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Staging justice: Courtroom semiotics and judicial ideology in China

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jade Biyu DuORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


The right to a fair trial as a fundamental human right has been widely established in the international community. While the notion of a fair trial is typically associated with procedural safeguards, fairness can be reflected in spatial dimensions (Tait in Chic Kent Law Rev 86:467, 2011). Courtroom design, apart from achieving its main functional objectives, reflects the institutional ideology of how justice can be staged in public. In alignment with the perspective that courtroom as theatre consists of a sign system, this paper adopts a semiotic approach to the courtroom setting of Chinese criminal trials. With a thick description of space, mobility and attire, it attempts to probe into how judicial ideology is symbolically framed in the field. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork of three courts, this paper discusses how courtroom space is constructed semiotically as a performative stage on which legal dramas unfold (Ng in The common law in two voices: language, law, and the postcolonial dilemma in Hong Kong. Stanford University Press, Redwood City, 2009). Ultimately this paper argues that a semiotic investigation of Chinese courtrooms will shed light on an understanding of its judicial value, ideology of justice and dynamics of power relationship.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Du B

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal for the Semiotics of Law

Year: 2016

Volume: 29

Issue: 3

Pages: 595-613

Print publication date: 01/09/2016

Online publication date: 09/10/2015

Acceptance date: 26/09/2015

Date deposited: 20/01/2018

ISSN (print): 0952-8059

ISSN (electronic): 1572-8722

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s11196-015-9444-7


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