A best practice first recognized decades ago is being increasingly revisited to advance social governance in China. Over the past decade, President Xi Jinping has reiterated the importance of adhering to and developing the Fengqiao model, a dispute mediation strategy created in Fengqiao, a town in Zhuji City, Zhejiang Province.
In the 1960s, officials and residents in Fengqiao explored ways of resolving disagreements within the town rather than escalating them to higher-level authorities. At that time, the People's Republic of China had been in existence for only around 10 years and the legal system was still in the early stages of development. In order to decrease conflict and better maintain social stability, communities in Fengqiao began persuading those involved in disputes to solve them at the source through mediation. In 1963, Chairman Mao Zedong commended this strategy, calling on local governments across China to learn from it.
In many countries, third-party dispute settlement processes exist at the community level outside the judicial system. The Fengqiao model in China is similar to them. In many cases, courts provide the most fair and just method of conflict resolution, but in reality, many conflicts can be solved before judiciary authorities need to make a formal verdict. With a population of 1.4 billion, China would inevitably be overwhelmed if all matters were settled through lawsuits. This is partly the reason why the Fengqiao model has retained its relevance and become so widely practiced.
President Xi has endorsed this model as it plays a pivotal role in China's social governance. As China continues to grow, new sources of discord are likely to crop up. By staying true to the principles enshrined in the Fengqiao model, the country can ensure these issues are addressed in a way that is conducive to social cohesion and justice.
In recent years, new types of mediation organizations have been emerging in China, including centers specifically set up to mediate disputes regarding online transactions. These can be regarded as the digitalization of the Fengqiao model. Given the complexity of balancing conflicting interests in the wake of seismic economic shifts and technological advances, working with all parties to find a mutually acceptable solution is the way forward.