do not like it” (Friday et al., 2003: 44). Paradoxically, a majority of offenders revealed that their future occupational goals were focused mainly on industrial work or menial jobs, but seemed unwilling to compete effectively for such jobs. A majority of offenders reported that they value money more than anything else and desire to be wealthy, but dislike work. This attitude is consistent with Matza and Sykes’ (1961) argument that delinquents tend to prefer leisure to work, though often blurring the lines between the two in subterranean fashion. Offenders’ hierarchic self-interest in accumulating wealth is thereby coupled with an apparently languid work ethic. The conundrum for offenders is to find a way to make money without laboring for it. Resorting to thievery and other property crimes ostensibly would resolve this contradiction for individual offenders. Indeed, by far the most common crime for the offending sample is theft and burglary (61.8 percent). This type of crime far exceeds all others committed, including fighting and hooliganism.
Subterranean values are also apparent in offenders’ popular culture interests and sensibilities. War stories, detective stories, martial arts, and fairy tales are directly tied to risk-oriented values such as adventure, excitement, and thrill seeking. These values are on the edge of the regime’s pragmatic ideology, as entrepreneurship, stockholding, speculation, and other risky values have garnered official sanction. The influence of popular culture imported from the West and other parts of Asia reinforce these risk-oriented values, with get rich quick schemes and “lifestyles of the rich and famous” parables apparently sparking the interest of desperate youth. Chinese delinquents therefore appear to be influenced by the officially “advertised” values of economic reform, but go far beyond the parameters established by the regime. At the same time, because offenders in the sample largely come from underprivileged backgrounds, they are more likely to develop a sense of relative deprivation,28 thereby encouraging an even greater reliance on unconventional (i.e., illegal) tactics for achieving wealth and power.
8 Conclusion The People’s Republic of China is in a decades-long socioeconomic transition without commensurate political changes and is therefore prone to experiencing major ideological contradictions. Ruled by communists who have orchestrated a market transition from above, the regime has systematically ignored many value-laden incongruities existing between economic reform and Maoism. After decades of promoting collectivism, the Chinese communist party introduced and promoted antithetical values tied to individualism beginning in the late 1970s. Rather than present their economic agenda in a completely different ideological context, such “pragmatic” communist reformers wrapped themselves in Mao’s mantle. Despite unprecedented levels of inequality and corruption, Maoist values of the ideal youth culture continue to be promulgated in schools, government agencies, and elsewhere. While the new rich flaunt their wealth, a growing number of unemployed and underemployed youth languish in poverty. A close examination of the Wuhan cohort data reveals that the vast majority of offenders born in 1973 were indeed of lower or working class origin, which has been cited by Miller, Cohen, and other criminologists as a common precondition for delinquent behavior. Most offenders in the cohort also had dysfunctional family backgrounds and relatively low levels of educational achievement (especially when compared to the control group), thereby lacking social status. Offenders tended to share comparable tastes in Western-influenced “lowbrow” popular culture and an aversion to hard work, differing markedly in this regard from nonoffenders. Exposure to negative peer influences was especially pronounced for offenders, with a large number claiming to be influenced by friends while committing delinquent acts. Significantly, all of the offenders studied were arrested for violating the law in concert with other youths. The presence of like-minded, trouble-making peers coming from similar at-risk backgrounds, associating together on a regular basis and seeming to model behavior after one another, demonstrates the presence of relatively defined subcultures of delinquency. However, the offenders studied overwhelmingly expressed a tacit affinity for subterranean values, tied in large measure to the ideology of economic reform. Rather than originating from
This term was coined by Ted Robert Gurr, who referred to the potential collective violence or revolutionary consequence of growing gaps between the rich and poor (cited by Perry and Seldon, 2000:14).
within the delinquent subculture, as Miller and others would claim, the values of the Wuhan offenders closely mirrored China’s relatively “mainstream” market-based values, albeit taken to the amoral extreme. Apparently internalizing important cues and concepts from the government, media, and popular culture, young offenders have elaborated and expanded upon such market-based values as materialism, consumerism, enrichment, and risk-taking. Though often overstated and distorted, selected market-influenced values have been adopted by youth living on the margins, thereby contributing to higher rates of delinquency. As indicated by their obsession with accumulating money and power, youthful offenders were much more likely than their non-offending counterparts to reveal hierarchic self-interest and other egocentric sentiments. Lacking adequate cultural and educational resources for acquiring wealth and power through legitimate means, delinquents have embraced alternative enrichment strategies such as engaging in theft, fraud, burglary, robbery, drug dealing, prostitution, and even organized crime. A top priority for such offenders is accumulating wealth while avoiding hard work (as many of China’s nouveau riche often appear to do as well), which inevitably places them at odds with law enforcement. In contrast, non-offending youth within the cohort have more thoroughly internalized the traditional values of Maoist ideology such as volunteerism, self-sacrifice, and societal conformism. Though non-offenders indicated that they have developed a relatively strong appreciation for making money via the market economy, a majority said that accumulating knowledge and receiving non-material rewards for civic activities were even more important. Non-offending respondents revealed unabashed support for traditional/utopian Chinese values, thereby embracing “serving the people” and other communitarian and altruistic ideals overtly. Ironically, most non-offenders were better prepared than offenders to earn large sums of money in China’s market-driven economy, due in large measure to the benefits accrued from their own cultural and social capital. These and other value-laden incongruities are linked to the presence of two overlapping yet distinct - ideologies in present day China: the official utopian ideology and the advertised official ideology. Young people are thereby subject to an incongruous institutional socialization process that stresses the twin icons of Mao and the Market. Despite a paradigm shift in the regime’s policy orientation, the party and related institutions have continued emphasizing contradictory values. Ideological purity commingles with pragmatism, self-sacrifice with self-interest, financial austerity with credit card debt, class leveling with social inequality, and generosity with greed. Globalization only exacerbates these contradictions, with Western-influenced popular culture disseminating capitalist values through style, argot, consumption, and assertions of collective identity. Social nonconformity and amoral individuality become “cool” in the guise of kung fu movies and rock music, thereby enhancing peer group solidarity in impoverished local neighborhoods, effectively linked with hybridized subcultures. Paradoxically, a majority of offenders in the Wuhan study could be described as working class, therefore resembling the ideal proletarian construct of conventional Marxism/ Maoism. With relative deprivation factored in, such youth would seem tailor made for collective action in opposition to the new “bourgeois” values of communist party reformers. Why, then, would working class youth embrace such mainstream market-driven values, even in subterranean form? The answer lies in the ideological contradictions that exist within Chinese society. Such youth have been raised in an environment in which money and conspicuous consumption rather than ideological zeal and Fredness_ - are preferred and more openly touted. When young people are told to enrich themselves and take risks, while being encouraged simultaneously to embrace equality and benevolence, they are left with a social conundrum.
Witnessing the lifestyles of the rich and the famous - vicariously through pop culture and in everyday life when encountering yuppies on the street - raises youthful expectations that are soon dashed by the reality of limited educational and occupational opportunities. Such contradictions fuel rampant amorality and anomie in China, as Hagen (1998) first noted in reference to the East German case. It is also paradoxical that two of the top reasons cited by offenders for committing criminal acts were “the influence of friends” and “being loyal to one’s friends.” On the surface, such group-based altruism appears at odds with the otherwise egocentric and narcissistic motivations of a majority of the offender sample. However, the main difference between the altruistic tendencies of offenders and non-offenders is the likely beneficiary of such self-sacrifice. “Loyalty” carries divergent connotations depending on the context, with offenders demonstrating devotion to a peer group or gang, rather than society at large. Moreover, citing loyalty to friends as a rationale for committing crime could be construed as an attempt at neutralization. To paraphrase Matza and Sykes (1961), such an “appeal to higher loyalties” is one of several neutralizing techniques employed by delinquents, particularly after being discovered, apprehended, or incarcerated. In some respects, subcultural affiliation is a kind of neutralization technique. Committing crimes in groups lends itself to an expression of both group loyalty and societal defiance. Delinquents likely will perceive group-based crime as lessening their responsibility for an offense, thereby neutralizing or at least minimizing personal culpability. Caught between conflicting sets of regime-promulgated values, Chinese youth are buffeted by multiple expectations and pressures to conform to a variety of disparate roles. Such strains have taken their toll, particularly with regard to economically disadvantaged youth. Often denied educational and social welfare benefits, young people from impoverished or otherwise marginalized backgrounds experience relative deprivation. In response, scores of young people are fashioning new collective identities linked to Western-influenced subcultures. Ironically, many of the egocentric and hedonistic values found within these subcultures mirror those of economic reform - taken to the extreme. Until the Chinese government leadership fully addresses the inherent contradictions within their political and socioeconomic system, juvenile delinquency rates will likely continue to soar. References
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