About the Author

Niklas Berry is a graduate student in the Missouri State University Department of History. He earned his Bachelor's in History and Master's in Secondary Social Studies Education from the University of Maryland, College Park. He has taught United States and World History at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, MD for the past ten years.

Document Type



The purpose of this paper is to historicize contemporary gendered legal practices in the People’s Republic of China and to demonstrate that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, paternalistic assumptions rooted in Confucianism still inform the treatment of female prisoners today. Though China underwent massive political and economic shifts after the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, certain longstanding societal principles were preserved in modern China, including long-held paternalistic stereotypes about the physical and mental fragility of women. These precepts undergirded the PRC’s reforms of its judicial and criminal systems in the 1990’s, as seen in the 1994 Prison Law which promised that “special consideration shall be given to [the] physiological and psychological characteristics” of juvenile and female prisoners. As the incarceration rate of women in China increased dramatically after the mid-1990’s, the Ministry of Justice promoted the mindset that female detainees were an emotionally unstable population that posed a constant threat to the social order of the prison environment. In response to these fears, prison officials and guards developed both formal and informal policies to govern the treatment of female prisoners, though the effectiveness of their actions in fueling the rehabilitation of inmates remains unclear.

Included in

History Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.