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保甲 (Bao-Jia)


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The ancient Chinese feudal system of 保甲 has been carried over from Warring States times all the way to pre-1949 China. Its beginnings dates back to the Qin Legalist Shang Yang, who implemented it as a way to enforce collective responsibility for an individual's crimes.

10 family households were organized into a 保 and 10 保 made up a 甲. During Warring States Qin, if a member of a unit of 5 or 10 households committed an offense, the other 4 or 9 households were to be held equally responsible and punished as severely as the actual offender. This system of mutual responsibility for one person's offense has been very controversial throughout China's history. Proponents of its usage argue that it is a very effective way of deterring crime and serves as a form of "neighborhood watch". Opponents argue that it is unfair to innocent people who had nothing to do with the actual offender's crime.

The Qin and the Han made use of the concept, and the Tang used a loose form of Bao-Jia system called Fang-Li. During Wang Anshi's reforms in the Song dynasty, a Chinese village militia system was created where each household was required to supply a male as part of a militia. This militia often proved to be a more effective fighting force than the regular army itself.

保甲 was implemented all over China during the Qing dynasty. In 1932 the KMT reinstituted it and areas controlled by the Communists also used this feudal "surveillance" system.

The Japanese made heavy use of 保甲 during their colonial rule of Taiwan, and found it to be very effective in deterring people from breaking their colonial laws. Just the thought of having oneself punished for a neighbor's crime made everyone keep watch on each other . The KMT in Taiwan continued this practice in 1950, but it was seldom enforced during the 1970's and was abolished altogether in the 1980's.

Fortunately for China, 保甲 no longer exists in practice today. Although the PRC abolished it in 1949, do traces of it still exist on the mainland today?

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