For those of a mind to visit the police museum, housed in the old legation quarter to the east of Tian’anmen Square, it might be an idea to combine the trip with a visit to another museum on a related theme: to whit the China Court Museum.
Opened in 2016, it is housed inside the former Yokohama Specie Bank on the corner of Zhengyi Lu and Dongjiaomin Xiang near the former Russian Legation (which is now China's Supreme Court). Quite apart from what’s on display, it is worth visiting just for the architecture alone.
The idea of the museum is to offer a history of jurisprudence in China from imperial times to the present day. But that having been said, there is precious little in the way of English to explain what’s being shown, and if you don’t have a Chinese speaker with you, you should de minimus have an instant translation app on your mobile phone!
The museum has three exhibition halls that highlight Chinese court hearings in ancient times, during revolutionary times and today. Visitors can view items relating to laws at home and abroad, learn more about the legal system and watch (Chinese) films about certain trials.
The first gallery into which you find yourself going has the catchy moniker of "Comprehensive Advance Rule of Law to Achieve the Great Rejuvenation". Across the room on a massive LED screen are flashed messages telling you how many cases and judgements have been posted to their web site; how many people have logged on to that website, the number of postings to micro-blog sino-weibo released by the Supreme Peoples Court, and the number of subscriptions to the Supreme People’s Court weixin account. All gripping stuff, no doubt!
We are told that since the 18th CPC National Congress, the people's courts have been working hard to improve judicial transparency by posting court processes, judgements and rulings online and made available enforcement information.
In the middle of the room is a glass display cabinet showing off the gavel used in the trial of the disgraced official Bo Xilai and the handcuffs worn by the accused; while beside them is the gavel used in the trial of another official who fell from grace – Zhou Yongkang.
In a side room, there is an exhibition of rare legal classics, though unless one is heavily into Chinese law, I suspect this will mean very little to the average visitor. They date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republic of China period, and include a complete series of Ming Hui Dian (collection of Ming statutes) and Da Qing Hui Dian (collection of Qing statutes). The oldest is the Ming Hui Dian printed in 1587 – the 15th year of Emperor Wanli.
History buffs will almost certainly enjoy walking into the old bank vault to see a small scale replica of the old Legation Quarter.
Below you can see where the Japanese, French, German and Spanish legations were housed…
There’s also a photo of what the area looked like in 1900…
Moving on through the ground floor, there is a room devoted to the courts in other parts of China – Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan (could they be a little premature on this last one, I wonder?) with a handful of objets d’arts to spice up the territories – such as these from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
There is also a mock-up of a Beijing courtroom (called a Moot Court), though because of the lack of space, there are fewer tables and chairs than are normal, apparently.
Heading upstairs, there’s a room devoted to famous legal cases around the world – such as the trial of Socrates, the post-war Nuremberg trials, the trial of Nelson Mandela, and the OJ Simpson case.
There are also snapshots of the legal systems used in other countries, as well as a mention of the International Court of Justice.
One of the few notices posted in English tells us that Since the 20th century, the international legal system is expanding. After the Second World War, international legal institutions such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), have played an important role in maintaining world peace and stability and promoting the development of international law. Strangely enough, though, there is no mention of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which ruled against China in its claims to own most of the South China Sea.
Here, a visiting school party is absorbed by legal tales recounted to them by one of the museum staff, which I think speaks volumes about how something as seemingly boring as law can be made interesting to young people if told in the right way!
Eight rooms are devoted to explaining The Progress of Adjudication of the PRC, with photos and masses of text (in Chinese only).
There’s also a room devoted solely to the trials of Japanese war criminals with plenty to show just what baddies those Nips were. One photo even depicts one of the baddies bound to a post, prior to being executed.
There’s a mock up of the first Supreme People's Court after the promulgation of the First Constitution of the PRC in Sept 1954, together with a display of court seals used at that time.
The "cultural revolution", initiated by Mao Zedong, is also given coverage in this museum with photos of some of the massed parades which “took China down the wrong path”, and the subsequent trial of the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing counter-revolutionary group.
Taking advantage of the situation, a group of careerists and conspirators headed by Lin Biao and another by Jiang Qing attempted to usurp the Party and state leadership, bringing unprecedented disaster upon the Party and the people. During the ten years of turmoil Deng Xiaoping was twice discredited and removed from office and went through the most painful ordeal in his revolutionary career.
Finally, we come to the last display – the Evolution of Trial Costume, with courtroom clothing worn not just in China…
… but also in other countries around the world.
And something that has all the kids queuing up to try out is a video screen that automatically ‘dresses’ whoever is standing in front of it with court regalia.
Take Subway Line 1 to Wangfujing, alighting at exit C1. Walk due west for 300 metres and then due south along Zhengyilu for 600 metres. The museum is on your left. Note that you have to have some form of official ID with you (eh a passport) to be allowed in.