Chengdu: a teeming, modern metropolis.
Yet China’s painful turbulent history still leaves its mark on the minds of all who live there.
Philip Ye, half English, half Chinese, is a homicide detective with the Chengdu Public Security Bureau who suffers his own anguish from a life blighted by tragedy and the unsettling appearance of ghosts that often intrude in on his investigations.
On a misty grey morning one such apparition leads him to a busy street corner during the rush hour where he bears witness to a shocking event. Against his better judgment, Phillip is drawn into the search for a missing, vulnerable boy. His investigation brings him into contact with Xu Ya, a brilliant and beautiful public prosecutor. She is new to Chengdu, determined not only to make her mark but to also leave behind her own personal heartbreak. They have crossed paths before. He has no memory of her, but she remembers him very well indeed….
Soon enough Philip Ye has a vicious murder on his hands, and then another – the boy’s disappearance seemingly sparking a chain of violent events. With the help of Xu Ya – dedicated to upholding făzhì, the Rule of Law, in China ‒ and her indefatigable and worldly-wise assistant Fatty Deng, Phillip Ye is quickly on the trail of a mysterious figure known as The Willow Woman. But, unbeknownst to them all, there are secretive and subversive forces at work within the dark heart of the city and tremendous danger awaits....
Superintendent Philip Ye
A homicide detective with Chengdu Public Security Bureau (PSB), Philip Ye is the famously handsome Anglo-Chinese son of the now disgraced mayor of the city, Ye Zihao. Heir to the fabulous but reputedly ill-gotten wealth of his family, Philip Ye’s life, however, has been touched by a terrible tragedy. Fifteen years ago, while he was at university in England, his fiancée, Isobel, was struck down by cancer. After completing his degree, he returns to China deeply affected by his loss, developing a fascination with death and the possible existence of an afterlife. He also begins to have visions of the dead, ghosts who appear to him, communicate with him – but never the ghost of Isobel. Against the express wishes of his father, he chooses to study law at the University of Wuhan and then enrols in the police in Chengdu. Rising quickly through the ranks, not least because his father is mayor, he joins the Homicide Section, only for his career to stall when his father is removed from office. But the visions of the dead continue – and sometimes those visions, those communications from the dead, presage a homicide that is soon to cross his desk….
Once the respected but feared Mayor and Party Chief of Chengdu, Ye Zihao now languishes under house-arrest, confined to the Ye family mansion. Accused of corruption and a lack of compassion after the devastating Wenchuan Earthquake, for some unknown reason formal charges are yet to be laid against him. The Shanghai Clique is now in charge of the city: Party operatives and administrators sent to Chengdu to continue the city’s evolution into an international business hub as well as to dismantle Ye Zihao’s extensive network of power and influence. However, Ye Zihao is not done. There are many people still in Chengdu who look back on his time as mayor with nostalgia. And so, day and night, Ye Zihao sits in the house and ponders, speaking by phone to his many contacts across the city, plotting the demise of the Shanghai Clique and his hoped for return to power.
Prosecutor Xu Ya
Raised and privately educated in Chongqing, and under the influence of a beloved tutor, Xu Ya ignores her parents’ advice and decides to make the law her life’s work. After a year studying in the United States, she completes her law degree at the University of Wuhan, where she happens to fall in love with another student, the impossibly handsome but melancholy Philip Ye – not that he ever notices her. Brilliant lawyer as Xu Ya is, after university she is almost immediately hired by Chongqing People’s Procuratorate as a criminal prosecutor. She throws herself into her work, not making any friends because of her inability to suffer fools and her determination to uphold the rule of law. Desperate to put her infatuation with Philip Ye behind her, however, Xu Ya makes a dreadful personal mistake – a mistake that costs her everything. The years pass by in a nightmarish haze. Then, her career seemingly lost for good, she receives an unexpected invitation to begin anew, to become a special prosecutor for Chengdu People’s Procuratorate. Not only does the role seem perfect for her, but it might, just might, bring her close to Philip Ye again….
Investigator Deng Shiru (Fatty Deng)
Never wanting to be anything other than a policeman, Fatty Deng joined the police straight from school. However, after ten happy years on the force, about to be promoted and hoping to become a homicide detective, calamity strikes. Mayor Ye Zihao is forced out of office and the Shanghai Clique arrives to govern the city. To make way for an influx of new blood into the force, officers not loyal to Ye Zihao, a purge of the police is ordered and through no fault of his own Fatty Deng finds himself out of a job. The next five years are bitter and hard for him. He moves from job to job, struggling to stay afloat, to pay the rent, to keep a roof over his and his mother’s heads. But then, unexpectedly, his luck changes. For reasons unclear to him, he is contacted by Chengdu People’s Procuratorate and recruited to work for the glamorous but mercurial Prosecutor Xu Ya as her special investigator – a job that will soon prove much more challenging and dangerous than any he has done before.
Constable Ma Meili
The strongest and largest woman that most people have ever seen, Ma Meili patrols on foot the lonely streets of the Wukuaishi area of Chengdu at night. Born on a poor pig-farm in Pujiang County and only recently transferred to Chengdu PSB, Ma Meili has no relations she can depend upon in the city. Unwanted by her superiors and disliked by her colleagues she goes about her work with a grim determination, ever mindful she is guarding a terrible secret about her past. But, through a violent and tragic encounter with an old man searching for his lost son, Ma Meili is about to be drawn into the orbit of Philip Ye and into an investigation that will change the course of her life.
During the 19th Century, under severe pressure from the colonial powers, there was a tremendous loss of confidence in China in traditional culture and dynastic law.
The Qing Dynasty, believing in its innate superiority and that nothing was needed from foreign nations, had refused to lift trade restrictions on those foreign nations. Wanting to expand its trade with China, and after the destruction of opium cargoes in the port of Guangzhou by the Chinese authorities, war broke out between Great Britain and China. This was the First Opium War (1839 – 42) and it ended with a series of humiliating defeats for China and the signing of the unequal Treaty of Nanjing which granted an indemnity to Great Britain, the opening of five treaty ports and the cession of Hong Kong Island. The Second Opium War (1856 – 60) led to more defeats for China, the signing of the Treaties of Tianjin with Britain, France, Russia and the United States, the opening up of more treaty ports and the paying of more indemnities. With the sacking of Beijing and the burning of the Summer Palace in 1860, China considered itself fully humiliated by the Western Powers. The era of the unequal treaty system would last until 1949. An important aspect of this unequal treaty system was the granting of special privileges to foreigners over the native Chinese and the concept of extraterritoriality which exempted all foreigners in the treaty ports from Chinese law. Extraterritoriality was considered justified because Chinese dynastic law was viewed by the Western Powers at the time to be backward, barbaric and especially lacking in regard to commercial transactions.
It is difficult to underestimate the shock, humiliation and demoralisation felt by the scholar-officials of the Qing Dynasty in their realisation that China was no longer superior to, or even equal to, the Western Powers. It was felt that the only remedy for this loss of confidence was to institute reforms – which came to be known as the Self-Strengthening Movement – by learning from the Western Powers. The focus was on science and military technology but Western legal theory was also studied – especially in regard to the field of international law – Western legal books translated, and students sent abroad to the United States and Great Britain.
In the last decade of the Qing Dynasty, substantial legal reforms were introduced that were based very heavily on the continental European civil law system, incorporating large portions of the German civil code into the Qing Code. The Qing had been very impressed with the rapid modernisation of Japan and, as the Japanese themselves had successfully introduced a civil law system, Japanese legal scholars were invited to China to advise and assist on the introduction of the new legal system. The European civil law system was chosen as a model because of its similarities to dynastic law in that there was an emphasis on statutory codes and state-orientated justice. The European civil law system is an inquisitorial model of legal process where the facts of a case are discovered through a process of investigation led by officials of the state and where defence counsel plays little or no role in the process and the judge is not an impartial arbiter but actively involved in trying to discover the facts. This is as opposed to the adversarial model of England and the United States where the prosecution and defence argue out their respective positions before an impartial judge and jury.
In 1906 the Supreme Court was established by the Qing, as well as trial courts at the provincial, prefectural and county levels. And, following on from continental European civil law practice, a prosecutorial organ, the Procuratorate, was established within each of the courts. This was the first time in Chinese history when the prosecutorial and trial functions were separated. In 1909 the Qing promulgated the Organic Law of the Law Court which formally separated the judicial and executive powers.
In 1911 the Qing Dynasty came to an end with the Xinhai Revolution and the Republic of China was established with a provisional constitution. The legal reforms begun under the Qing were preserved and continued and the Six Codes were adopted: Criminal Code, Criminal Code of Procedure, Civil Code, Civil Code of Procedure, Commercial Law and the Organic Law of the Courts. It should be noted, though, that as the new Republic collapsed into a period of turmoil and fighting between powerful warlords, the functions of the courts and of the procuratorates remained largely only on paper. This would only change in 1927 with the consolidation of the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-Shek (Jiang Jieshi), leader of the Guomingdang (GMD), commonly known as the Nationalist Party. It is interesting to note that after the defeat of the Nationalists by the Communists in 1949, many Nationalists fled to Taiwan where the GMD remains a political party to this very day. Moreover, court decisions issued by the Republic of China after 1911 continue to serve as legal precedent in Taiwan.
In 1921 the Communist Party of China (CPC) was founded. After 1927, the CPC began to set up revolutionary bases in the north of China. As there was a need to govern these ‘liberated’ areas, in 1931 the CPC issued the Constitutional Outline of the Chinese Soviet Republic which called for a five branch system of government: the executive, legislative, judiciary, examinations and control bureaus. Basic laws were enacted on criminal law, marriage, taxation, labour and land reform. Procuratorates and Courts were set up in the liberated areas but the structure of these legal systems was very much regional in nature. There was no supreme judicial organ except for that of the CPC. By 1949, therefore, when the Nationalists were defeated and had fled to Taiwan and Mao Zedong had proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it can be seen that the CPC had already gained considerable experience managing prosecutorial organs in the liberated areas and lost no time in setting up a legal system based on all that had been learned. However, the new legal system did not fall into line with Western expectations. The CPC abolished the Guomingdang’s Six Codes and forcibly removed all of the GMD’s judiciary.
Despite the experience gained in the liberated areas, the abolition of the Six Codes by the PRC left the legal system very much a blank slate. So, with the understanding that a ‘socialist legal system’ should be built, the PRC looked to the Soviet Union for a legal model. Therefore, all of the laws promulgated during the early 1950s had similarities to the laws of the Soviet Union, including the first constitution of the PRC (adopted in 1954) which was striking in its similarity to the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union. However, the law of the Soviet Union had been heavily influenced by French law and therefore the influence of the continental European civil law model was actually carried over yet again into the modern legal system of China. As an example of this, it should be noted that at no time were courts allowed to create law. It should also be noted that the influence of Chinese dynastic law also remained in terms of the codifications of rules and the emphasis on public law.
Unfortunately, the promise of this new legal system was not to be realised. The Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957 virtually destroyed the judicial system. Moreover, with the growing friction between the Soviet Union and the PRC, it was deemed that the Soviet legal model was not correct for the PRC and the legal system began to be dismantled. By 1959 the Ministry of Justice and the Bureau of Legislative Affairs had both been closed, and the law came to be viewed as both oppressive to the people and an impediment to the future socialist evolution of China. The law came to be seen as a ‘tool of class struggle’ and all the judges, prosecutors and lawyers as a barrier separating the masses of the people from true justice. So, instead of a formal legal system, mass trials were often held in which mobs meted out so-called ‘revolutionary justice’ on those considered to be class enemies, people provided with no defence, that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The situation worsened in 1966 when Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution with the purpose of purging all ‘counter-revolutionaries’ within the CPC and reinforcing his position in power. It is no exaggeration to state that during this period, and up unto Mao Zedong’s death, there was no legal system in China. The courts, the procuratorates and the police had simply ceased to function.
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 it was realised that the chaos of the Cultural Revolution had been a disaster for the PRC and that legal order was urgently needed to be re-established. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping ordered the abandonment of Mao Zedong’s ‘class struggle’ and set the PRC on the path to modernisation, concentrating on economic reforms, pushing the PRC toward a ‘socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics’.
The legal institutions – the courts, the procuratorates and the public security bureaus (police) – all recovered quickly. Between 1978 and 1992 it is estimated that the government of the PRC promulgated more than two thousand laws of various kinds that easily exceeded the total of laws enacted in the first thirty years of Communist rule. The PRC now has a body of law (still influenced in many respects by continental European civil law and Chinese dynastic law) in regard to economic issues – contracts, intellectual property, banking, insurance, consumer protection, and so on – as well as criminal law, criminal procedure, civil law, family law, environmental law and more.
The Criminal Procedure Law of 1979 (extensively revised in 1996 and again in 2012) installed an inquisitorial model of legal process in China similar to the civil law tradition of continental Europe.
England and Wales and the United States, for example, use an adversarial model where the prosecution and defence argue their respective positions before a neutral judge or jury, where the judge or jury have no prior knowledge of the case.
Under the inquisitorial model, however, facts are discovered through a coordinated process led by officers of the state – police, prosecutors and judges – all of whom are involved in a theoretically impartial effort to get to the truth.
In China, the majority of criminal investigations are conducted by the People’s Police – the Public Security Bureaus (PSBs). The police have powers to gather evidence and detain suspects, though the formal arrest of a suspect is subject to the approval of the People’s Procuratorate. If the police deem a case serious enough to be dealt with by a court, it is forwarded to the People’s Procuratorate. The police also have the power to impose administrative punishments for various, usually minor, offences. Except for special units, or in special circumstances, the police usually conduct their work unarmed, though because of increasing violence in Chinese society this is beginning to change.
The People’s Procuratorate handles the prosecution of a case. Procuratorates have the power to interview suspects, witnesses and victims. They may also order further investigation work to be done by the police. It is the responsibility of procuratorates to draw up a Bill of Prosecution detailing the charges laid against a defendant and to present the case in the People’s Courts. Procuratorates have the power to investigate those cases considered too sensitive or too complicated for the police to handle. They also supervise the work of the police and the courts to prevent errors in the administration of justice.
There are four levels of criminal People’s Court: Basic Court, Intermediate Court, Higher Level Court and the Supreme People’s Court. Less serious cases will be heard in the Basic Court; those, such as murder, for example, heard in the Intermediate Court. Cases are heard in public unless matters of state security or private affairs relating to individuals are to be discussed. Any death sentence pronounced by a court must be approved by the Supreme People’s Court.
It should be noted that the police, procuratorates and courts can each investigate criminal offences, interrogate suspects and collect evidence. It is possible for a trial judge to preside over a case in which he was the lead investigator.
Political and Legal Committees supervise the work of the police, the procuratorates and the courts at all levels. If a Political and Legal Committee ‘recommends’ a certain trial outcome then that outcome is generally accepted by the court.
The People’s Armed Police Force (PAP) is a paramilitary organisation under the joint command of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Central Military Commission. The CAPF’s main duties are border and forest protection, fire-fighting, road construction and specialized transportation, the guarding of vital installations and VIPs, and the provision of anti-terrorist SWAT teams. The PAP often works alongside the People’s Police and would be deployed to counter instances of mass social unrest. Unlike the blue of the uniforms of the People’s Police, the PAP wear pine-green uniforms and have a similar rank structure to the army. They therefore often get mistaken for army personnel.
The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is responsible for foreign intelligence, counter-intelligence and domestic security. It has the same powers of detention and arrest as the police. It is also subject to supervision by the procuratorates and the courts.